Updated: Jan 18, 2020
We hadn’t expected to fall in love with Marseille, but we did. Marseille was supposed to have been a two-night stopover after touring Provence and before boarding a flight to Corsica. We would have enjoyed a full week savoring the charms of the old city on the sea and we plan to return someday. We chose a hotel in the Old Port and highly recommend staying at La Residence Du Vieux Port or at one of the other hotels that face the docks. They are perfectly located for strolling day or night and for taking excursions either on the little trains, buses, ferries or sightseeing boats that line the harbor. A great way to get acquainted with the old town is to hop on the little train that takes visitors through the windy streets and up to the hilltop church of Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille’s historic guardian. The stained glass windows and mosaics are beautiful and the church is beloved by the townspeople who come here to light devotional candles. We walked down to the port from the church and recommend the easy stroll down and along the quais full of restaurants and gelato stands. Bouillabaisse, an elaborate fish soup, is Marseille’s signature dish and is readily available. A delicious and cheaper alternative is Moules Mariniere, mussels steamed in a broth of white wine and garlic.
The Church of Notre Dame de la Garde can be seen high on the hilltop over the old port.
The little train stops at the church for a minimum of 20 minutes, but visitors can walk downhill to town pretty easily. The gilded Virgin Mary is about 30 feet tall.
Moules Frites (steamed mussels accompanied by French Fries) can be found all over Marseille.
Having just re-read the Count of Monte Cristo, we were eager to retrace Edmund Dantes' steps from the moment his ship arrives in the harbor to when he is sent away to the impenetrable Chateau d'If. We apparently weren't the only ones who wanted to visit the famed prison as there are frequent boat trips that take you there. If the sea is not too rough, you can disembark and tour the small, rocky island and even enter cells like the one the fictional character inhabited.
Chateau d'If was the prison fort in the Count of Monte Cristo. Leaving the port, the tourist boats pass the lighthouse and fort that were mentioned in the famed novel written by Alexandre Dumas.
Fort Saint-Jean on the harbor can be visited. A new museum called Le MuCEM is located there too.
A special treat in Marseille is a stop at one of the many Glace or gelato shops in the old town area. We tried Vanille Noire with its signature black ice cream made from vanilla pods and it was delicious.
Black Vanilla Ice cream in Marseille
A side benefit of stopping in Marseille was reconnecting with old friends for more ice cream at the famed Le Glacier du Roi.