If you follow me on Instagram, you know I recently improvised a short city trip to Marseille, where I was visiting a friend who moved there last summer.
I wasn’t really planning on making a blogpost about it – but I soon realised there was no way around it, as I almost immediately fell in love with this city. And I just had to share it all with you!
Marseille is really big, and it has many different areas, which all have their specificities, their charm, their hotspots. You’ll need way more than a weekend to see it all, between the beach, the port, the mountains, the historical heart… But the good news is, in two days, you’ll definitely have enough time to visit the city center and grasp its beauty! We were lucky to have our own guide, our friend Leonard, who lives there since August and is crazy about art, culture, views and good food. Let’s just say that thanks to him, we could get a perfect first impression of the best things this city has to offer!
Marseille is not just another seaside city or a holiday destination: sure, the streets and the terraces aren’t as busy in the winter, and even if the sun was shining, the temperatures didn’t go over 10°C, but that doesn’t mean Massilia gets boring once high season has passed – au contraire.
In Marseille, you will eat well – and cheap.
Italian, Corsican and Armenian cuisine, seafood, Algerian and Moroccan specialties… the city offers so many different options that your only difficulty will be to pick. We’ve only had the time to test a few places, but they were all so good that I figured I’d tell you a bit about them.
Apparently, this is one of the locals’ favourites, and it’s pretty easy to understand why! Chez Jeannot serves a traditional, savoury, no-nonsense french-italian cuisine (meat, pasta, pizza), in a cosy and friendly atmosphere. The restaurant is located in this gorgeous, hella cute little creek (“le Vallon des Auffes”), right outside of the busy centre. Your meal will cost about 20 euros per person, including a glass of wine.
(I’m very sorry but I didn’t take any pictures of my food, and my very good excuse is that I was too hungry to think!)
We found this cocktail bar by an amazing coincidence, as we were walking along the Old Port looking for a cosy, not-too-crowded place to have a drink. La Dame Noir VII opened about two weeks ago, yet it filled up pretty quickly and seems to already have its faithful clientèle. We enjoyed a few delicious cocktails (I recommend the Alchimist, my new favourite cocktail – vodka, passion fruit, coriander) in a classy, cigar lounge-like decor with black walls, golden details, plants and pin-ups on the wall. Oh and the best part is that it’s affordable! Depending on what you pick, you’ll have to pay 10-12€ per cocktail.
- Les Grandes Tables de la Friche
The restaurant Les Grandes Tables is located in la Friche, a huge complex that used to be a factory and has been transformed completely (see below). They serve fresh, seasonal products, so the menu changes every day! Like pretty much everywhere else in Marseille, the prices here are very reasonable (courses cost between 12 and 16 euros) and the service is fast and delightful. It’s the perfect place to have a simple, copious lunch!
This little bistrot is one of the most popular on the Old Port – partly because of its balcony, that offers the perfect viewpoint to watch the sunset, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who liked the very Wes Andersonian decoration. I had a few of their house cocktail, the P’tit Louis – a killer – and apparently their homemade pastis is really worth the try. It’s also a hotel (the Bellevue), and turns out to be pretty much one of the only non-tourist trap you’ll find on the Port.
This classy (but not pretentious!) italian restaurant is the perfect place for a long, fun dinner with friends. For 24 euros, you can have an amazing 3-course dinner and won’t even have to choose between the delicious burrata, the fresh pasta, and the succulent desserts (I loved them because they are ‘remixed’ versions of classics, and I’m very big on originality). Their wine is very good and the service was super friendly, I actually only have one regret, and it’s once again that I forgot to take pictures of my food (looks like someone’s developing a pattern), so I stole a few on the restaurants website to show you what’s up:
I had the fresh penne with italian sausage and it was SO GOOD!
There’s nothing like living at the seaside
…especially when it also has all the advantages of a big city and you can get the best of both worlds: gorgeous sunsets, great public transports, little secret beaches, the Galeries Lafayettes, fresh fish, Uber… I mean, now I know why everyone’s always in such a good mood there.
View on the Old Port, with the famous Bonne Mère overlooking the city.
A few years ago, there was even a zoo in Marseille… then it closed, and the animals were replaced with colourful statues who are now ‘living’ in the cages of what became the Parc Longchamp, an immense green space, Central Park style. It’s a little weird and kinda funny, definitely a must if you visit the city with kids!
Between Europe, the South and the Orient.
What I found the most interesting in Marseille is the diversity: within its population, of course, but also in the architecture! It’s one of the oldest cities of France, and still has many traces of various eras: you’ll spot greek and roman ruins, remains of the Middle Ages, Haussmannian apartment buildings, little houses that scream ‘Italy’, streets where you’d think you are in Barcelona…
I can only recommend you to take the time to visit all the different areas of the center: Noailles (go check out the maison Empereur to find some fine Made In France gifts to take home with you and take a look at the terracotta dishes in the store across the street), Belsunce (maybe you know the song? This neighbourhood has changed a lot through the decades but remains one of the most authentic areas of the city), Le Panier (an old, charming little neighbourhood that inspired the French successful series ‘Plus Belle La Vie’), Saint-Charles, La Joliette, Le Vieux Port, Les Cinq Avenues (looks exactly like Paris!)…
Now is the time…
The energy that has motivated the inhabitants and the local government to bring life back to all these abandoned spaces, and give their hometown a fresh face, is so strong that you can almost taste it while you discover the city.
One of the best examples is la Friche la Belle de Mai, a former factory close to the Saint-Charles station, that was converted to a media house, a skate park, a restaurant (Les Grandes Tables, see above), a giant rooftop where you can watch movies or party with locals in the summer, and even an independent illustration printing house where I bought some really dope art.
And since the creation of the Mucem (Museum of European and Mediterranean civilisations) on the site of the Saint-Jean Fort (you HAVE to go check it out, even if you don’t make it inside the museum!), the former commercial docks are having a second life as well: two huge malls opened recently, and real estate is growing everywhere on the shore.
The Mucem, constructed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti with a type of concrete that he conceived especially for this building, is a true haven with an amazing view on the city and the sea..
Nowadays, these new concrete constructions integrate perfectly with the sea, the ancient façades, the dock buildings and even the La Major cathedral. This area is really rising from its ashes and becoming the new hipster neighbourhood, where youngsters move massively.
To go to Marseille from Belgium
The fastest (1h30) and cheapest solution is to fly with Ryanair from Charleroi. If you book early enough and during the low season, you can get tickets for less than 50 euros per person.
Brussels Airlines also have flights to Marseille, and if you in advance, you can probably find tickets for around 100 euros per person.
A longer option is taking the train: there are departures from Brussels-Midi pretty much everyday, but for some reason, this solution is also more expensive.
One thing is sure: I can’t wait to go back – during the summer, this time – and discover all the things I haven’t seen yet!