The area around the Vieux Port of Marseille is sublime. It’s everything you imagine a Mediterranean city port to be and more. Anchors clang gently, the sky is almost always a deep shade of blue. The restaurants teem with contented looking diners, there are posh shops and quirky boutiques and fishermen selling their wares direct from the sea. The giant mirror shade, known as the Ombrière, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is fascinating as you watch the reflections of people walking or cycling through its huge openings.
La Canebière Marseille
Every inch of space is used in this town, wandering through the main street in town La Canebière I felt a bit like one of the fish squashed into the famous seafood dish of Marseille – bouillabaise. This long wide road takes its name from the Latin word ‘Cannabis’, as the area around the Old Port was originally hemp fields. Marseille was one of the world’s largest traders of hemp baskets and ropes from the Middle Ages until the 1930s, when other fibres were introduced. These days La Canebière is a huge shopping street, criss-crossed by tramlines, where buses and bikes, cars and lorries toot their hooters with abandon and pedestrians nonchalantly saunter across the busy road. For an out of towner like me it was astonishing to watch the hustle and bustle of life on this famous strip.
At the bottom end of La Canebière is the Vieux Port area. It is modern and very smart but also retains an air of authenticity. On the Quai des Belges are fishermen carrying boxes of fresh-landed fish, housewives queue up to buy it direct and people sit round the port in cafés and restaurants that line the port, their bright awnings shading the diners as the hot sun pours its rays over this beautiful city.
Don’t Miss in Vieux Port Marseille
The views from the port are stunning. Looking out over the calm water on the south side you see the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde, the undoubted star of this city with its monumental golden statue of the Bonne Mère gleaming like a beacon; on the other side you look over to the old town of Marseille.
The very modern museum known as MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean civilisations is in the old port right on the edge of the sea. If you love modern architecture, you’ll be blown away by this incredible building which is an exhibit in itself. The museum has an interesting collection but its also worth visiting for its top floor restaurants and bar overlooking the Med. The different restaurants serve a menu designed by renowned chef Gérald Passédat.
Le Panier – the oldest part of the city, though much of it was destroyed during WWII. The little Musée des Docks Romain is here, free to enter, inside you’ll discover the remains of a Roman warehouse that served the docks, complete with the most enormous food storage jars in remarkable condition. This area is a good place for lunch with vibrant cafés and quirky art and craft shops.
There are lots of restaurants located round the old port, ask the locals and many will tell you they’re not the best, they’re for the tourists but, there’s not much that will beat sitting here, eating al fresco in the sun with stunning views. Enjoy a first class, first floor view from Bar La Caravelle (34 quai du port) where you can sit on the balcony, sipping a chilled wine or pastis, the local drink of choice, watching the world go by and enjoying the moment.
How to get to Marseille: Eurostar’s new direct service speeds travellers from London to Marseille in just under 6 hours 27 minutes with fares starting from £99 standard class per person (2016). You can also travel direct from Lille and Paris. Marseille St Charles Station is in the heart of the town. Don’t miss the views over the city from outside the station at the top of the huge Belle Epoque staircase. Details: Voyages-sncf.com
Tourist Office Website: marseille-tourisme.com; address: 11 La Canebière