Monday, December 22, 2014

10+ Artsy & Cool Reasons To Visit Marseille, France

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (Marseille, France)
Marseille Vieux Port (photo: Nigel Young)
Fort St Jean (photo: JCarnegie)
Marseille is one of the oldest towns in France with a fascinating history. As a port town, it's a melting pot for people from all over the world. However, it had gotten a bit rundown. But, in 2013, Marseille was named the European Capital of Culture. As a result, the town was spruced up nicely. Many neighborhood renovation projects were undertaken, several new hotels opened, and MuCEM, a beautiful new museum, was constructed. The buzzword for the new, improved Marseille is: "Euro-Mediterranean capital." And, with its mild climate, it's definitely worth visiting any time of year.
DISCOVER FASCINATING NEIGHBORHOODS
Each of Marseille's many neighborhoods has its unique charm. Discover the city on your own or take inexpensive guided tours offered by Marseille's tourism office (most are in French--good practice--but a few are in English as well). Be sure to check out these areas:
Vieux Port (The Old Port): The beautiful Vieux Port is the heart of the city, surrounded by cafes and restaurants serving traditional Marseille specialties and freshly-caught fish. Take a stroll along the pedestrian walkways and marvel at all the sailboats anchored in the harbor. Le Panier (The Old Town): Wander through the steep, winding, narrow streets of the oldest part of town and soak up the atmosphere.
L’Estaque: Famous painters such as Cézanne, Dufy, and Braque once lived in this neighborhood; trace their steps on a walking tour. La Corniche: Stop at seafood joints and soak up the sun as you stroll or drive along this picturesque, seaside roadway that meanders along Marseille's Mediterranean coast.
Le Panier
TRY UNIQUE ACTIVITIES
Check out some interesting, specific-to-the-region offerings such as: Learn to Make Bouillabaisse: When you think of Marseille, bouillabaisse (fish stew) immediately comes to mind. To be authentic, the stew must contain five types of fish; a master chef will show you just how it's done.
Tour the Cité Radieuse (280 Blvd Michelet): This extraordinary apartment building, designed by renowned architect Le Corbusier, exemplifies his "Unité d'Habitation" concepts. (It includes a hotel* and an art center.)
ENJOY GREAT EATS
Take advantage of all the fresh seafood dishes in Marseille's many restaurants:
Bouillabaisse: Le Miramar (12 Quai du Port; Tel: +33(0)4 91 91 41 09; lemiramar.fr) - One portion is huge; big enough for two--plate of soup served first, followed by the fish stew.
Fresh Fish: If you can wake up early enough, check out the daily fish market on the Vieux Port's Quai des Belges. If not, enjoy lunch at La Boîte à Sardine (2 Blvd de la Libération; Tel: +33 (0)4 91 50 95 95; www.laboiteasardine.com) - The daily catch of superb fresh fish is oven-cooked, grilled or pan fried and served by a very friendly staff.
VISIT MARVELOUS MUSEUMS
No matter what your interest--archaeology, motorcycles, fine art or contemporary painting--Marseille has over 20 museums showcasing art and antiquities from all periods of history. Here are two not-to-be-missed:
MuCEM (photo: JCarnegie)
Musée des Civilisations d'Europe et Méditerranée (MuCEM)
1 Esplanade du J4; www.mucem.org/en
This stunning new museum, designed by Rudy Ricciotti, is set right on Marseille’s harbor, so the panoramic views from the huge windows and terraces are as striking as the modern interiors. Devoted to showcasing Mediterranean culture, it's the first national museum outside of Paris. In addition to MuCEM's fascinating exhibits, an aerial walkway links the museum to Fort Saint Jean, now an exhibition space with a Mediterranean garden.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille
Palais Longchamp, Blvd de Montricher
The fine art museum is housed in the lovely Second Empire-style Palais Longchamp. French and Italian 16th- through 19th-century works are on display along with superb Provençal paintings.
ENJOY FABULOUS MUSIC FESTIVALS
Music-lovers rejoice; there are many festivals throughout the year:
Opera Marseille
March - Mars en Baroque; June - Marsatac (Electronic music); July - Festival Jazz des 5 Continents; Sept - Marseille's Opera season begins; Oct - Fiesta des Suds (World music); and the Festival de Marseille (dance & theater) in June & July.
TAKE DAZZLING DAY TRIPS
Les Calanques: Go on a boat ride to see Les Calanques, coves surrounded by steep hillsides, and visit the islands in the bay. Provence: Marseille is a great base for visiting such towns as Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, and Arles. These are easy day trips by train from the Gare Saint-Charles or take an organized tour.
Making Your Trip Easier:
Marseille City Pass - Gives you free rides on Marseille's public transports (bus, metro, train, trams), along with entrance to museums & attractions, and a selection of free sightseeing tours.
Les Calanques
Where To Stay:
There are any number of great places to stay, but being able to look out at the Vieux Port is a real treat:
Radisson Blu Hotel Vieux Port (38-40 Quai de Rive Neuve; Tel: + 33(0)4 88 92 19 50) - Right on the Vieux Port with a wonderfully-helpful, friendly staff.
Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port (36, Blvd Charles Livon; Tel: +33(0)4 91 15 59 00) - A lovely spot at the end of the Vieux Port with terrific views.
Newhotel of Marseille (71, Blvd Charles Livon; Tel: +33(0)4 91 315 315) - An artsy, very modern, hip hotel right by the Vieux Port.
*Hotel Le Corbusier (280 Blvd Michelet; Tel: +33 (0)4 91 16 78 00) - Enjoy a truly, unique experience by staying on the hotel floor of Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse.
Getting there: Most flights to Marseille from the US are connecting flights. XL Airways - A budget airlines has direct flights to Marseille from the US during the summer months. Another option: Paris is just 3 hours away on the TGV fast train. A French rail pass from Rail Europe is very useful, including for day trips to other towns in Provence.

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