When Superman first decided we were going to Marseille for un p’tit week-end, I was a bit skeptical. But since he was planning and paying, I decided to just go with it…come what may. After all, my only experience with Marseille was a 4-day homestay in high school when my shockingly mature and impossibly gorgeous chain smoking host sister talked me in to cutting off most of my hair and buying a very expensive pair of pink and black striped pirate pants.
But during the month leading up to our visit, whenever I told my friends (both French and foreign) we were headed to Marseille, most of them asked, “Why?” and several told me, “Ce n’est pas une belle ville. C’est dangereux!” They wondered if I knew about all the crime in the city and was a prepared to fend off the pickpockets.
Feeling a bit discouraged I decided to checked my two “go-to” France guidebooks: Rick Steves’ FRANCE 2009 and Fedor’s FRANCE 2014. Turns out Rick doesn’t even mention Marseille, France’s second largest city, at all (at least in the 2009 version), and Fedor’s 800+ page book only gives the city seven pages, three of which list hotels and restaurants. What the heck??
So I went with very low expectations this past weekend and sadly, upon arrival the city seemed to match those expectations. On first appearance Marseille was gritty, dirty, poor, crowded, and loud, very, very loud. It reminded me of some cities we have visited in Egypt or Israel. Vibrant, but a little sketchy, dingy and rundown.
But within a day, the city began to grow on me because, frankly, Marseille is the real deal, not the cleaned up and polished deal, you find in Paris.
As a port city Marseille was heavily bombed during WWII and then rebuilt in the 1950, serving as an entrance for millions of immigrants during the ‘50s and ’60. There are French citizens from many different cultures, particularly North Africans, mostly Algerians. Refreshingly the people of Marseille come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. There was a lot of smiling going on, while at the same time wizened looks of lives intensely lived. The population looked genuine. No living in a bubble going on there. It seemed to me like hardship combined with ease, the residents taking life in stride.
I absolutely loved the colors of Marseille, from the clothing and cars, to the hair and jewelry and the shoes and the skin. The beautiful Mediterranean backdrop compliments it all.
It’s an active city with lots of runners, cyclists, volleyball clubs and, of course, sailors. The beaches aren’t filled with tourist, but rather local families playing silly games with their children in the surf. People say, “Excuse me,” when they collide. Even the waiters were friendly and kind (always a bonus in France).
I’m so very glad we went.
Bravo Superman and listen up all you travel writers: Marseille is guidebook worthy. Give it another go!
Ce n’est pas une belle ville. C’est dangereux! It’s not a nice city. It’s dangerous.
un p’tit week-end: a long weekend get-away