Then it’s another relatively short bus ride to Marseille, the second largest city in France.
Our apartment, only a stroll from the Vieux Port, is on the sixth floor. The decor is modern with smart furnishings and looks out over the city roofline. Each morning we watch as a large seagull regurgitates fish for her obese chick nesting just outside the window.
(The apartment is in fact the best accommodation we had on the trip. See details here.)
Nearby is the main commercial thoroughfare, Rue Canebiere, popularly known by English speakers as ‘Can o’ Beer’. The name is derived from long-disappeared hemp farms that provided cordage for sailing ships in the olden days.
The Vieux Port area is a sunny and pleasant maritime environment with thousands of pleasure craft moored; the waterside surrounded by lively fish markets and souvenir stalls. Nearby streets and plazas are packed with bars and restaurants.
Walk a few blocks away from the quay however, and you might fantasize that you are in another country: Morocco? Algeria? Shops in the alleyways sell myriad African and Middle Eastern goods. Exotic fabrics and clothes hang from awnings and you walk past open “oriental” patisseries and savour the fragrance of restaurant kitchens that are definitely not Cuisine Francaise.
Hang on to your valuables
People in both Australia and in France warned us to “take care” in Marseille; it made us a little apprehensive at first.
The city certainly has a seamy side. Beggars and drunks are inevitably part of the street scene, even more so in the laneways. Cosmetically enhanced women hang out here and there, waiting no doubt to act as eager guides for the inquisitive tourist. In the background, day and night, is a cacophony of wailing sirens.
After day two, having witnessed a couple of bag snatches, we tuck passports and money under our shirts and the digital camera in my pocket and leave everything else in the apartment. This simple move inspires confidence and so we wander pretty much wherever we like. Always, as it were, with eyes open,
Les Calanques – Calanques is the local term for the deep bays or coves that dot the arid rocky coast south of Marseille. From Vieux Port, we take a two and a half hour boat trip to explore a few of these. Among the sights are old pillboxes, apparently dating from World War Two, tiny fishing villages, and maniacal rock climbers scaling the overhanging cliffs.
A cheapy from the local supermarket was a Les Figuiers AOC Bandol (low-yielding vines) 2005 – a bargain at €6. Blended from fifty percent mourvedre, with the balance grenache. A lighter bodied red with, given its age, forward tannins and acid. Plentiful cherries and blackberries showed in the mouth. Definitely a main course red. Not the quality of wine you will ever find at this price in Australia.
Twenty-one days in France, including four short days in sunny Marseille and suddenly it’s time to head back to Noosa.
Highlights of the trip? Monuments, museums, galleries, landscapes, obviously. But standouts were the simple things: the people, the wine, the bread, the cheese.
Disclosure: All fares, meals and accommodation paid for by the writer.