Marseille See And Do
3 Rue de l'Abbaye
Tel: 33 4 96 11 22 60
On the south side of the port lies the Basilique St. Victor, a Romanesque basilica constructed in the fifth century by St. Cassien, and then destroyed by the Saracens; the fortified Gothic church was a later addition. The restored abbey is still used for worship, and the tomb of two martyrs, dated to A.D. 250, rests among the catacombs and sarcophagi.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Try to rise early enough to catch the renowned seafood and fish market, daily at the Vieux Port, for a sneak peak of what will be in the bouillabaisse come lunchtime.
Tel: 33 4 91 90 42 22
For a picture of Marseille's earliest civilization, visit the Jardin des Vestiges, a public garden installed in the remains of an original Greek port, which was uncovered during the development of the area behind the Centre Bourse shopping area. Collections from the archaeological find are on display at the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille inside the Centre Bourse.
Open daily 8 a.m. to sunset.
Massif des Calanques
The coastal, creek-lined mastiff gorges known as "Les Calanques" dot the 12-mile jagged shore between Marseille and the attractive fishing port of Cassis. Gorse-covered white cliffs lead down to these clear, clean waterways, which are popular with swimmers. The best, at Port-Pin and d'En-Vau, can only be reached on foot or by boat. A popular spot to start trekking over the mastiffs and across the gorges is the fishing area of Callelongue (at the end of Marseille's Corniche) where you will find a simple restaurant, La Grotte, well worth visiting for its end-of-the-world feel (1 rue des Pebrons; 33-4-91-73-17-79). From here, adventurers can embark on ambitious hikes over the calanques to Cassis—the shorter of two routes takes 10 to 11 hours, and the longer path that follows the coast takes a full two days. However, due to risk of forest fires, footpaths through the calanques are restricted during the summer.
Alternatively, you can explore the calanques via sea kayak. Raskas Kayak runs half-day to week-long tours of the calanques out of Marseille, visiting nearby islands and gliding into hard-to-reach coves (33-4-91-73-27-16; www.raskas-kayak.com).
Tel: 33 4 91 91 24 62
The Museum of the Roman Docks houses a unique and intimate collection where vast dolia (grain-storage jars) share space with Roman treasures mainly found in shipwrecks. Marseille's ancient pier was unearthed during the construction of postwar apartments in the Quartier du Panier, parts of which had been destroyed by the Germans. Although the new buildings were still built, their ground floors were adapted to accommodate the excavated docks in their natural setting, and everything is intelligently organized and explained.
Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Place du Colonel Edon
Tel: 33 4 91 13 40 80
Towering on the highest point of the city, 532 feet above the harbor, the neo-Byzantine Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde was originally built as a small chapel in the 12th century and later expanded into a basilica during the 19th century. How Notre Dame looks, however, is far less important than what it represents to the sea-centric people of Marseille. Known affectionately as La Bonne Mère ("The Good Mother"), the church is a repository for sailors' votive offerings, many of them quite touching. Atop the belfry, a 36-foot gold statue of the Virgin Mary watches over the Vieux Port and city of Marseille. The car or trolley ride to the basilica is worth the trip alone, as it passes through a gracious neighborhood and offers stunning views over the city and the Mediterranean beyond. The Office du Tourisme has the timetable of the Petit Train de la Bonne Mère.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Avenue du Prado
Tel: 33 4 91 55 25 51
On the eastern edge of the city near the Corniche is the 100-acre peaceful oasis of Parc Borély. It boasts the 18th-century Château Borély, a lake with a good restaurant on an island that you can reach by rowboat, as well as a botanical garden, a splendid rose collection, a fine view, and bikes for rent.
During the late 19th and 20th centuries, such celebrated painters as Cézanne, Braque, Derain, and Renoir were attracted to a small working-class port in the northernmost part of the city called L'Estaque ("connection" in Provençal). And with good reason: The neighborhood has a colorful character and is still one of the most picturesque areas of the city, where families congregate on summer evenings and weekends. The parents settle at one of the cafés for an aperitif; the children get money to buy a panisse (chickpea-flour fritter: circular and slightly salted) or a chichi freggi (a doughnut sprinkled with sugar); both are specialties of the port. Of the many cafés and simple restaurants, try Larrieu, right on the waterfront (64 Plage Estaque; 33-4-91-46-09-53).
Explore the crooked, narrow streets of the Quartier du Panier north of the Vieux Port, the oldest part of the city where the original Greek settlers built their temples. The winding streets lead up to the Centre de la Vieille Charité, probably the most beautiful poorhouse ever conceived, with a rectangular courtyard that boasts sweeping galleries on three levels (2 Rue de la Charité; 33-4-91-14-58-80). Today, it contains several exhibition spaces and museums (one on Mediterranean archaeology, another on the native arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas). More-modern work is displayed nearby, at the former granary now named Red Light District gallery, featuring lively exhibitions of contemporary art (20 Rue Saint-Antoine; 33-4-91-90-49-67; www.reddistrict.org).