The last stop on my “Tour de France” was the historical city of Marseille (Californians- think Santa Cruz) and as a history geek I am going to force-feed you a bit of background history that I feel is worth noting!
This southern French city dates back to the late 15th century when Marseille served as France’s main trading port as well as their military base in the Mediterranean. This city stands out among others in France because of the influence it had from other cultures, being a port and all. If you have every been to New Orleans in Louisiana (highly recommended!) there is an uncanny resemblance in the architecture, wrought iron balconies, and the sea breeze blowing through the streets (yes, New Orleans was a French colony at one point, I know. But don’t tempt me with another history lesson!).
Above the Old Port of Marseille sits the uniquely decorated Notre-Dame de la Garde. Being a port city I guess it is only fitting to structure your basilica with drawbridge and decorate the inner rooms with boat figurines. To top it all off there is a massive golden statute of the Virgin Mary sat atop it to overlook the city and sea.
The view is stunning, to say the least, and I would highly recommend putting this on your “must do” list while in Marseille. Pro tip: There’s no need to pay for a special tram ride or tour bus up to Norte-Dame de la Garde; just hop on the public bus and use your metro ticket! Warning to the fainted-hearted and queasy-stomached though, it’s a tight, twisty, steep ride to the top!
We stayed in the cutest apartment found on AirBnB in the neighborhood of Couers Julien. It’s not a very touristy location– there were no major hotels sprouting from between local residences– so we got a good look at the real Marseille. Couers Julien is known for its epic street art painted on any and every empty surface, which I loved! It really brings out the color and culture of the city.
Also worth noting, we found the best ice cream place just a split second walk away from the Couers Julien Metro exit– Ego. Their freezers are filled with over 100 different flavors of ice cream, sorbet and alcoholic ice cream (cause y’all know I don’t mind a drink here and there) you can scoop for yourself and weigh at the counter to pay. We may be guilty of visiting Ego multiple times within 24 hours… (try the mojito!)
Now that your mouth is watering I might as well re-bring up the black ice cream, too! You can read more about this morbid looking treat here!
As for treats of the non-edible kind, there’s nothing like bringing home a hand-crafted, unscented block of soap for your loved ones, after returning from your travels! But really, Savon de Marseille makes a great gift seeing as it basically set the standards for all soap after its creation in 1688 and is something unique and typical to Marseille.
Bonus pro-tip: when purchasing tickets for the Metro in other French cities the machine always spits out ten separate tickets for the ten trips purchased– that is not the case in Marseille! The Marseille Metro gives you one ticket with multiple uses so there is no chance of splitting up the rides and sharing your tickets with your travel buddy!