I love France. And this love was instantly strengthen when I, after leaving a cold and rainy Gothenburg, stepped out of an airplane at the airport in Marseille on a late Thursday evening in April and felt the warm breeze against my face. Right then and there I knew that this weekend in the south of France would be a success!
One thing that I absolutely love about coming to new cities is getting to know them by walking around – without a map and without a specific destination in mind. I find that this is the way to go about in order to find the real treasures, hidden from the “standard” tourist. And God knows there was a lot of walking in Marseille.
After having left the bags at our hotel, New Hotel Select, a very well located and neat one I must say, we went out to familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood. Within minutes we found ourselves in the harbor area where there were a lot of alley ways with cozy restaurants lining up after each other offering one Mediterranean specialty after the other. It looked so nice, however, when having dinner there the evening after I realized that it was better to just enjoy the view than to actually order from the menus offered..
Sometimes when I walk along Vasagatan in Gothenburg I see tourists taking photos of one of the high school buildings there. Granted, it is a rather impressive building and I guess that they assume, by the looks of it, that it is a monument worth taking photos of. Still, I cannot help but smile when I pass them thinking “if only you …”. The same thing happened in Marseille: at one point we found ourselves on a street in front of a building with the word “Alcazar” written in oriental letters above the entrance. There is a Swedish pop group with the name Alcazar which my friend is a fan of and so she started taking photo’s of the house – as it had Alcazar written on top, was a huge and beautiful building AND had people queuing on the outside she figured it must be something worth photographing. Turns out it was the city library…
One of the first, and best, discoveries in Marseille was finding ourselves in front of the Marseille Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille). It is a huge and magnificent building with a stripey looking design, a style that was new to us when we saw this Cathedral but later found to be common in Marseille. The Cathedral looked rather closed down and abandoned, luckily someone tried to enter and found the door to be open though. It is rather impressive to walk around in a building with a history such as this one where the sound of your foot steps echo in the silence surrounding you. When it comes to religious buildings there is, however, another one that is more connected to the city of Marseille: Notre Dame de la Garde, a basilica situated on the top of a hill. It was of course a place worth visiting but this building did not generate the same feeling of awe as the Cathedral had generated earlier that morning. However, the view from the hill was awesome and the winds blowing up there that day was something extra-ordinary!
Day two we had planned to take a boat out to Chateau d’If, the fortress made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. However, we were told by the staff at the Tourist information that boats would not stop there on this particular day due to heavy winds so instead we bought some baguettes and took a boat to Frioul, another island nearby. This island offered beautiful scenery and a number of historic landmarks, if you have the time and want to do something very relaxing then I recommend you to go there. Have a picnic, climb the hills and enjoy the view of Marseille from the ocean side.
Before coming to Marseille there had been a lot of talk about what a dangerous, dirty and worn down city it is. My perception of the city after having spent a weekend there is nothing like that! I found it to be a charming city, not all that unlike Gothenburg: the city centre is small enough for everything to be within walking distance, it was clean, people were friendly and the weather was exactly what a frozen northerner needed! Not to mention that the shopping was good and the crêpes were delicious!