Marseille, France | ©Tiia Monto / Wikimedia Commons

Coffee with a local in Marseille

This week we are in the southern French city of Marseille, chatting with local Marion Fabre to discover what to do in Marseille, from visiting the old fish market and the Château d’If to trying typical dish of bouillabaisse.

So, you’ve brought me to your favourite cafe – tell me about it.
We are in Escale Marine Café on the old port of Marseille. If you want to know what to do in Marseille, begin at this small cafe, owned by a father and son team – Claude and Georges. They provide a friendly and happy environment and speak with very local strong accents. The cafe is also a grocer’s shop where you can buy delicious specialities from Provence and good wines. It’s a nice place where both local people and tourists can converse over a drink.

Mmm… this is good, what are we drinking?
You can’t come in Marseille and not try a pastis, a typical French drink made with aniseed. Craftsman, artist and passionate environmentalist Paul Ricard created the Marseille pastis in 1923. Perfecting his recipe took him a full year, during which he deciphered each aroma, mixed and combined. He also perfected methods for extracting and macerating aniseed and many other plants (liquorice, Artemisia, cardamom…). You can find all the brands of pastis at Le Maison du Pastis.

What are your favourite local dishes? 
If you really want to know what to do in Marseille, then it’s eating. Marseille has a big old port with a famous fish market that’s on every morning. My favourite dish here is bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse was initially a popular fishermen’s dish but it has risen in status and is now considered to be a fine French delicacy, it’s also an expansive dish too. This dish is served in two stages: the soup, then the fish. Young chefs of course are not afraid to take liberties with the traditional recipe (bouillabaisse milkshake, bouillabaisse hamburger…). The ‘official’ Marseille-style bouillabaisse though, must include at least five species of fish from the following list: monkfish, conger eel, weever fish, chapon (scorpion fish), gurnard, John Dory, slipper lobster and crawfish.

What to do in Marseille - Bouillabaisse | ©Blue Moon in her eyes / Flickr
Bouillabaisse, Marseille | ©Blue Moon in her eyes / Flickr

And where would you suggest I go to find these? 
There are two excellent places that I know of, the first is The Restaurant Miramar located near the Old Port, it’s one of the best places in the city to try a real bouillabaisse. It has a lovely dining room and sunny terrace for relaxing outside too. The other place is Chez Fonfon, situated in a small fishermen’s port called Vallon des Auffes (very close to the city centre). It too specialises in bouillabaisse.

The sky is blue and the sun is shining, what’s the best thing to do on a day like today?
In Marseille the sun shines 300 days per year, so there are a lot of choices for a sunny day. A few ideas are to take a boat ride and go to the Islands of the Frioul and the Château d’If. The four islands that make up the Frioul archipelago point toward the shore and the château casts a silhouette on the limestone cliffs, making it a stunning spot. Alexandre Dumas made the Château d’If famous using the island as the prison setting for his hero, the Count of Monte Cristo. The castle is a former fortress that was built under the rule of François I in order to defend the city.

What to do in Marseille - Chateau d'If Marseille | ©Padrecardu / Wikimedia Commons
Chateau d’If Marseille | ©Padrecardu / Wikimedia Commons

Another option is to go for a picnic in Parc Longchamp and visit the Palais. A hymn to the glory of water, this monumental palace and water tower is closely related to the construction of the Durance Canal. The park is like a giant playground and also houses the Natural History Museum – a great place to take the kids. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Marseille.

And if it rains? 
If it what??? Ok, well just one idea, because there’s no chance that it will rain when you’re here. You could visit the Muséed’ArtContemporain in the south of Marseille, which showcases a wide-ranging overview of artistic creations from the 1960s to the present day and features work from Arman, Richard Baquié, Gilles Barbier, Buren and César among others.

If there’s one thing I should do while I’m here, what is it?
You must go to the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica. It is the highest point in the city, offering wonderful views. Moreover, it is the symbol of Marseille. The basilica, whose Madonna and Child protect the city and its inhabitants, was built between 1853 and 1864.

What do to in Marseille - Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille | ©Benh LIEU SONG / Wikimedia Commons
Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille | ©Benh LIEU SONG / Wikimedia Commons

Give me a local tip that other tourists wouldn’t usually know… 
Go to Le Crystal Bar and Restaurant on the bank of the Vieux-Port, where the bars change as quick as direction of Mistral wind. I love this old haunt. This is more than just a bar, it is an institution.