Other major cities in Provence: Marseille, Avignon og Aix
Marseille has had a bad reputation - and it probably has not been completely undeserved. Crime has been towering, but the problems have only been in the big suburbs where many people with social problems are stung together. As far as we know, there are no major problems in the city center. At any rate, we have never experienced anything else than a very nice city, lying out to the sea.
Marseille is France's second largest city, and as such a big one of the kind. 16 departments, the city itself has approx. 900,000 inhabitants, and it is located at the mouth of the Rhône River in the Mediterranean.
The center of Marseille is actually quite charming, the whole area around the old harbor is both very cozy and quite touristy. We have been to the city several times and it has been a positive experience every time. In 2013, Marseille (and to a certain extent the rest of Provence) has been the European cultural city, which put its life and flair on the city.
As mentioned, and as you can see in the picture, there is plenty of life down the old harbor. The restaurants are on line and you can buy fresh fish from stalls in the famous fish market.
In fact, you do not have to travel hundreds of meters away from the port before you can come to a different Marseille. We went for one of the old parts of the town, Le Panier, which reminds us of Lisbon. Here are narrow, almost picturesque streets, and there are quite high altitude differences, so bad walking persons should not plan a stroll there. We had lunch at a nice little sidewalk restaurant - the food was good and the viewers of the passers-by were nice - we were almost in the middle of the street!
We have not stayed so much in the city that we will call ourselves experts - we have just experienced a city that at least what we have seen it deserves a little positive mention to compensate for the bad reputation it has got built up.
Small tips to your visit in Marseille
- What can you do in Marseille? In addition to enjoying the Mediterranean lifestyle and the lovely city, one should think of two courses: seafood (especially oysters) and bouillabaisse. The latter is a delicacy that does not get any better than in Marseille. Many say it should be eaten in Vieux Port - surely it is the best idea to jump on one of the "good deals" of a bouillabaisse for small money. In today's Marseille you should expect to pay about 55 Euro for a course. But then you can not chop your ears afterwards - and the chance that you have a unique dining experience is great. Remember: you drink a chilled bottle of Rosé for the soup.
We have been recommended to eat bouillabaissen at Restaurant Oscar - 24, Quai du Port. That advice we are going to follow - we just have not reached it yet!
- Another tip: Savon de Marseille. We all know it and it's good enough: very fine soap in Marseille is being made. Buy it for instance in Compagnie de Provence - 1, Rue Caisserie, one of the streets just behind the Vieux Port
Small tips to your visit in Marseille
- Boat trips. Marseille is a port city. There is a lot of water around - and this means that many types of sailing are on the program. For instance: from Vieux Port you can sail out the Château d'If, located on a small island about 1.5 km from Marseilles's bay coast. The island was used as a prison in the Middle Ages
- Hotel Le Corbusier
On the outskirts of Marseille you will find one of Le Corbusier's buildings. Here you can experience his architecture in unspoiled state. The hotel and restaurant, Hotel Le Corbusier, has been decorated in the building. From several rooms there is a beautiful view of Marseille and the bay, all the way to the islands. Check out their website.
- Le Panier
As described above, go to this charming area of the city, only a few hundred meters from the port. However, it is not "a walk in the park". It goes steeply up - and down again....
A very exciting city, which is also being visited by many tourists - and for good reasons. The pope palace is of course a must-see, but in addition, the city offers many exciting things. Especially in July it is a great city to live in, for there is extra life in the streets as there is a theater festival. It fills the whole inner city with lots of fun and banter and performers who make advertising for just their performance later in the day.
Of course you can read more about the city in one of the many tourist guides, but let's mention that in addition to the many tourist attractions mentioned in these guides, there are plenty of lovely restaurants. As in all other cities, keep away from the squares and other places where the Tourists flow past. Down the side streets, here is the food good and the prices ok. Here we will mention a few:
La Cour d'Honneur. It is located in 58 Rue Joseph Vernet, not far from the Pope Palace and a side street to the main street, Rue de la Republique. Our first visit there was on a very hot summer day so it was lovely in the middle of the city to find a big cool garden with lots of shade and fresh air. Good food, friendly serving. We have been there a couple of times since, every time with a succesfull result.
Another day we had lunch at a typical little French bar or bistro called Mon Bar. It is located in Rue Carnot / Rue du Portail Mathéron. The son served and papa was in the kitchen. We chose a table indoors - it was the first time we visited Avignon in other than a lot of heat - and we had a couple of peek in the kitchen. Papa had 3 m2 to romp on - but it was enough. Excellent food, especially the pasta dishes were really nice, they were served on the table in frying panes. We mention the place because it is a very good example of one of the small local eateries, which is just an institution in the area. It was clear that it is a place the locals are also looking for. The atmosphere is French, it is very personal, friendly and welcoming - and that meant that it was a good mix of tourists and locals, among them quite obviously some too, for whom the bistro was a social venue, maybe the only thing they had.
Avignon is also a good city to shop in. Lots of good shops and if you want to shop for groceries, there is a large daily market in Les Halles, located in the center.
Small tips to your visit in Avignon
- Go to Avignon in July. The whole city has been transformed into a theater and joy place. There is a theater festival for almost a whole month, and it is so much about the city's impression. It's not boring. The theater groups walk around the streets, perform small performances, march and ghost - and try to hijack customers for the evening's performances. But most of them are in French so you need to be sharp in the language to follow
- The pope palace is a must see. It's touristy, but it's a damming also an impressive building. One of them one must definitely see once in his life• Are you at least 8 people in a group, we can arrange a guided tour of the city with a Danish or English guide
Small tips to your visit in Avignon
- P-space: it can be a bit difficult to decide when you get to town. But drive for P-Place to the Pope Palace, P Palais du Pape. It's a very big P-basement, it's easy and it's not as expensive as you could fear. And then you just get up to the square in front of the pope palace
- Never eat where the other tourists are eating. This is also true in Avignon. In the square just after the palace there is quite awful. Servants who try to get you in, indifferent tourist food and lousy or even no service. If in the side streets, see if you can not find a restaurant, maybe one of those we have recommended - otherwise one of the others where locals seem to eat
Aix has a natural appeal. The city's size, here live approx. 125,000 inhabitants, make everybody in the area looking for the city - something happens. The city was once the capital of Provence, and through the ages it has marked itself as a city, the artists of the time naturally settled in. It has also been the center of science, and today it is a vibrant university city. In addition, the bishop's seat, and finally very well-known for the annual music festival, attracts a large audience. This will take place in July. In 2013, when the festival was part of Marseille-Provence 2013, the European Capital of Culture project, four of the music's major, namely Verdi and Wagner, Britten and Poulenc, celebrated a host of concerts in the beautiful historical setting.
We have been in Aix many times. Never a visit to western Provence without a visit in this lovely city with so many things to look at. Aix is among others known for its very elegant style and architecture, making a walk in the old part of town with the many alleys, squares, fountains etc. is an enjoyment for the eyes and photo apparatus.
We found a very cozy little neighborhood, very close to the most busy main stroll, Cours Mirabeau. Find the Rue des Tanneurs (Garvergaden) - here is a neighborhood with many small good restaurants and shops - and a pretty little space with the obligatory fountain. We chose restaurant Le Piston - an excellent choice, nice little menu.
Many guides have another restaurant mentioned and we visited on another occasion. This is about Resto Charlotte in Rue Bernadines, a small place serving in a shady garden. When we visited the place in August, it was very hot, so it was nice to get into the shade where it was also aired a little. The food was nice without being flashy - but the prices were definitely on the reasonable side.