By Emma Loubser, Travel Deputy Editor
The Croft Magazine // Emma Loubser reveals why Marseille should be your next holiday destination.
Boasting tourist-free tourist spots, a buzzing nightlife and home to some of the finest French wines, why not book a last minute getaway to Marseille?
The Palais Longchamp is a good place to start for a spot of sightseeing. Thinking we had arrived at the entrance of the lush palatial gardens, complete with cascading waterfall, we reassessed the map and found that we were, in fact, in an abandoned zoo.
Opened in 1854, the zoo was once home to elephants, giraffes and leopards among many other exotic animals, but has now been closed for over thirty years. To celebrate Marseille achieving the European Capital of Culture title in 2013, a quirky collection of colourful fiberglass animals were installed to teach local children about biodiversity.
The Palais Longchamp is just next door. Besides the building’s magnificent architecture, it houses the art and national history museums of Marseille. Meandering down the leafy boulevard from the palace takes you into the buzz of the city and to the Old Port where there are multiple transport links. A small ‘train’ winds around the city to the Notre-Dame de la Garde and gives visitors a chance to glimpse some of Marseille’s highlights en route. Said Notre-Dame was built at the highest point of the city, offering a 360-degree view – and the building is pretty impressive too, hosting both popes and warfare since the 12th century.
If you are a literature lover who has made it through The Count of Monte Cristo, you can hop on a boat from Marseille which takes you to the Ile D’If, the island that the prison in the story was based on. In reality, the Chateau d’If served as a fortress to defend the coast, but it has also housed political and religious prisoners since the early 16th century. For a prison, it has rather spectacular views of Marseille and the surrounding seas as well as a wealth of history that is illustrated in the prisoners’ inscriptions on the walls. However, there is only one rather expensive café on the Ile D’If, so take some snacks for this worthwhile trip. The boat trip also takes you to Frioul, where you can explore gorgeous calanques, lush beaches and sandy coves. It is a welcome escape from the city, with multiple hiking trails available if you are that way inclined.
'For a prison, it has rather spectacular views of Marseille and the surrounding seas'
Marseille is perfectly located for day trips around the south of France. I made it to Avignon and Montpellier with train and coach options that can be booked last minute. Avignon is a chocolate box French town, with a grand Palais de Papes (Papal Palace). Montpellier is picturesque and mostly pedestrianised, thus easy to explore on foot. The tram pass is less than 5 euros for the day and takes you around the whole town and almost all the way to the beach, covering the bus that takes you right to the shore.
Winding back to the city, Marseille offers sunset cocktails and a fun night out. Catch a gig at Le Rooftop, combining a stylish but laidback outdoor bar with panoramic sunset views. There are also lots of bars, and the possibility of karaoke, around the Old Port as well as other clubs booming out everything from house and techno to French cheesy tunes all night long.
'As if there aren't already enough good reasons to go to Marseille, the city is a treasure chest for foodies'
As if there aren’t already enough good reasons to go to Marseille, the city is a treasure chest for foodies. For a true taste of French cuisine in the heart of the city, visit Le Comptoir Dugommier and try their plat du jour (plate of the day). The dishes are exquisitely traditional, and the setting oozes French authenticity in a way Café Rouge can only aspire to. There are also vegetarian options, as we found in much of Marseille.
Traditionally a port city with a somewhat shady reputation, Marseille has outgrown its past. Every city has its questionable areas, so treat these as you would anywhere else in the world and don’t let a reputation of old detract from all the wonderful things Marseille has to offer. Like a bottle of Provence rose, and a first class holiday.
Featured: Epigram / Emma Loubser
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