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Guide to Marseille, France

Marseille, the second most populated city in France after Paris, was founded in 600 BC by Greek sailors. They named it Massalia. Under Roman rule, Massalia became Marsala, which, eventually turned into Marseille. With such a rich legacy, it should not come as a surprise that Marseille has been elected the European Capital of Culture for the year 2013. The city and its inhabitants are preparing excitedly for the year-long event. Let’s take a quick tour of some of the city’s most picturesque neighborhoods, monuments, markets and other treasures.

Two Must-See Neighborhoods in Marseille

Le Panier (The Basket)

Built on the site of the ancient Massalia, this neighborhood derives its name from a 17th century inn, then called the Logis du Panier. Historically, the district has been known to attract waves of immigrants. Today, its narrow streets welcome an increasing number of innovative artisans — potters, fashion designers, and jewelry-makers. Don’t hesitate to walk in the shops, browse around, watch the artists at work and ask as many questions as you wish. Marseillais are proud of their hometown and are eager to help visitors better appreciate it.

Panier is also filled with remarkable monuments. La Vieille Charité, one of Marseille’s most impressive architectural sites, dates back to the 17th century. Today, the former poorhouse hosts exhibition spaces and museums.

A little further away, you will notice the Diamond House. The 16th century monument owes its name to the diamond-shaped reliefs adorning the facade. Nowadays, it houses the Museum of the Old Marseille.

The Prado
Away from the center of town, the Prado is home to world-wide celebrated sites. Among these, you will find the Velodrome stadium where l’OM (Olympic Marseille soccer team) trains and plays. You will also discover an apartment complex signed Le Corbusier, along with the Museum of Contemporary Art. Last but not least, Le Prado’s sandy beaches will invite you to farniente  (relax).

Marseille’s Markets

Marseille’s numerous markets reflect Provence’s various flavors and savors:

The Fish Market
Considered one of the most famous in the region, this market meets every morning on the Vieux Port on the Quai des Belges. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, it’s worth going there to take in the ambiance that has remained true to author Marcel Pagnol’s novels.

The Capucins Market
You can visit this colorful market any day of the week. Located by the Cannebiere – the one kilometer long street in the center of town – it remains a favorite of locals and tourists alike. You can spend the whole day perusing the stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables, the most beautiful in town, say the vendors.  You will also find fish from Senegal, spices from Morocco, fabrics from Asia, oriental spices, and even furniture.
Rue des Capucins

The Flea Market
Marseille’s largest market stretches over four hectares in the northern part of the city. You will discover high-quality antiques, vintage clothes and accessories, second-hand clothes and all kinds of ‘stuff that you may have never seen before.
130 Chemin de la Madrague
Open from Tuesday through Sunday

More to See in Marseille

The Calanques
Hanging over the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille’s impeccably preserved Calanques will take your breath away. Quarried from limestone in the 18th century, the pine – clad coves stretch over 5,000 hectares. This geologic wonder offers a large variety of activities — from swimming, to snorkeling, to boating  and hiking.One of the best ways to visit them is to embark on a cruise. Boats depart everyday from the Vieux Port from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Getting to Marseille

Flights between the US and Marseille require a stop in Paris. Marseille-Provence airport is 25km west of central Marseille. A shuttle bus takes 30 minutes to reach the downtown Gare Saint-Charles. Cost: 9 Euros for one-way ticket. A cab drive from the airport to the city centre costs around 40 Euros.

France’s high-speed TGV trains link Roissy airport and the Gare de Lyon (central Paris) and Marseille. The journey takes just under three and a half hours. Fares are about 100 Euros, each way.

Eating Out in Marseille

For a succulent platter of freshly-caught seafood, stop by Toinou Coquillages.
3 Cours Saint-Louis

Chez Michel, La Brasserie des Catalans
A favorite spot for typical dishes such as the famous fish stew with aioli (garlic-based mayonnaise)
33 Quai des Belges

L’Entrecôte du Port
Feeling carnivorous? You’ll find everything you need, accompanied with the best French fries.
6, Quai de Rive Neuve

La Kahena
La Kahena’s couscous is unbeatable. Established since 1976, the restaurant proposes ten varieties of the famous north-African staple dish.
2, rue de la Republique

Where to Stay in Marseille

Our editor’s picks for Where to stay in Marseille

Written by Brigitte Aflalo Calderon for

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