What to do in Marseille this Summer
From island hopping to day tripping, here are six reasons to visit France’s southern port city.
For the Love of Competition
Le Défi de Monte Cristo (Photo: Richard Leboz)
As the 2017 European Capital of Sport, Marseille will be host to many international, European and national sporting events, from windsurfing championships in April to a Tour de France time trial in July. There are also competitions open to amateurs. For open-water enthusiasts, Le Défi de Monte Cristo takes place June 23–25. Repeating the hero’s swim from the eponymous book, more than 3,000 participants will take a boat out to the former offshore prison, Château d’If, and race back to Marseille. Back on land, the Mondial à Pétanque, from July 2–7, is a celebration of the popular lawn bowling game. Be one of 15,000 women, men and children to play in the city’s lush Parc Borély.
For Some of the Best Couscous in France
Le Femina Chez Kachetel
The city’s many North African restaurants bring a range of flavours and dishes to the table. Le Femina Chez Kachetel, an institution since 1921, serves cuisine from Algeria, including couscous made with barley instead of the usual wheat semolina. A little more off the beaten path, in the neighbourhood of Belsunce, is Tunisian restaurant Sur le Pouce. Their couscous with lamb shank – oven-roasted with herbs and garlic – is popular for its simplicity. Especially-hungry diners can ask for more complimentary couscous and vegetables, including carrots, turnip, chickpeas and green cabbage. Also Tunisian, La Fontaine is a great place for fresh Mediterranean seafood served with couscous and veggies: Try the octopus (you’ll need to call in advance) or the grilled sea bream.
For a Rollicking Happy Hour
Intercontinental’s Bar Le Capian
Marseillais have a reputation for being committed to their cocktail hour, which at many places lasts until 9 p.m. – especially in the summer. Grab a seat on the terrace of the Intercontinental’s Bar Le Capian in the old port, with views of the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, and try their signature Le Daviel cocktail, made with pastis, lychee, strawberry juice and champagne. Although this is the land of pastis, there are many other options for your apéro. At authentic old-school cabaret La Caravelle, find a spot on the balcony for a mojito and complimentary nibbles – like olives and seafood crostini. On Wednesdays and Fridays, live jazz starts at 9 p.m. With glasses of wine starting at just a few euros, La Part des Anges is a great place to try something new, whether it’s a syrah from nearby Costières de Nîmes or a riesling from farther-flung Alsace. Pair your glass with the charcuterie plate and take a bottle to go on your way out.
For a Dose of Cultural Expression
Le Festival de Marseille
The 22nd edition of Le Festival de Marseille runs June 15–July 9, with three weeks of dance, theatre, concerts, installations, performances, films and chances to meet the shows’ artists. With a mandate to reflect the pulse of the city, the festival’s international vision of contenmporary art aims to give attendees the opportunity to encounter new people, cities and spheres. This year, expect an additional focus on work from South Africa and artists visiting from Berlin, Beirut and Rio de Janeiro.
For Island Hopping
Take the half-hour ferry from Quai de la Fraternité in the old port to the Frioul Archipelago, whose four islands are just a few kilometres from Marseille. Explore Pomègues and Ratonneau (connected by a bridge) by tram, or walk the trails that lead to swimmable sand and white-stone beaches that have panoramic views of the limestone coast and mainland Marseille. Just a 20-minute walk from the port, which buzzes with restaurants and bars, Calanque de Saint-Estève is popular for its clear turquoise water and marine life. For history buffs, there are also historical forts and the restored 1828 Hôpital Caroline.
For Day Tripping
Festival d’Avignon (Photo: Christophe Raynaud de Lage)
To visit Marseille is to be in Provence: land of wine, lavender and Roman ruins. Head to Orange for the day, about an hour’s drive from Marseille. The Chorégies d’Orange festival brings symphonies and operas to the town’s Roman theatre (the best-preserved in Europe) throughout the summer. For another view of the 37-metre-high venue – and the whole town – head to the public park and the town’s highest point, Colline Saint-Eutrope. Also about an hour from Marseille, Avignon is famous not only for what remains of its medieval Saint-Bénezet Bridge – a.k.a. the Pont d’Avignon, of the children’s song – but also for the Festival d’Avignon (July 6–26). This year’s arts festival offers 300 contemporary performances, plays and film screenings, plus public walks. For the best seat in town, choose a show happening in the Cour d’Honneur, an open-air theatre that holds 2,000 people in the Gothic-era Palais des Papes, which was home to nine popes over 70 years in the 1300s.