To encapsulate our slowwww discovery of Marseille, France, we need to go across a 1 month span.
On this trip we have needed to make stops on they way via somewhere else (as most people need to on ‘where the wind takes you’ trips) and sometimes those places are a slap in the face….
“What?! It’s the 2nd biggest city in France behind Paris!?”
“It’s the cultural Capitol of Europe for 2013!?”
….. We felt so sheltered. It begins to slowly sink in 2 weeks after we left.
Throughout the stops that followed, when we mentioned where we had been so far, we got a few remarks of surprise. Things like “Oh! How did you find it?” & “I hope you stayed somewhere safe?”
We didn’t think much of these remarks. Then I remembered the tourism office in downtown Marseille & the man who worked there enlightening me on how it’s only just getting ‘cleaned up.’ He also told me not to go out at night.
A month after we left Marseille, we meet a French woman, in our current hostel in Croatia. Everything we payed little attention to is brought to light and we find out that Marseille is the Gangland Capitol of France.
Broad daylight murders, drug territory battles, youth gang violence, attacks on police, poverty & gun violence. The list goes on! I immediately begun Googling ‘Marseille Gang Violence’….
Slack jawed, my boyfriend and I were in shock, we couldn’t believe this was the same city we had fallen in love with!
The scariest part was the most recent articles are all from the time we were staying in Marseille!
All images from google
Now we need to go back and explain why this was so shocking to us, but with the power of hindsight, from a different angle also completely clear as day….
Our bus pulled in at 10pm to a station that is HUGE and super clean with so much to do (not common on our ‘via’ destinations) lots of security & I thought nothing of the burly officers with machine guns around their torso just wandering the station. In fact I asked them where the bathroom was!
We got scammed by the cab driver to our apartment. FYI they will be rude & they will charge you a large ‘fee’ for each suitcase.
Our Airbnb hosts were waiting and showed us in. Helped us with our bags. The place was gorgeous! We had views of the stunning Marseille Cathedral from our kitchen. An adorable terrace with more views. Clean facilities & we were right in the artistic hub of old town.
We woke late and strolled our way through cobbled streets to see quirky store after quirky store before hitting this massive and stunning marina that sees the entire bay bustling with buskers & tourists. Cafes & sculpted outdoor installations. Galleries & museums!
The price for food & drink is sky high (which you become accustomed to in France) and groceries are no better. People were a tad wary of us but not unkind.
We walked the streets everyday and on one ‘lets just walk and see where it takes us’ day, we ended up on what we were later told is The Basket as its the hot pot for all the creatives. We met the lovliest couple who hand drew maps, indulged all our curiosities of Marseille and asked all kinds of questions about where we are from. They had suggested a plan for us tomorrow, to visit the Calanque Segiton, and even had the bus times and numbers we needed to get there and home safe again. They told us of their travels and we admired the art they had for sale (which is amazing but not within a travellers budget or luggage space!)
Ced Vernay Art
image from Ced Vernay Facebook page
DID YOU KNOW?
Marseille is best known as the origin for soap! All hand made soaps are supposedly originated from Marseille. Of course in this day and age, not any more, there are many places that soap is originated from.
We took a ‘petit train‘ up the mountain to see Notre-Dame de la garde. It is no where near the touristic port or old town. The views were so breathtaking! The cathedral is so unique and impressive inside, it had a very nautical and map like explorer feel to it, could be why I liked it so much.
The sun was so warm and the days were long by the end of each day we were blown away by how stunning this city was we didn’t possibly think it could get better.
On our last day we packed a lunch, wore our hiking gear, packed our swimsuits & set off for this ‘must see Calanque’ as suggested by our artist friends. The way was a 45 minute bus ride after taking a 15 minute metro ride and lastly a 1 hour hike down to the water. We encountered nothing out of the ordinary on our way out of town. THIS PLACE WAS LIKE NOTHING I HAVE EVER DONE OR SEEN BEFORE!
But it is le pièce de résistance of our time in Marseille, or almost even, our entire stay in France!
The pictures do not do it real life credit but they aren’t in any way undesirable either.
We slept like logs that night, and the following morning, walked all our luggage to the station for our departure to Nice that day. All with no hassle or feeling of unease.
As you can see, the reports of all this unrest and violence in Marseille, we couldn’t picture it. This captivating, artistic & historical French port was the hotbed of drug wars and is dragging the local residents into a spiral of despair. While i support Marseille in any quest to clean up their town, I also commend them for never letting on to the people who fell in love with this remarkable hidden gem. It only gives more strength to my true belief that you can never judge a book by its cover….
In my case the story is much sadder than the picture we saw. But now your case, should you follow our steps and venture there, will be the story is much better than the image you have drawn in your mind.
Don’t write it off. I beg you. Just stay near the water and don’t go anywhere that isn’t a touristic destination & you will be absolutely fine.
P.s. The soaps really are incredible. We bought like 10 different kinds, so affordable & it supports the local economy!
Til next time…. Au revoir!