Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Spring in the South - Aix-en-Provence & Marseille

I visited this town for an afternoon while staying in Marseille, as it’s quite small so I didn’t feel I needed much longer. This is the quintessential Provence town, small and rustic and pretty, and it helped that the weather was lovely that day. First of all, I took a stroll down the Cours Mirabeau, the wide boulevard lined with cafés. There happened to be an antiques display on that day, although it’s not something that particularly interested me. Aix is known for its many fountains, the grandest being the Fontaine de la Rotonde, and there’s several more along this street, including a thermal spring.

Fontaine de la Rotonde
Cours Mirabeau
I then headed into the old town, Vieux Aix, which is the typical French old town, full of narrow winding streets and plenty of little boutique-type shops, not that I ventured in any, seeing as it was Sunday. There are lots of lovely buildings, although many are not significant places. The town hall was nice, and its bell tower made it a bit different, and it overlooks a small square with cafés and a fountain, where there happened to be an accordion player while I was there. The cathedral, while not the grandest I’ve seen, was still pretty stunning, inside and out.

Town Hall
Cathédrale St-Sauveur
Aix is also famous for being the home of the artist, Paul Cézanne. While I’m not an art expert, I’m fairly interested in it, and I happened to have studied Cézanne at school, which made this more interesting for me. There is a trail through the town about him marked by small ‘C’s in the ground, called the Circuit de Cézanne, but I didn’t follow it all the way. I expect it would be best to do with the guide book, as I kept coming across sequences that then vanished. However, I did visit the Musée Granet, which has several Cézanne paintings, amongst other works. It’s also spread over two locations, the original Musée and the additional Collection Jean Planque, only a few streets away and included in the ticket. I was unsure about visiting both, but I’m glad I did, as the Collection Jean Planque has works by Picasso and Monet, among others.

Paul Cézanne statue
There are a few other museums in Aix, but none that grabbed my attention, and other sites connected to Cézanne, including his former studio, but this was difficult for me to access, being further out from the centre. So, I finished up my day with a wander back down the Cours Mirabeau in the sunshine. It may not be a very big place, but Aix is certainly a nice way to pass an afternoon.

I stayed in Marseille for three nights in total, but as mentioned, one day was given over to Aix-en-Provence. The day I arrived in Marseille, I was stuck with my luggage for a couple of hours, so I headed to the Parc Longchamp to sit in the sun for a while. I didn’t go into the museum housed in the Palais Longchamp, but it’s a stunning building to admire form the outside. Later, after dumping my luggage, I took a wander and wound up trekking the length of the Boulevard de la Liberation/La Canebiere. From what I could gather, this is one of the main shopping streets in Marseille, and although I wasn’t looking to do any shopping, it’s sometimes nice to see areas that aren’t solely populated by tourists. I also walked back to my hotel by going around Fort St-Jean and up the quay-side, to get some great coastal views.

Palais Longchamp
To start off my full day in Marseilles, I first of all went exploring the town district called Le Panier, which is made up of narrow twisting streets and tall buildings, and is very easy to get lost in. While I appreciate that this may be something different for some tourists, I didn’t find it that exciting. I also stopped by the Cathédrale de la Major, a stunning building from the outside, but which was unfortunately closed at the time so I didn’t get to see the inside. I then walked around the Vieux Port (Old Port), which I really enjoyed. It’s nothing very unusual, as ports go, but I like being by the sea and haven’t been round a port in a while, so I liked it.  I had intended to take the boat out to the Château d’If, on an island just off the coast, but sadly it was closed due to rough waters – it was pretty windy that day.

Cathédrale de la Major
Le Vieux Port
Instead, I trekked – and I do mean trekked! – up the hillside to the Notre-Dame de la Garde You can see the church from the port, serving as a nice backdrop to the town. The church itself was a little different to others I’ve seen in France, with fewer carvings/ornamentation and more paintings, so that was interesting. But the real attraction for me was the incredible views across Marseille and the surrounding area. It was such a clear day that I could see for miles, and as the town is surrounded by hills (a rare sight in the Loire valley where I’ve been living!), it was quite spectacular.

Notre-Dame de la Garde
Marseille from Notre-Dame-du-Mont
After descending the hill, I continued around the south side of the harbour, passing the Fort St-Nicolas, opposite Fort St-Jean on the other side. I didn’t go into either of them, but they are remarkable to look at, like guardians of the port entrance. I carried on until I reached the Plage des Catalans, a tiny beach just around the coast from the port entrance. While it is certainly not the nicest beach I’ve been to, it serves it purpose adequately, and it was just nice to relax there for an hour or two in the sun. I walked back into town via the Jardin du Pharo, and while I didn’t go into the Palais, the gardens do provide a great view looking in towards Marseille and the Vieux Port.

Plage des Catalans
Le Vieux Port
I didn’t go into many – or any? – attractions in Marseille, and mostly just spent my time wandering around the city, or relaxing in the sun. I enjoy this though, as you can soak up the atmosphere of the city, rather than an endless stream of museum and churches that can be found in any other town in the country. It’s for this reason that I really liked Marseille, for the city that it is today, rather than its history. While I don’t think I want to live abroad permanently, Marseille is the sort of place I would like to live in, rather than many of the other towns that I was content to only spend a few days in.

Part 1 - Toulouse & Perpignan
Part 2 - Carcassone & Montpellier
Part 4 - Cannes & Nice


  1. It isn't "Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Mont" but "Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde"

    1. Thank you! I jut copied it from my map, must have been wrong on there too


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