Last Saturday morning I woke up early. The kind of early that makes you ask if it is early morning or late night. But I didn’t mind the lack of sleep; I was going to France! I was supposed to go the first weekend of December, but between being deathly ill with food poisoning and the strange Spanish air controller strike the flight was cancelled and we went to Cadiz instead. Overall, I’m really happy the Spaniards chose that weekend to protest, as I can’t imagine having been in France without having been able to try something new in every corner bakery or without having drunk bottle after bottle of great, inexpensive red wine.
It was both Ale and my first time in France, but we weren’t going to the typical tourist destinations. We had found very cheap (40€/$60 round trip) tickets to Marseille, a large waterside city in the south of the country. After reading a bit about our destination I prepared myself for what the people called an interesting, though rather unattractive, large and culturally mixed city. As far as food goes, I expected to be able to find the typical foods of other French regions and also a lot of African and Middle Eastern influence in the culinary scene. Marseille’s own claim to fame is their dish Bouillabaisse, but at an average price of 50€ per person I knew I wouldn’t be trying it on this trip!
When we arrived it was raining, but we were eager to start exploring. After making our way to the hotel from the gorgeous train station we grabbed umbrellas and made our way out. First stop: breakfast. After two Café Crème, a brioche, mini lemon meringue pie, and spinach and salmon quiche (between the two of us) we were ready to brave the rain again. This first bakery wasn’t too great, but we were desperate and starving and although it was mediocre, it was refreshing to be in a country where you had more variety for your breakfast choices!
After breakfast we headed to the market. It was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish stands, a big butcher’s shop, and many street food options and spice shops. We tried a Middle Eastern style pancake that was filled with cheese. I loved it, and for 2.50€ we were both stuffed.
I was definitely jealous looking at all of the vegetables they had to choose from as well as the variety of international foods and spices in the small shops. I realized that as much as I love Spanish food and although in Seville the food is great and cheap, I miss variety!!!
Since it was raining and we couldn’t do much other than eat, we continued on our self-guided culinary tour. First, we went to the neighborhood “Cours Julien” where I’d read that there was street art and great boutiques as well as little bars and restaurants. The street art was questionable, although fun, and most bars and shops were strangely closed (for the winter?)!
We had a drink at a grimy hole in the wall and decided to make our way to the pastry shop I’d read was the best of the city. Finally, my first French “Patisserie”!
It was adorable, pink and old fashioned looking with a large variety of pastries to try. I would have loved to try everything, but I wasn’t very hungry and they weren’t cheap! So, I stuck with my favorite, lemon meringue, and we also tried a bread with goat cheese and béchamel sauce and another piece of quiche. All was delicious and I wish we’d had time to go back!
The next day was better weather and we did all of the touristy things that Marseille has to offer. We took a long walk along the coast, which was beautiful. The Mediterranean was bright blue and the view was spotted with little white sailboats. We also discovered the best bakery of the trip (forget the name) where we tried some amazing things.
Later we made our way up the steep hill to Notre Dame de la Garde, a beautiful church that looks out over all of Marseille. It was free and had great views!
Absolutely dead after 6 hours of walking we went back to the hotel to rest. We had wanted to try either a well-recommended sushi restaurant or a crepe place, but both were closed since it was Sunday! Instead we went to a Pakistani restaurant which was really good, but rather small portions.
Monday was our last day and we really didn’t have anything specific to see. I wanted to try to check out some of the shops, but incredibly many were still closed! We really didn’t understand this about Marseille! We did, however, eat at a great French restaurant. It was called L’Aromat and was exactly what we were looking for. It was fancy, but not overly so, and had a great prix fix menu for a reasonable price (25€ per person with everything included). My next post will explain exactly what we had 🙂
Finally, we poked around in a few more shops, bought more wine and went back to the hotel. We spent the rest of the evening trying the wines we’d bought (we were flying Ryanair so couldn’t bring any back) and talking to some of the other guests.
Overall, it was a great weekend and it really made me want to live a year in France. I would recommend that everyone visit Marseille if they have the chance. I don’t think it’s the “typical” image that we might have of France and that’s all the more reason to go. It also isn’t very touristy (especially not in the winter) so you can experience a more realistic version of life in France, and at French people’s prices! Not to mention that its southern location means that it doesn’t get too cold! It was still in the 50’s although it was January and raining!
Well, I’m off to cook a curry with some of the spices I bought there at the market… Hope everyone reading this is well and isn’t too jealous of my pictures!