Marseilles is located in southern France, west of the French Rivera. Today it is one of the major ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Not surprisingly, this picturesque city is also a tourist magnet.
We only had one day/night in the city and we spent it exploring the Vieux Harbor. The harbor was once the city’s cultural center and economic engine from its founding to the mid-19th century when the large commercial ships move to harbors to the north. Since then, the Old Harbor has become the center of the city’s tourist industry.
A wide promenade surrounds the harbor on three sides. It is lined with small shops, wall-to-wall cafes, seafood restaurants, and souvenir stores. Above the cafes at the head of the harbor is a line of formerly stylish hotels.
Marseilles Historic Sites
One thing was missing from the Old Harbor is the “Old”. Most of the old Old Harbor was demolished in 1943 to make way for newer, larger more functional buildings. Only a relative handful of the older buildings were saved. Among those we visited from the outside are:
- Hotel de Cabre dates to 1535 and is the oldest house in the city.
- Hotel de Ville, a 1653 structure, has the design of an old Italian Riviera country house.
- Maison-Diamantee, dated from1570, is a private mansion built from distinctive diamond-shaped stones.
- Fort Saint-Jean is a 12th-century fortress that guarded the port’s entry.
- Abbaye Saint-Victor is a medieval abbey founded in the 3rd century that was built atop the tomb of Saint Victor and other notables buried in ancient Christian sarcophagi and crypts.
- Fort Saint-Nicholas was built in 1680 by Louis XIV to protect the city from invasions. However, it also was meant to protect the city from citizen uprisings.
Checking Out Non-Historic Sites
Sites that are not quite historic, but interesting are:
- A very poignant bronze sculpture of a dead, emaciated man commemorates those who were tortured and killed during France’s WWII occupation. It is located in front of the Intercontinental Hotel.
- l’Ombrière is a noteworthy contemporary attraction on the head of the harbor. This huge (11,635 sq ft) Norman Foster-designed mirror-like stainless-steel awning reflects the people walking under it.
Other Interesting Attractions
Since we were only in the city for a single day in the city, we missed some of its most interesting attractions.
- A boat trip along the Calanques coastline. Multiple companies offered various cruises along the coastline.
- Cite Radleuse is a UNESCO site built by Swiss architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) that was designed as a radical post-war housing complex approach.
- Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations was the first museum focused on Mediterranean civilizations of the 21st century.
- Beaux Arts museum is the oldest museum in Marseilles and contains art from the 16th – 19th century.
When in Marseille, eat bouillabaisse. At least that’s what Tom did as he explored the differences between a 35 Euro rockfish bouillabaisse for lunch at L’Esquinade and an 80 Euro dish at the much more upscale Michel Brasseries des Catalans.
We stopped for lunch at L’Esquinade where Tom learned the bouillabaisse routine. A huge dish of cooked rockfish, rouget, salmon, and boiled potatoes was presented to him at the table before it was whisked back to the kitchen and then returned in broth. He was also given baguette rounds to go with the bouillabaisse. One rubs them with garlic and spreads them with a saffron-based spread. While tasty, Tom found the broth to be less tasty than anticipated. He would have to wait till evening to discover if the broth is characteristic, or if his tastes have been spoiled by too much San Francisco cioppino. Joyce, meanwhile, had a small nice dish of curry prawns flambéed in cognac with mashed potato. Our wine was a pleasant 2021 Chateau de Maligny Chablis.
Our dinner was at Michel Brasseries des Catalans which specialized in bouillabaisse. It followed a similar, but not an identical presentation script. The bouillabaisse ceremony included showing us the cooked fish, filleting it in front of us (versus in the kitchen), and serving the rich, delicious broth separately from the fish. Boiled potatoes were available for being added to the broth as desired. If this is what bouillabaisse is really supposed to taste like, Tom is a fan!
Michel was less than pleased when Joyce insisted on a fish dish rather than his specialties of bouillabaisse and fish soup. But she ended up with a delicious Saint Pierre (John Dory) in lemon butter sauce with Lyonnaise potatoes.
We were less impressed by our first taste of the white Provence wine (2021 Bodin Blanc de Blanc Cassis) the restaurant recommended with the bouillabaisse, but it did work nicely with both our dishes. If you want a really good bouillabaisse and are in Marseilles, we highly recommend this place.
This is the second time we have stayed at Grand Hotel Beauvau Marseille Vieux-Port-MGallery. On our first trip, we were very happy staying here. However, as more sophisticated travelers (and spoiled by being Titanium Marriot members), we were underwhelmed on this stay. Our room has a nice harbor view but it was small and a little tired. We get having small rooms in cities but the sheets were way too scratchy for a hotel of this caliber. We did have a small balcony which was nice and accessible by climbing out a window (versus having a door). But the AC and wifi worked OK. In all, it was an OK stay but if we return we will probably try another place.