Marseille and the Calanques

Marseille is one of the oldest and largest port cities in France. It is a historical seat of trade and a modern seat of recreational sailing! The port is definitely the highlight of this city. Boats ranging from modern yachts to antique fishing boats gather here, casting the shadows of their masts the the music of their bells and ropes into the air and onto the colorful buildings surrounding the old port. We were lucky enough to be there for a cotton candy sky followed by an incredible sunset.

People and sunset watching are the absolute best past times. The Old Port is also full of picturesque pastel architecture housing tons of local bars and restaurants who specialize in fresh seafood and bouillabaisse. The bouillabaisse is incredible, but ironically, quite expensive. (It was originally a food for peasants made from whatever leftover fish was available after market.) If you arrive earlier in the day, you can go to the fish market and buy the fish practically straight from the fishing boats!

At the base of the Old Port is an eclectic church called Saint-Ferréol les Augustins, which is a mish mash of architectural styles including 12th century base when the building was owned by the Knights of Templar, plus an Italian bell tower and a neo-baroque facade.

Another great church overlooking the Old Port is Notre Dame de la Garde. We walked to the top which is an impressive climb but very manageable and completely worth it for the views of Marseille from the top. Unfortunately, we happened to be there one of the windiest days of the year, and I managed to get a rock in my eye whilst at the top and had some major struggles getting back down.

Thank god for my road trip buddy who literally walked me down the hill with my eyes closed. It’s almost a Notre Dame miracle that I didn’t injure myself further on the descent.

Finally, there’s the Cathedral de la Major, the seat of the archdiocese of Marseille and the largest cathedral in France, able to seat more than 3,000 people. It uses the same stone striping technique as Notre Dame de la Garde.

Another great architectural feature of the city are the two forts erected on either side of the port: Fort Saint Jean and Fort Saint Nicholas. Weirdly, both of these forts were commissioned simultaneously to police the people of Marseille, rather than to protect them. There was a controversial governor at the time, so the forts were built with their cannons facing into the city rather than out to the sea.

Although Marseilles was incredibly beautiful, the real reason we went there was actually to hike at the nearby Calanques National Park.

So full disclosure, I had never heard of this, but thankfully my road trip buddy has really bright friends and a research ethic that I could not manage for this particular trip. This spot was absolutely gorgeous!! We drove up into the park and from there it’s only 2-4 miles depending on which way you go. We hiked down to Calanque d’En Vau in about an hour or an hour and a half, baguette in my backpack. (Somehow the alternate route we took return felt twice as long, maybe because it was uphill or maybe because I was starving having finished my baguette long ago!)

We got a slow start that day, and when we got down there, the beach was completely shadowed. While initially this sounds like misfortune, it actually worked out for the best because it forced us to hike along the western part of the calanque about halfway towards the sea until we found a sunny patch! There was no one else out there and, frankly, I think the flat rock was probably more comfortable than the pebbly beach. Plus it forced us to jump fully into the freezing water, something I surely would have chickened out on had I had to inch my way in from the beach. I didn’t get a pic of the jump but I insisted on getting a pic trying to warm up and dry off afterwards! 🙂

Seeing as this part of the trip was completely unplanned until maybe 12 hours beforehand, I would say Marseille and the calanques were definitely a success!

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