Walking Tour of Marseille Offered by a Local Greeter
Robin and I have been living in Provence for 2 years and can you believe it- we’ve never visited Marseille except for getting lost in the city on our way to the Calanques which was slightly traumatic in our overheated Austin Mini.
There is no doubt that Marseille has a bad reputation. Just the other night we were watching a French TV documentary on the “quartiers nord” drug violence. Many people have recounted horror stories of their experience in the city but just as many other people have told us that there is nothing to worry about. We wanted to find out for ourselves.
Day Out in the Big City
With the ongoing renovation, we’re a little low on cash. However, one must get out a little. Just by chance I searched “Free Walking Tours of Marseille” and came upon the Greeters website. I had heard of city locals giving free tours to visitors but I didn’t know anything about it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised! All you do is ask for a “walk” on a certain day and if a local greeter is available they will give you a 2-hour free tour of their hometown. Most greeters speak English. It’s a great way to see things that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen. Each greeter, of course, has their own interests but you can ask them to show you particular sites if that is what you’d like.
Our greeter, Stef, met us with his girlfriend when we arrived at the train station. He kindly bought us day passes on the public transport system and off we went! I left the itinerary completely up to him and it didn’t disappoint. Stef is a postman, or facteur, who better to show you around?!
We explored mostly the outer edges of the city where we wandered through neighbourhoods bordering the ocean that surprisingly felt like small Mediterranean towns. I was stunned at the picturesque scenery. Here are some pictures of our tour where our guide kindly gave us facts, pamphlets and spent his entire Sunday with us. One can’t possibly see an entire city in a day but I was so impressed that I went back on my own the following day!
Our first stop was the Vieux Port where we saw the daily fish market (the most important thing on my list). There is a great atmosphere here; the fisherman are filleting the fish and throwing the skins to the birds in the water behind them, you can see the variety of fish that has been caught that morning.
A Good Luck Charm
Many stalls were selling Oeil de st Lucie porte-bonheur des pêcheurs. The Eye of St Lucie is a shell that is often caught in fisherman’s nets off the coast of Corsica. There are a variety of legends that describe why they are a good luck charm.
View of the Port
We then took the bus to Palais de Pharo where we were able to access a great view over the port and the Mucem. Stef proudly told us all about how Marseille was one of the 2 capitals of European culture in 2013. This was great for the city as many new public spaces, such as the new museum of European Civilization, were redeveloped.
The bad reputation of Marseille is a bit of a mystery for its residents. It’s true that a some of the northern parts of the city see some gang violence. Stef explained that this violence rarely bothers citizens and is mostly between the gangs. I imagine it’s the same in many modern cities.
After walking beside the Plage des Catalans we headed to Vallon des Auffes. This is a lovely little port tucked behind a bridge. In fact, Marseille has many little ports which we would most likely never have discovered if we didn’t have Stef to guide us.
As we turned a corner along the rocky shore we were told that we might be able to hear what the locals refer to as “le monstre.” With intrigued and puzzled expressions we walked on to find that sure enough there was a loud noise that produced something that indeed sounded like the roar of a monster. If it’s windy there is a channel through the rocky shoreline that serves as a kind of trumpet!
An Icon of Marseille
After walking along Le Promenade du Roucas Blanc and marveling at how people can be in bathing suits in January we headed to our final destination. Basilique Notre Dame du Gard is one of the most iconic symbols of Marseille.
From the basilica that is filled with characteristic Ex Voto and wooden ships one can see a great view of the city.
Check out the Marseille Greeters Website for a free tour of the city. Or, search for greeters in other cities you’re visiting. Even if you’ve already been somewhere you’ll be guaranteed to discover something new!
The next day I went to the Marché de Noailles (locally known as the Arab market) and the Mucem on my own. Stef gave me a whole list of suggestions of places to see. I’ll have to work my way through it gradually.
Have you ever been to Marseille? What did you like about the city? Is there something unique about the city that you can describe?