Summer is slowly making her exit, but you are not ready to fully embrace autumn just yet. Already dreaming of your next holiday? Well, if you’re looking for an affordable escape relatively close to Geneva to drag out the summer a bit longer and enjoy culture, the sea and the sun for a weekend, we recommend marvellous Marseille!
PS. to make the most of your visit, consider buying a city pass from Marseille Tourism – which gives you access to all the different modes of transport in the city, the museums, the boat for the islands, the little tourist train and a guided tours.
We have 2 x 72hour city passes (value of EURO41 each) from Marseille Tourism to give away to 2 lucky winners – valid for one year! To enter, follow us on Instagram – we’ll launch the competition during the week starting 24 September.
If you’re on a budget, but not ready to sacrifice the comfort of home, Mama Shelter Marseille is a fab option. Room prices start at €79 per night with amazing 5-star bedding, lively, fun and functional design interiors by Philippe Starck, large flat screen TV offering a large choice of free movies and a young, hip atmosphere.
Mama Shelter caters best to laid-back couples with or without children as they offer family rooms starting at 149€.
The service is friendly, young and welcoming. The restaurant is good, offering dishes created by the French chef Guy Savoy, but it can be noisy at night during weekend as they host live-music events.
Mama Shelter is not in the touristy area of Marseille but it is just a few blocks away from the arty and hip Cours Julien neighbourhood, where you will find small boutiques of independent local fashion designers, sunny terraces for a nice cappuccino in the morning or a late lunch washed down with wine. This area gets even better at night, perfect for barhopping between the many quirky bars of the area.
BREAKFAST OR CAFÉ CULTURE
For a nice breakfast or coffee break in the area, I recommend visiting Coogee. It is located within walking distance of Mama Shelter at 100 Boulevard Baille. The coffee is, I believe, the best in town. I love their eggs and salmon toast for breakfast, which are simple, but done very well. It has a funky vibe and is decorated with old brown leather sofas and plants hanging from the ceiling and from the walls. You can even play Mario Bros, the original game on an old, but functioning classic Nintendo console. While in Cours Julien, you must shop at L’Entrepot, Rue Pastoret for some great furniture and interior design artefacts.
If you love design, decoration and vintage furniture, you MUST visit Les Puces de Fifi, 20 Boulevard Fifi Turin. It is way off the beaten track and I recommend taking the bus or the subway to get there, but it is worth the effort. It is a very nice flea market with antiques from the 1960s and 1970s with a very nice and friendly restaurant to grab a drink and lunch before or after shopping. It is a beautiful space for vintage lovers. You can easily spend 2 hours just walking around, daydreaming about refurbishing your apartment.
Even if you decide not to stay in Cours Julien, while in Marseille, for one night or for a weekend, you must have dinner at La Cantinetta, 24 Cours Julien. It is the locals’ best-kept secret. The food is so good; it is almost sinful! The service is perfect and the atmosphere is very festive. I highly recommend going for the last service at 9:45pm and ask for a table in the outdoor patio, if the weather permits, to get the full quirky and fun experience. I had the fresh pasta with lobster and I have to confess that it was the best meal I have ever had! At La Cantinetta, they truly know how to make the simplest thing a pure delight. It is always full and noisy but it is so bustling and energizing that you can not help but fall deeply in love with this amazing Italian restaurant. Be sure to book in advance. For more information: visit this site.
VIEUX PORT AND LE PANIER
The InterContinental is the perfect base from where to explore the most touristy and trendiest areas of Marseille: le Vieux Port and its surrounding areas and Le Panier.
While visiting Marseille, you must visit the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations or MuCEM, along with strolling on the Fort St Jean and admiring the unique architecture of the Villa Mediterrannée. The MuCEM was inaugurated in June 2013 while Marseille was the European Capital of Culture. It is the first French national museum to be located outside of Paris. The museum offers free entry every first Sunday of the month. The museum is dedicated to the Mediterranean and thanks to a multidisciplinary vision of art combining anthropology, history, archeology and art history, it shows all the features of the Mediterranean world. You can easily spend a half-day walking around these 3 museums.
Once you have had your fill of museums, you can walk to Le Panier to discover the beating heart of Marseille. You simply can’t visit Marseille without visiting Le Panier. It is the oldest district of Marseille and one of the city’s major tourist attractions. It is nestled on a hill in the city center. Taking a stroll through Le Panier is a great way to understand Marseille’s popular culture. While being highly touristy, Le Panier remains authentic and true to its immigrant roots. Its old façades are coloured, sometimes decorated with beautiful street art, the streets are full of flowerbeds. It is a village within the city with a real soul.
If you have extra time, in Le Panier, there is a very beautiful and interesting museum called La Vieille Charité. Originally, it was designed as being public housing for the poor inhabitants of Marseille as well as an asylum for vagrants. It is now the Museum of Mediterranean Archeology. The building in itself is really stunning.
For lunch or dinner, in the Vieux-Port and Le Panier area, I highly recommend trying Bistrot L’Horloge at 11 Cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves. It is a lovely setting in one of Marseille’s biggest squares, just minutes from the Vieux Port. The location is very central, however, this place is known amongst locals to be excellent. It is definitely not a tourist trap. They have a small menu comprised of just a few dishes but the freshness and high quality of the ingredients are really incredible. They also have great cocktails and the service is always super friendly.
For sundowners, try to grab a seat at the very small terrace of the legendary La Caravelle bar. It is an institution in Marseille for both locals and tourists alike. The view from the Vieux Port and from Notre Dame de la Garde in the background is to die for. They have good cocktails and organize a live jazz music event every Friday. The atmosphere is intimate, romantic even though the place is a bit rundown. It is quite perfect for a few drinks in a cozy setting.
Also around the Vieux Port, if you want small plates instead of a full dinner, Le Repaire de la Poissonnerie located at 1 rue d’Endoume is splendid. It is an oyster bar and offers seafood dishes. For instance, they serve delicious sea urchins, grilled octopus, prawns, tuna ceviche, and other seafood delicacies. It is usually crowded and the atmosphere is electric. Everybody talks to everybody. People eat standing up and drink a lot of delicious white wine. Simply exceptional! For more information, click here.
One last thing to do before you head back to Geneva is to climb all the way up to Notre Dame de La Garde even if it is just to admire the panorama. It is a Catholic basilica and it is also the city’s best-known symbol. It is the most visited site in the city and Marseille’s iconic figure, watching over the sailors and the entire city. It was built on an ancient fort at the highest natural point of the city. Sunset is beautiful but if you want to beat the crowd and the summer heat go early in the morning. For more information, click here.
DAY TRIPS FROM MARSEILLE
If you have more than 48 hours, a great day trip from Marseille is to go to Cassis. It is located about 20km from Marseille. I find the village to be way too touristy for my taste, even though, I have to admit, it is very charming. I like to go to Cassis for its pebble beaches that are often protected from the heavy wind of Marseille thanks to the cliffs.
For instance, I really enjoy going to L’Arene beach, which is always quiet even in the midst of summer and far away from the crowds. It also very clean and the water is crystal clear.
For more beautiful beaches, you can head to Les Goudes, a small hamlet, which is part of Marseille and yet, it seems that time has stopped in this traditional fishing village. It is about 40 minutes from the Vieux Port but traffic can get really bad during the summer. Therefore, I would avoid if you only have 2 days. It is at the furthest point that you can get to by road before you hit the Calanques, the beautiful seaside inlets, which is a natural and protected area, where you can hike and swim.
HOW TO GET THERE FROM GENEVA
Swisstours offers a 2-day bus tour to Marseille every weekend from the 1st of October to the 18th of November 2018. The bus leaves at 6am on Saturday morning from the Geneva bus station and gets back in at 11pm on Sunday evening. The drop-off is Marseille train station. You can buy your ticket at their shop near the bus station at 8 Rue Bonivard.