On the edge of Les Calanques
There are lots of ways to experience the mountain range of Les Calanques, from the water, by boat from Marseille or Cassis, going on a good hike, or if you like an adrenaline rush, tackling a via ferrata route, to challenge your vertigo and see the best panoramic views of this beautiful National Park. In that experience the ropes were like arms allowing me to sway over Les Calanques. Firstly, to go from one rock to another. And then to descend over 70 metres in a death slide to caress the Mediterranean in all its glory.
Seeing Marseille on an electric bicycle
The city of Marseille had the honour of being European Capital of Culture for the year before and after 2013. The city became much more friendly, more focussed on the pedestrian and on sustainable methods of transport. So this time I didn’t think twice about going round the city by bike (electric, because there are lots of hills and it all helps) so I could see Marseille from another point of view. From the Pharo Castle to the intricacies of the Fort Saint Jean I was able to roam about as I pleased and discover the old city founded by the Greeks 26 centuries ago in a more environmentally friendly and, of course, a more healthy way.
At Madie les Galinettes
Physical activity makes you very hungry. So on that intense first day in Marseille I gave myself a gastronomic reward on the shore of the Vieux Port. At Chez Madie les Galinettes (138, Quai du Port) they had a great variety of dishes with fresh fish, seafood and meat. As it usually happens when people tell me I’m about to taste the best steak tartare in the world, I ended up succumbing to the sins of the flesh. And I assure you that there is plenty to sin about here, with the only penance being that you have to eat accompanied by the rays of the sun and the Mediterranean breeze.
Yoga on the beach
As dawn rose on my second day in Marseille, I went along to the first yoga class I had ever attended in my life. As usual for me, I like to give it everything I’ve got. In this case on the beach (Plage des Catalans) on a lovely early summer’s day. It was an hour of stretching, postures I didn’t know existed and then, in its turn, relaxation. Lots of relaxation. Breathing deeply while the sand and the horizon changed colour. All thanks to Massilia Fit.
By boat to the Château d’If, the real setting of Alexandre Dumas
Marseille always allows you to escape from its urban side in a matter of minutes, the time it takes the boat to leave the Vieux Port and reach the rocky archipelago of Frioul. Of all these islands it is If that stands out and its castle which, in the days of King Francis I, was used to defend the city from his arch enemy Charles V, and later became a prison for some famous prisoners. This was the place Alexandre Dumas himself used as the setting for the harshest of prisons in “The Count of Montecristo”, one of the masterpieces of that renowned French novelist. A true pause for breath in the middle of the Mediterranean.
There’ll always be the old port of Marseille
My starting point for everything I did or failed to do in Marseille was the Vieux Port. The old port is the soul of all the festivals and the repository of that southern French Mediterranean essence that still weaves its colours over Provence and the favoured Côte d’Azur. Marseille opens its jar of essence in just this place with its fish market, mooring for yachts and sailing boats, tables on restaurant terraces, a comfortable seat where you can breathe and pray to the always brilliant Notre-Dame de La Garde. The old port is really whatever you want it to be at any time.
On the lawns of the Palais du Pharo
Ten years ago I left Marseille thinking that the best views were from Notre-Dame de La Garde. But I had not yet been seduced by the Palais du Pharo, the palace and its gardens from where the Vieux Port and the whole of the old centre of the city give up their secrets and appear as a perfect model of themselves. It was a gift from Napoleon III to his wife, Eugenia de Montijo from Spain, around 1858. Its gardens are now a gift for local people and visitors to Marseille, where they can enjoy a great breath of fresh air.
The room where I imagined jumping over the roofs of Marseille
During my visit to Marseille I stayed at the Hôtel Carré Vieux-Port (6, Rue Beauvau), just behind the Vieux Port. From the windows of my small Marseille-style room I could imagine myself jumping over the roofs and cupulas where thousands of seagulls perched. That room was my refuge, and at the same time a way of escaping via the silhouette of a city that so well understands how to make the most of second chances.