Marseille Travel Guide
In spite of the City’s seediness there is still a much of historic, artistic and cultural value on offer including several fine museums and galleries. Musee Cantini is entirely devoted to modern art and has a permanent collection including masterpieces by Derain, Marquet, Ernst, Mason, Bulthus and more. The museum also hosts very interesting temporary exhibitions. Musee Grobet Labadie consists of a private collection bequeathed to the city in 1919 including exquisite Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture along with Bagundian and Provencal sculptures. Musee De Beaux Arts is housed in the northern wing of the incredible Palais Lonchamps, which was built during the second empire. Here there is a vast array of paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries including work by Corot, Millet, Ingres, David and Rubens. There are also sculptures by Pierre Paget and an exhibition by Marseille born artist Honore Daumier.
Local history is served well by Musee d’Histoire de Marseille where you can wander through the archaeological garden and observe ongoing excavations. There are several audio-visual exhibitions as well as a room filled with finds from the dig. The highlights of the museum are the medieval quarter of a Louis XIV potters town and remains of an excavated Roman Wreck. Musee de la Faience contains one of the largest collections of porcelain in all France with exhibits from Neolithic to the present day including some richly ornate 18th and 19th century ceramics. On the island of If (part of the Frioul Archipelago in Marseille's bay) stands Chateau d’If, setting for Dumas’ novel The Count Of Monte Cristo. Built by Francious I to defend the City it was later used as a prison. Carvings by Huguenot prisoners can still be found in the cells and Edmund Dante’s cell is open for visits. Dominating the City from the top of the 154m-high hill, overlooking Vieux Port (Old Port) is Notre Dame de la Garde. Built between 1853 and 1864, the crowning glory of the Roman Byzantine style basilica, with its multicoloured dome, is its bell tower capped by a beautiful golden statue of the Virgin Mary.
Although no longer commercially active Vieux Port still operates as a harbour for fishing boats, pleasure yacht and ferries. The entrance is guarded by Bas Fort St.Nicholas built in the 13th century by the Knights Hospitaller of St.John of Jerusalem. Head into town and you immediately step onto the seediest street in all France, La Canabiere (or Can of Beer as US seamen named it). Lined with hotels, shops interspersed with noisy bars and restaurants, filled with sailors, visitors and all kinds of ethnic groups, it is as fascinating as it is daunting. The area where La Canabiere crosses Cours Belsunce is by far the liveliest part of town. In fact most of the areas around the City centre have lively nightlife. There is virtually nothing that you can’t find here – the waterfront development along Ave Mendes–France called Escale Borley is a hive of activity with numerous cafes and restaurants of every nation. Vieux Port has a thriving club scene with the onus on dance and techno music and there are plenty of sex orientated clubs and shows to keep broadminded adults entertained.
For those wanting a relaxing change from the bustle of the City centre there is plenty to see and do in the surrounding area. Hop on a number 83 bus from Vieux Port and you can be at the beach in a few minutes. Plage du Prado and La Corniche are excellent for swimming and sunning with wide grey sandy beaches, clear blue water and a magnificent backdrop of the Marseille Cliffs. The Frioul Archipelago in the bay consists of 4 islands, If, Ratonneau, Pomegues and Tiboulen. Each one has lovely sandy beaches, turquoise water and stunning landscapes. Between them there are over 700 moorings for pleasure boats. Tourists can enjoy the beautiful scenic walks through areas filled with rare (protected) plants or shop in the villages. There are several pleasant restaurants and during the summer months the archipelago plays host to various musical and cultural events.
The more adventurous amongst you should take a trip to the Calanques. Along a spectacular coastal landscape there is a fascinating underwater cave system filled with prehistoric paintings. The Calanques are only accessible by boat, which has meant that settlers here have been able to take advantage of its remoteness and built houses without plans, architects or even permission. Almost like guardians of the land they add to the warm ambience and distinct character of the region. It is also a great place for trekkers, offering some truly spectacular rock climbing on cliffs that tower above the waves.
To be honest, Marseille is no more dangerous than any other big city. Besides the usual pickpockets and bag snatchers there is very little street crime at all. The City’s notoriety stems largely from the liberal attitude and general seediness of its nightlife, which is something that most major seaports have in common. It is a fascinating place and the multiracial population means that it enjoys a truly international flavour. One thing you can be absolutely sure of is when you visit Marseille you will never be bored.
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