Marseille City Guide

Tourists who would like to explore France’s rich cultural life should make Marseille their destination of choice. Although lacking the glamour and high profile of Paris, the city, which has been designated as the European Capital of Culture in 2013, has long been one of the country’s regional centers for entertainment and culture, boasting one of France’s most important opera houses as well as numerous cultural attractions such as cinemas, museums, art galleries, clubs and bars. But the city is also significant to France’s economic life, as it is the country’s largest commercial port, as well as being the second largest port in Europe. Marseille is the oldest city in France, having been founded by Phoenician Greeks under the name Massalia in 600 BC. Massalia was one of the first Greek trading posts in Northern Europe, and the first to be given city status in France. The city was the birthplace of some of France’s most important poets and writers, including Edmond Rostand, author of the play Cyrano de Bergerac, and playwright Andre Roussin. As a measure of how significant Marseille is in French history, La Marseillaise, a marching song sung by volunteers from the city who went to Paris to defend the revolutionary government in 1792, is now France’s national anthem. Tourists visiting the city have a wide choice of entertainment options. They can enjoy the city’s many cultural attractions, which range from theaters and cinemas to its famed opera house. On the other hand, if they crave an exciting night life, Marseille is also home to music cafes, piano bars, discotheques and pubs. The city, in fact, is known for initiating the rap music craze in France and many popular hip-hop groups such as IAM and Fonky Family got their start in Marseille. Gourmets can also savor the many delicious dishes native to the city, including Bouillabaisse, a fish soup made of shellfish and vegetables and served with toasted bread and grated cheese and Bourride, a fish dish made with monkfish, a vegetable brunoise and mayonnaise. Marseille has a Mediterranean climate, meaning its winters are mild and humid while its summers are dry and hot. Thus, the best time to visit Marseille would be around May and June, when the climate is at its most temperate, while the city is at its hottest in July and August when the humidity and temperatures are at their highest. It is also advisable for tourists to avoid visiting Marseille during school holidays in France, when the resorts are very crowded and accommodation can be scarce. There are four major school holidays: Christmas holidays from December 20 to January 4; another month-long holiday starting in February 11, although children get only 15 days off; month-long Easter holidays; and summer holidays starting from the end of June to the start of September. All French employees are also legally entitled to a five-week holiday which can be taken at any time of year, although many families customarily choose to take them to coincide with their children’s holidays. Tourists looking for souvenirs to bring home should not pass up the chance to visit the flea market at 130 chemin de la Madrague Ville, 15e. Popular items native to the city that visitors can buy include the famed savon de Marseille soap, the carved wooden or clay Nativity figures known as santons and bottles of pastis, an alcoholic drink made from aniseed and spice which is a staple of every meal. The best selection of pastis, however, can be found at the La Maison du Pastis, located at 108 quai du Port, 2e, which boasts of some 90 varieties of the “Guinness of Southern France,” including a few home-made brews. Visitors enjoying the city would have no trouble getting around, as Marseille has an excellent public transport system. Tourists can ride buses that serve the city and its suburbs or take the Métro train. The city council also recently started a short-term bicycle rental which gives free rentals for hires of less than half an hour.