The Calanques (pronounced ka-lunk) are a series of coves nestled between the tall rocky cliffs along the coast. There are tourist boats that leave from the Old Port and take visitors on a 1-hour, 2-hour, or 3.5-hour tour to see these scenic hideaways. The difference between these excursion is basically the number of calanques you see. Our City Pass gave us a 10% discount on the price of the 3.5-hour tour. Traci and I arrived too late to catch the morning excursion so we made plans to do the afternoon tour.
In the meantime, we passed the time by strolling Marseille’s most famous street, the Canebiere. It begins just across the street from the Old Port and stretches several blocks. The street used to be a famous hangout for sailors from around the world. Songs have been written about the Canebiere. Today, the Canebiere and the adjacent streets contain stores, restaurants, outdoor markets, night clubs, and even a merry-go-round. We walked around the area and had lunch at Chicken World (kind of like KFC).
We arrived at the dock about 15 minutes before boarding time but had to wait around for about 45 minutes because the morning tour had not yet returned. We finally boarded the boat and Traci and I went straight for one of the tables inside. It was a breezy, overcast day and we knew it could turn chilly if we were sitting in any of the outside seats of the boat. Sure enough, we began our journey and everyone in the outside seating started putting on their jacket if they had one. The water got rough as we left the Old Port. The people seated outside at the bow were getting splashed. This sent them scrambling for the interior. I saw one unfortunate girl vomiting over the side of the boat and we were only 45 minutes into this 3.5-hour trip. Fortunately, the waters soon calmed, the sun came out, and it was smooth sailing for the rest of the tour.
We sailed along admiring the tall rocky cliffs at the shore. Occasionally, we saw rock climbers and hikers. A guide was narrating our journey in French over the PA. Traci and I were given an English version brochure when we bought our tickets. It described the calanques we’d be visiting. I understood enough of the live French commentary on the boat to realize the brochure we were given lacked a lot of the information the commentator was providing. This was not a major concern since the real reason we were there was to look at the grand scenery. No commentary was needed for that.
touring the Calanques
touring the Calanques
one of the secluded beaches
We saw several hikers and rock climbers.
During the course of the trip, our boat traveled in and out of 12 calanques where we saw people enjoying the secluded beaches. It was a mystery to me as to how they actually got there given the beaches were surrounded by steep cliffs. The boat turned around at the town of Cassis and made the journey back to the Old Port.
Being a port city, it is not surprising that seafood is popular in Marseille. Each morning, fisherman sell their catches on the docks of the Old Port to restaurants and other patrons. Some of the sea creatures for sale looked downright scary.
morning catch sold on the docks of the Old Port
Seafood is cooked whole and served whole in Marseille.
The city’s most famous delicacy is a seafood soup called bouillabaisse (pronounced boo-ya-bess). I got the impression that visiting Marseille and not having a bowl of bouillabaisse is like visiting Venice and not doing a gondola ride. Therefore, Thursday night, Traci and I perused the posted menus of the Old Port restaurants trying to decide where we would have our ‘bouillabaisse in Marseille’ experience.
We soon discovered this was probably going to be the most expensive bowl of soup we’ve ever had. Most of the restaurants were offering bouillabaisse at the equivalence of $50 - $70 per person! The menus made sure to mention sharing is not allowed. We kept walking until we came across a restaurant offering this dish for the equivalence of $35. Bingo! La Cuisine au Beurre Restaurant became our dining venue for the evening.
Our waitress was very personable. I found this to be the case for all the wait staff we encountered in Marseille. This particular young lady was fluent in English. Although, I enjoyed the opportunities to practice communicating in French, I was kind of relieved I did not have to torture another waiter with my cringe-worthy French.
Our waitress took the time to explain how to eat bouillabaisse. She brought a basket of hard bread chips, a bowl of broth, a plate of seafood with vegetables, and a side of rouille. Rouille is an orange garlicky mayonnaise. It was disgusting so I left it alone. She explained I was supposed to put all the ingredients into the bowl of broth. However, this was not as simple as it sounds. One thing I had to get used to in Marseille is that the seafood is cooked whole and served whole. My seafood plate had three fish and a lobster. I had to cut the heads and tails off the fish and then slice the meat from the bones. I had to crack the lobster shell to retrieve its meat. I had to cut up the baked potatoes. By the time I finished all this and added it to the broth, my soup was cold. I had one of the waiters reheat it for me. After all that, I thought the bouillabaisse was good but I don't think I would go out of my way to order it again - at least not for $35.
Most of the dining downtown is outdoors. With the mild evening air, the city lights, and sight of the boats bobbing in the harbor, dinner can be one of the most enchanting Marseille experiences. On the other hand, outdoor dining in Marseille is not without challenges. Smoking is still allowed outdoors in public in France. Chances are good that someone is going to light up at a table near you.
ready to try bouillabaisse
Most dining is outdoors in downtown Marseille.
We were made aware of one of the other hazards of eating dinner outside in Marseille - more so after dark. While we were waiting for the waiter to bring our food Traci screamed and almost kicked our table over. I looked up to see what the problem was and caught the glimpse of a rat running from under the table beside us and disappearing between two large flower pots. Over the next few minutes, we would see the rat creep out to snatch a crumb and then dash back to its hiding place. This was happening a little too close to our table so I asked one of the waiters to move us to another table. When I told him it was because we saw a rat, he laughed and said, “Welcome to Marseille.” He told us the problem gets even worse after midnight. He moved us to a table far away from the flower pots but we later had to deal with the cigarette smoke from the two tables beside us. That was the last time we ate outdoors in the city.
We took advantage of a free tasting offered by our City Pass to try one of the other foods associated with Marseille. This treat is called a navette and has been made in the same bakery (Le Four de Navette) since 1781. In fact, it is Marseille's oldest bakery. We were hoping to purchase a box of navettes as a souvenir but after tasting one, we quickly changed our minds. This pastry had a hint of citrus but to me, it was like chewing on a stale biscuit.