Marseille felt effortless.
Marseille felt like going back home.
Bathed in sun and caressed by the sparkly Mediterranean sea that haunts the dreams of all south European expats, life in Marseille moves at its own slow, calculated, resilient pace despite being France’s second largest city after Paris.
Stores, cafes and restaurants close at a whim, people walk slowly, argue loudly enough for passers-by to eavesdrop without trying, flirt shamelessly and dress boldly. Every “bonjour” sparks a conversation; I feel that if you move here, you’ll have to try really hard not to be enticed into befriending the locals. They are warm and amicable, just like our lovely Airbnb host who casually invited me to a neighborhood dinner only a few moments upon my arrival. You see, in the small but vibrant area of La Plaine it’s not unlikely to see a narrow street being closed in the evening, kitchen tables summoned to the midst of the street and people joining their friends and neighbours to an impromptu feast under the stars. Newbies are welcome and local wine flows generously.
Her English are broken and my French are even more but we get along by using theatrical gestures, nodding emphatically and smiling with sympathy. She lays down a map and points out all the places that cannot be not seen. Then she excuses herself and I’m off to explore the city, just a little bit until my trusted travel bae arrives.
With my mobile data having abandoned me way before espadrilles-clad feet touched the sun-drenched soil of South France, I decide to go old-school: I unfold the map, looking for street signs and asking strangers along the way. Marseille proves more easily navigate-able than expected. Within a couple hours, I’ve flaneured my way from Cours Julien to the infamous La Canebière, all the way down to the Vieux-Port and the picturesque area of Le Panier, which reminds of my days in Corfu. Drenched in nostalgia and seeking a temporary refuge from the midday scorching sun, I turn left and right in random alleys until I find myself back to the sea, next to the Cathédrale La Major.
Later that day, the aforementioned travel bae arrives, awfully keen to make fun of the newly acquired scarlet undertone of my London-pale complexion. After a hearty dinner, we pick a table at one of the numerous bars hugging the square of Cours Julien, order house wine, sit back and people-watch. We are to return here every day of our trip; it’s a meeting point for everyone in the area, old, young and those refusing to grow old alike. It’s lively but peaceful at the same time with the people frequenting it nonchalantly chatting the warm summer evening aways. If you ever find yourself there, head to Videodrome, order wine and a large assiette de tapas, grab a seat in the sun and feel the time stop and your worries fizzle out.
Then Sunday arrives. After a petit dejeuner in Torrefaction Noailles, we take advantage of the sugar spike and set for Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. We huff and puff our way up to the top of the small hill but the view of Marseille from above is totally worth it. See for yourselves:
Our step becomes a bit heavier, a bit slower but we’re not done exploring yet. We need to see Palais Longchamp. It houses the city’s musée des beaux-arts and natural history museum, but to the handful of teenagers that run up and down its stairs on that sunny Sunday, it is nothing more than the perfect place to play hide-and-seek. We hide in the shadows of its beautiful arches ourselves and seek our next destination.
Marseille felt like the younger, slightly rebellious sister of Barcelona; the artsy, creative type that smokes excessively and stays up until late in the night discussing everything from politics to love. Alternating between qawky and straightforwardly arrogant, she’s the type of girl that is a bit too heavily tattooed for you to introduce to your parents. To take one of Tom Ford’s quotes entirely out of context, “she needs to have a few drinks and cry a little – then she’ll be perfect.”
Nostalgic (as always),