Category: Marseille

Marseille, Resilient After All

Admittedly, my old view of Marseille came from mob and war stories in books, on TV and movies.

Now after visiting the city, I’m impressed. To me Marseille’s story is one of resilience. It shows how perseverance conquers adversity.

Marseille’s Story: Prehistory and Ancient Massalia

Marseille’s StoryThe earliest settlements in the area, now know as Marseille, date back to the Paleolithic period (60,000 BC). Residents lived along the Marseille basin which was about the size of the current city. The location was ideal for all types of sea activities. It was protected on the opposite side from the strong northerly wind, Les Mistral, by a range of tall mountains.

Around 600 BC the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, arrived in the area to be close to their trading partner, Gaul. They named the city “Massalia.”

Marseille’s Story

Remains of Greek temple

A popular legend is that Massalia was a wedding gift from the Gallic king, Nannos, to his daughter upon her marriage to a Greek sailor. The story supports the belief that the nations were peaceful at that time. We do know the blending of the two cultures resulted in the introduction of olive oil, wine, ceramics and Grecian gods into the Gaelic world.

Marseille’s Story

From 600 BC to 49 BC the independent Greek city of Massalia grew into a prestigious seaport. Its sea trade, its infrastructure and its political system dominated the trade routes. They distributed goods along the coasts of Gaul to Iberia.

Marseille’s Story

Model of early Massalia

Marseille’s Story: The Roman City

Caesar captured Massalia in 49 BC. Artifacts unearthed at a site where the History Museum now stands attest to the Roman influence on the town. Massalia’s habits and customs, however, remained strongly Greek. Even the language.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: Sacked, Ravaged, Back on Track

From the Roman age through medieval times, the city that became Marseille saw great prosperity and near-total destruction. The Visigoths captured Marseille and the Franks sacked it. In the early 10th century, Marseille experienced a revival as part of a Provençal territory which was divided in two. Arles and Marseille were the capitals.

During the twelfth century, Marseille was an independent republic with strong trade relations and naval prowess. A currency of its own boosted the city’s stature as well.

Marseille’s Story: A French Center of Commerce

Marseille’s StoryMarseille maintained political autonomy until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of France in 1481 along with Provence. Through years of religious wars and changes in French rulers, Marseille maintained its role as a major center of commerce and a vital port for defense. The city had an arsenal and fleets of warships.

Marseille’s Story

Fort Saint John

Under Louis XIV, Marseille was given “free port” status. To affirm his political power, the king ordered a new urban plan for the city. The size of Marseille went from 65 hectares to 195. Straight streets lined with mansions appeared, including the Canebière that leads to the Old Port. The new city had a fort and a new town hall.

The Great Plague

Thought to be carried from Central Asia through ship crews, the Great Plague of 1720 devastated Marseille. Over 30,000 out of the city’s population of 90,000 died from the outbreak.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: The Revolution

The people of Marseille supported the Revolution sending hundreds of men north to Paris to fight. Along the way the rebellious marchers sang a song that is now the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

Marseille’s Story

Troops from Marseille as depicted on the Arch de Triomphe in Paris

Marseille’s Story: Boom Time and Gangs

The middle of the nineteenth century was a “boom” time for Marseille. The port became a maritime hub for the rest of the world. Trade with the Far East and major shipping lines boosted the creation of a modern culture. At the same time, prosperity cut a deep wedge between the already divided city. The rich against the working class.

Marseille’s Story

Refugees, expelled or fleeing from their countries after WWI, brought droves of Italians, Corsicans, Germans, Armenians and Spaniards to Marseille in search of work. The world of gangsters and the underground grew under leaders such as Carbone and Spirito.

Marseille’s Story

Paul Carbone (top) and François Spirito

Marseille’s Story: Modern War and Destruction

The image of Marseille as a den of violence, drugs and crime is persistent in the eyes of many. Big screen movies and TV series, still today, such as “Marseille” help perpetuate the city’s reputation. Marseille is the second largest city in France today, so an element of such activity can be expected.

It’s how Marseille survived the apocalypse during World War II that is nearly incomprehensible.

Marseilles’ Story

German troops seal off the Old Port quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

The Old Port and surrounding districts were bombed and destroyed. The Germans, the Vichy government, the Militia and the French Popular Party actively suppressed the people. In January, 1943, more than 2,000 Marseillais were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. 

Like a phoenix, Marseille thrives. 

Marseille has an enduring charm. The metropolitan area of 1.5 million people consists of a melange of people of all races, creeds and nationalities. It is a place of huge economic, social and cultural significance to France. Marseille is proud and it shows.

Marseille’s Story

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

Cooking Class in Marseille

What’s Cooking in Marseille? A Day with the Provence Gourmet

For someone who had never spent much time in Marseille, now I’m loving it!  I jumped at the chance to join a cooking class in Marseille with Gilles Conchy of Provence Gourmet. Read on and you’ll see why …

Marseille is a city of wide, busy streets and tight alleys. High end fashions and ethnic robes. Elegant eateries and takeout pizzas. It’s everything you might expect from France’s second largest city, plus a whole lot more. For my return visit to Marseille, I was excited to see it again, especially Les Vieux Port, the Saturday fish market and an inside view of a true “Marseillese” apartment. An invitation from Gilles Conchy to attend a cooking class in Marseille fit the bill in every way.

Cooking Class in Marseille

Gilles arranged for me and his two guests from Toronto to meet him on Saturday morning at the Tourist Office. That meant I needed to stay overnight in Marseille for the next morning’s 9:30 am start. What a pity … lol! I made the most of it by stopping by my new favorite restaurant, Brasserie on Le Vieux Port (OM Cafe),  for a seafood medley plancha-style.

Le Vieux Port Fish Market 

When Gilles met us, we headed right away for the fish market at the port. As colorful as it was, the fish market was a bit disappointing in that there were so few fishermen around selling their catch. Gilles says there are only 20 fishermen in Marseille now who sell at the market — a result of overfishing in the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the catch of “rockfish” for the fish soup starter on our menu was easy to find. Watch the video and imagine you’re along with us at the fish market in Marseille!

Cooking Class in Marseille

Fresh Market

After our outing at the fish market, we were off to the “fresh market” in Marseille — vegetables, cheese and more.

Cherries and asparagus were in season, so the stalls were filled with the luscious picks from local farmers.

After our stop at the fresh market, then off to the butcher for fresh ground meats.

Onto the wine store for Gilles’ favorite picks from Provence.

 

Next, onto the lovely apartment in downtown where Gilles conducts his Marseille cooking classes. It’s the home of his charming mother, a true Marseillaise who often helps as his sous chef.

Cooking Class in Marseille

A Day with the Provence Gourmet

Now … what we were waiting for. The cooking lessons — and the scrumptious meal to follow.

Our Menu

Fish Soup (the base for Bouillabaisse)

Petits Farçis

Clafoutis aux Cerises with Raspberry Creme

Assorted Cheeses

Wine

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How To Make the Perfect Aioli

A Day with the Provence Gourmet

A perfect day ended with the perfect meal.

Thanks to Gilles, his Mom and my new Canadian friends, Louise and Jerry, for a truly unique, wonderful experience. 

Cooking Class in Marseille

Cooking class in Marseille

A Day with the Provence Gourmet

Plan your day with the Provence Gourmet. Classes are offered in Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The intimate cooking experience will give you a true taste of Provence. Authentic, classic menus are prepared in Gilles’ charming Provençal home in Marseille, or at his 12-acre countryside home near Saint- Rémy.

Contact the Provence Gourmet at www.provence-gourmet.fr

More about Marseille

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

 

visit to Marseille

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

A recent weekend in Marseille turned my perception of the city inside out. Now I can’t wait to return.

I’ll admit, a weekend in Marseille was not at the top of my travel list. Even though it’s less than two hours away from Uzés. It’s surely because I’ve watched too many movies and TV shows about seaports and gangsters.The trips I made to Marseille to the warehouse district and to the airport didn’t help either.  The warehouse district is definitely not a place for tourists. The airport is sprawling, uninviting and confusing.

Thank goodness, I was invited to Marseille to celebrate the birthday of a friend from Uzès. That, plus the promise of a great bowl of bouillabaisse, was enough to weaken my resistance. 

Marseille: A stormy past

For any who visit Marseille, start your trip at the History Museum. The totally modern museum that’s within easy walking distance to Le Vieux Port represents the history of Marseille in 13 sequences.

At the History Museum you have a glimpse of the ancient town, formerly known as “Massalia.” As you wander through the sprawling museum, generations of life and events in and around the seaport town unfold. Exhibits tell of of times from the Phocean Greeks of Asia Minor who founded the colony, to the 21st century when Marseille was named “European Capital of Culture.”

 

weekend in Marseille

 

Through its history of fortune and misfortune, Marseille has maintained a unique character that thrives on its diversity. 

 

Your Weekend in Marseille

What’s to do in Marseille over a 3-day weekend? Plenty. Even in the rain.

Tourist Office – Go here first for maps, tours and informations

Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus – Take your initial tour of the city on a bus with multi-language narration. Hop on/off as you please.

History Museum of Marseille – A look back in time 

Notre Dame de la Garde – Climb the steep hill to the Cathedral and enjoy the neighborhood and gardens along the way. 

Maison Empereur – The oldest hardware store in France (since 1827) A HUGE store to ramble through and purchase tools, kitchenware, toys, and more.

Vieux Port – The old seaport of Marseille, now a center of tourist activity with shops, cafes, fishing boats, sea vessels and the site of the Norman Foster “Umbrella”. 

Gare Saint Charles – The train station in the center of town, also a historical monument site, with its magnificent stairway that leads to the city.

La Canebrière – Shop along the lively street for a the taste, look and sounds of Marseille and its diversity. 

La Panier – The oldest district of the city, now an arty, funky tourists’ favorite.

MUCEM – An amazingly striking piece of architecture on the former port pier. Exhibits were disappointing but a visit to the building and adjacent Fort Saint Nicholas are a must.

Hôtel de Ville – Just a walk by is fine, but don’t miss seeing the bust of Louis XIV above the door.

Les Goudes – Just out of town from the city of Marseille, this small village is packed over the weekend, but the coves and views of the calanques are worth the drive.

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

weekend in MarseilleVideo soundtrack by George Brassens. Among his visits to Marseille was this signing event at the bookstore “La Boîte à bouquins” at 1, rue de la Bibliothèque

 

 

 

 

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille wasn’t high on my list of places to visit. A weekend spent there to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend from Uzès totally changed my mind. On top of being an incredibly beautiful city with lovely, welcoming people, Marseille is for foodies like me.

I’ve been to Marseille on several occasions since living in Uzès. Once to the warehouse district to claim a shipment and more than once to the airport. Neither area offers the best of the city. It was hearing that Marseille is for foodies, especially bouillabaisse, that called me back.

Is it food that makes Marseille so appealing to millions of travelers?

Marseille is for Foodies

Food in Marseille is as varied as the people: French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Middle Eastern, African, North and South and Central Americans and more. Restaurants and cafes are on nearly every street and corner. There are over 1000 listed in TripAdvisor, including fifteen Michelin star restaurants. Along Le Vieux Port, where we stayed for the weekend, there were places to eat lined side by side.

My first meal in Marseille was a medley of seafoods at La Brasserie du Port. The waterfront restaurant was right below our hotel, Grand Hôtel Beauvau Marseille Vieux-Port.  The fresh, beautifully prepared seafood and the service couldn’t have been better. The view from the terrace of the brasserie — the architectural masterpiece by Norman Foster against the background of the ancient port — was stunning.

Marseille is for Foodies

The birthday girl’s selection for meals on her special day was eclectic and international — Indian for lunch and Columbian for dinner.  Palais du Maharaja,  chosen from TripAdvisor, proved to be the perfect place to satisfy our appetites for Indian food.

… Indian Food

… Columbian Food

Discovering Columbia tapas at Tapas La Picadita  turned out to be one of the best food finds of the weekend. The menu, the preparation and the friendly staff were so special that we came back the next night for more.

Marseille is for Foodies

… “Little Istanbul”

Even though it rained during part of our stay in Marseille, it didn’t keep us from wandering the streets near Le Vieux Port. A shop overflowing with bins and bags of Turkish delicacies stopped us in our tracks. We loaded up on dried fruits, spices, teas and candies to take back with us. And we laughed a lot!

Marseille is for Foodies

… Street Food

Somehow the rain in Marseille made the atmosphere even more picturesque and interesting. Food vendors and cafes were open for business… and happy to see us .

 

One stop for tea and coffee ended up in a karaoke! The proprietor thought I looked like Petula Clark. We all started singing “Downtown”! What fun!

Marseille is for Foodies

… Bouillabaisse!

I was really looking forward to a bowl of bouillabaisse. Who can go to Marseille without tasting it?

You need to book reservations two days in advance for some restaurants to prepare this Marseille favorite for you. Be sure to plan ahead. We chose to try the bouillabaisse at Grand Bar des Goudes in Le Goudes, a  village outside Marseille. The tiny town is in a district of Marseille on the way to the Calanques. Little did we know that it would take a couple of hours to drive to Le Goudes on a Sunday.  It didn’t help that throngs of people in cars, on bikes and on foot were heading that way after three days cooped up in the rain. Yes, we were late for our reservations, but the drive along the winding road and the views of Marseille were worth the hassle.

 

The view of the fishing harbor from the restaurant in Goudes was pretty special too.

Marseille is for Foodies

 

Back to the main attraction — the bouillabaisse. 

Bouillabaisse is a provençal fish stew traditionally created by the fishermen of Marseilles. It was concocted as a way to use up the bony rockfish they’d caught along the Calanques that they couldn’t sell.

According to the Michelin Guide Vert, “the four essential elements of a true bouillabaisse are the presence of rascasse, the freshness of the fish; olive oil, and an excellent saffron.” American chef and author, Julia Child, wrote in her book, My Life in France: “to me the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Provençal soup base — garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel — and, of course, the fish — lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish.”

Not all bouillabaisse is created equal. The variety I sampled was missing some of the shellfish. I’m taking the fact that there may be the “perfect” bouillabaisse waiting for me. A good enough reason to return to Marseille, don’t you agree?

 

Did you know there’s a proper way to serve and eat bouillabaisse?

Have you been to Marseille? Do you have a favorite restaurant? Where’s the best place for the bouillabaisse? Please let me know. I will return! 

 

 

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseilles: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

 

 

 

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

After my first true visit to Marseille, I can’t say enough good things about the city. While I’m composing my thoughts for a post on the long weekend, I want to share some highlights: the doors and windows of Marseille.

Marseille, the second largest city in France, is one of those places where photographers are compelled to stop every few seconds to take a picture. When walking through the historic heart of Marseille, “Le Panier” district, I snapped photos at almost every corner. The artistic spirit of the area was electric. Paintings and graffiti on walls and buildings were expressions of the culture and the people. They were colorful, energetic, and eclectic. It was the doors and windows of Marseille and Le Panier, however, that made me melt.

These photos of Le Panier district help set the scene for the video of doors and windows shown below. Believe me, it’s only a small sample of the area and its creativity.

 

 

Enjoy this brief look at the doors and windows of Marseille.

Stay tuned for more: the views, the history and the food of the fabulous seaport city.

 

 

 

Only a few spaces are left for the “Memories You Promised Yourself” women’s tour. Please join best-selling author, Patricia Sands, and me for 12 days in September touring our favorite places in the south of France.

 

For tour details visit Absolutely Southern France.

Sete or Marseille? Which Has the Best Fish Soup?

While we’re on the subject of Sete from our recent train-from-Barcelona post, there’s a question that fish soup lovers who visit the South of France want to know: What’s the difference between Marseilles’ bouillabaisse  and Sete’s fish soup?

Leave it to Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France to have the answer. She’s an expert on foodie things in both Sete and Marseilles where she offers walking gourmet tours. Recipes from Cook’n with Class make it easy for us to prepare their version of the Sete’s fish soup and Marseilles’ bouillabaisse at home!

A TALE OF TWO CITIES – by Nancy McGee

Bustling, edgy Marseille, France’s second and oldest city, and largest commercial port. Designated as Top Ten Oceanfront Cities by National Geographic in 2014 and one the New York Times’ favourite destinations, Marseille is becoming increasingly trendy.  Sete, its younger, understated cousin and the most important fishing port on the Mediterranean is ‘the most fascinating small town on the French Mediterranean coast’, according to the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Despite their differences they have much in common: a strong shared maritime tradition, fascinating history – and a passion for food. So how does a visitor to the South of France choose between the two? Easy – visit both, they’re only a two-hour drive apart.

While in the South of France, a visitor’s first question is invariably food-related, often about authentic regional dishes. So let’s look at two typically Mediterranean specialities: fish soup from Sète and bouillabaisse from Marseille. What is the difference between the two?

It’s simple.

Sete’s City Market serves up a fresh catch for fish soup

Fish soup from Sete is made from a variety of small rockfish that become caught in the fishermen’s nets as they feed off the rocks near the Mediterranean shore. Rather than toss them back into the sea the fishermen take them home and cook them in a special blend of herbs and spices. The bones are then removed and the broth is put through a sieve. The soup is served with thinly sliced croutons spread with rouille  (a type of mayonnaise with olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper.)  In restaurants, this fish soup is served as a starter and cost is around 8 euros for the dish.

The best rockfish soup has been produced in Sete  since 1963  by the same family Azais Polito. http://www.azais-polito.fr/. Their fish soup is featured in gourmet shops such as Harrods and Lafayette  Gourmet and is exported worldwide… If you get a craving,  simply order online.

Bouillabaisse from Marseille is basically fish soup but  served with a side dish of  fillets of  least three types of fish – mullet, turbot, monkfish .   The fish fillets are cooked in the soup and along with potatoes. Like the fish soup, it is served with a rouille and croutons. The Bouillabaisse is a main course costing at least 35 euros per person to as much as 100 euros  for  versions including more delicate species of fish and seafood.

My favorite spot for  a Bouillabaisse in Marseille is at Chez FonFon. http://www.chez-fonfon.com/    Not only is the soup tasty but you are offered constant refills.  The restaurant is  niched in an alcove barely noticed by passerbys and is overlooking the inlet crammed with small fishing boats.

 

Bouillabaisse in Marseille at Chez FonFon

 

Picpoul de Pinet

Isn’t a meal without wine like a day without sunshine – especially in France? Definitely and there’s no shortage of good regional wine to complement a fish soup. To play it safe, choose a Bandol rosé from Provence or a refreshing Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc.

Anything else not to be missed? Quite a lot, but I’d need to write an encyclopaedia! From Marseille: navettes, light biscuits delicately flavoured with eau de fleur d’oranger. And let’s not forget pastis, France’s  favourite aperitif.

From Sète: the Tielle, a deliciously piquant octopus pie with a strong Italian heritage, also zezettes,  a light biscuit delicately flavoured with local muscat wine.

 

 

Thanks to Cook’n with Class Uzes, here are their recipes for the famous fish soups from Marseilles and Sete.

 

 

 

 

Want to see it all in Sete and Marseilles? Contact Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France for guided tours — especially her famous “walking gourmet” tour.

Absolutely Southern France’s Nancy McGee and the Mayor of Sete — of course!

Here’s where to find year-round activities in Sete. 

Discover Marseilles?  it’s on my travel list… soon! 

 

For information on train schedules from Barcelona to Sete click here

 

 

Mapping Barcelona to Sete

 

Seeing the South of France by train from Barcelona

How to Get To France Via Barcelona by Train

All Aboard for Carcassonne

7 Reasons to Visit Sete This Year 

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