What to do (and what NOT to do) in Marseille
Do Go Sailing!
Last week the Swede and I took a mini holiday to Marseille with the sole goal of getting on a boat. We were all prepared to shell out some money to rent a dinghy for a few hours. Our first day walking the docks though we found a sailing school, C.N.T.L., that taught classes on variously sized Beneteau; 3 hours for 36€. This was infinitely better than renting because A) we wouldn’t be responsible for damages (yes, I’m a pessimist) and B) we would get to learn french nautical vocabulary, though sometimes I could get away with saying English words with a French accent, par exemple: bôme = boom!
Do Check out the Day’s Catch
Do Eat a mound of shellfish at Toinou Coquillages
The great bastion of Marseillais raw bars, Toinou has been around for almost 50 years. Originally a take-out only establishment, today they offer in house dining as well as telephone and online orders. Of course you can always walk down there just to have a look at the immaculately tended rawbars and lobster tanks set up outside the restaurant. Our platter (which combined one Toinou Junior and a Toinou Baby!) featured mussels, clams, oysters, whelks, and shrimp. Topped off with some champagne and a cheese platter, it doesn’t get much better.
Do Eat Tarte Tatin
Lots of Tarte Tatin
Do Check out the view of/from Notre Dame de la Garde
The Basilica affords a stunning panoramic view of the city, port, coastline, and neighboring islands, including Château d’If, made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo.
Notre Dame de la Garde is the protectress of Marseille, in particular the mariners of Marseille, hence the colorful mosaic of a ship surrounded by exotic birds representing the many corners of the world. So much more vibrant than your typical apse! Along the corridors, model wooden ships and planes from all different epochs dangled as well.
But DON’T go to Notre Dame de la Garde on an empty stomach.
Or you might be forced to sup in the cafeteria/geriatric ward.
Don’t Leave your Car Unattended
Or you might find it with a new paint job, with “accents” of seagull footprints dipped in rat blood and a rat carcass hood ornament.
Don’t Eat at Karbonade
Unless you’re craving that homey feeling of eating left overs out of a jar, skip this one.
Don’t show up too late for lunch service.
Much to my dismay lunch in Marseille ends at 2 pm sharp. If you show up just after 2, the staff may take pity on you and serve you the remains of the “plat du jour”, but that’s really your only hope. Such was the case at Café de l’Abbaye (see Tarte Tatin above). Another time though we weren’t so lucky and got turned away from Pizzaria Etienne. We were determined to go back, so that night we went for dinner and proceeded to endure some of the worst service I have experienced since I arrived in France. Moral of the story? Be on time.
If you show up too late for lunch, drop by the tea salon at Les Arcenaulx (also a book shop with rare editions and large coffee table books, a gift shop with Marseillais soaps, olive oil, chocolates, etc., an art gallery, and a restaurant). Sweet and savory menu items like foie gras with fig bread or mango sorbet with exotic fruits, and of course a wide variety of coffees and teas are served in an exposed stone wall tea room lined with bookshelves. Tea from 2 pm to 6 pm Monday through Saturday. 25 Cours Estiennes d’Orves, 13001 Marseille.
Eat in or take out incredible shellfish from Toinou. Note that taking out is considerably less expensive. Open seven days a week year round. 3 Cours Saint-Louis, 13001 Marseille.
Take a sailing lesson with C.N.T.L. sailing school. Lessons from 3 hours to several days with overnight trips to Corsica. Regatta prep courses also available. Quai Marcel Pagnol, 13007 Marseille