Calanques and Bouillabaisse in Marseilles

Port de l’Orient

Just a short train ride south of Paris lies the region known as Provence, long characterized by great wine, great food, rolling hills, and beautiful scenary.  At the heart of Provence, along the southern coast of France, lies the countries oldest city: Marseilles.  Originally founded around 600 B.C. as a trading port for the Greeks, it has now seen several millenia of ships, fishermen, and traders pulling into to its harbours — and as a result, it can be a bit rough around the edges.  But it is just that grittiness that gives its it character and charm, so I’m sure the locals wouldn’t have it any other way.

I do have to mention, though, that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend traveling here if you are a solo female traveler unless you’ve got pretty tough skin and can shrug off the aggressive, and unwanted, advances of many of the citizens.  I guess that’s what you’ll get, though, when your city has been welcoming sea-bound sailors for thousands of years.  That point aside, however, it is still a great city with a bounty of delicious seafood dishes and beautiful vistas out over the Sea.

The faded facades of the buildings are a testament to the years of sun and sea that they have weathered

The Old Harbor near to the city center

Houses along a coastal road

Cafe culture thrives everywhere in France

The city’s central hub is the Vieux Port, or Old Port, with the main thoroughfare, the Canabiere, moving inland to the east.  And getting lost in the city is hard to do, as the Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral sits high up on a hill like a beacon, which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

The Vieux Port

Fishing in the morning

Boats docked in the harbor with the Notre Dame de le Garde at the peak of the hill in the background

Looming just off the coast, in plainview from the Vieux Port, is the ever-present and ominous profile of Chateau d’If — made famous as the prison featured in Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

As mentioned above, one of the focal points of the city is the Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral that towers over the skyline.  Well, one common, recurring theme of my trip is that when I come across steps leading upwards to higher ground, I feel an obligatory urge to take them and see where they lead.  In this case, the “steps” that led towards the church turned out to be quite a hike (there is a trolley service for those not looking to collapse in a sweated heap at the top), but the view at the end made everything worthwile:

The Cathedral upon approach

Although it is France’s third largest metropolitan area behind Paris and Lyon, it can be explored in a day or two.  So if you’re staying any longer, I’d highly recommend checking out the Calanques National Park just a few kilometers down the coast to the east.  Essentially, it is a series of limestone cliffs that have been both worn away by the sea and reshaped by the same tectonic activity that created the Alps, not too far away.  Though I elected for the lazy-man’s tour on a boat, this is some prime hiking and kayaking territory.

And if you’re anything like me, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Marseilles is Bouillabaisse!  This whopper of a meal is essentially a seafood soup, made from adding various types of fish — the more the better — to the broth one by one, and letting them all cook together, along with vegetables and specific herbs from the surrounding region (Herbs de Provence, to be specific).  Additionally, it is always served with rouile (a sort of saffron-infused, oily mayonnaise), which you then spread on slices of baguette bread and soak it in the broth.  Given that this dish originated right here in this very port city, it would almost be sacrilege not to try it if you come to visit.

Traditionally, the broth, bread, and rouile would be served as an appetizer, with the fish coming later as the main entree. But given that bouillabaisse is usually only made for large groups — often ten or more — I’ll take what I can get

After Marseilles, it’s just another easy train down the coast for me to reach the Cote d’Azur region, otherwise known as the French Riveria.  I’m making Nice my home base for my stay there, and I have no plans other than to do my best impression of a dead body laying on the beach.  I can’t wait!

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

2 Responses to “Calanques and Bouillabaisse in Marseilles”

  1. Andrew, you are looking better and better with every picture! I can tell this trip is just what you needed. Enjoy the beach!

  2. In 1992, I spent a summer in 1992 with the French Scouts at a forest-fire fighting camp. We also did a hike along the Calanques for a few days, it was beautiful!

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