This post and pictures by Keith Jenkins, luxury travel blogger of velvetescape, exclusively for Trip+ as part of our #housetripping series.
Eva, my guide from the Marseille Greeters, pointed at a sign as we walked past the M-Pavilion, the city’s brand new tourism office, and chuckled. I looked at the sign and though my French isn’t good, I got the gist of it. Bouillabaise is a big deal in Marseille! Even Vincent van Gogh understood it: “I paint with the same verve as a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse”.
This famous fish soup, filled with a variety of local fish, shellfish, potatoes, vegetables and seasoned with special Provençals herbs, is synonymous with Marseille. Previously known as the poor man’s dish, bouillabaisse has experienced somewhat of a renaissance in recent times, with both traditional and fine-dining restaurants serving it in different styles. I decided to find out more about this fish soup so I asked Eva about it. She said we had to start at the fish market at the Vieux-Port. We walked to the market and found a few stalls selling the catch of the day.
There are basically three or more different fish in a traditional bouillabaisse: typically red rascasse, sea robin, conger and sometimes bream, hake, monkfish or mullet. Shellfish such as mussels, crabs or langoustine are often added in the broth. Vegetables like leek, onions, tomatoes, celery and potatoes are simmered together with the herbs and spices in the broth. The traditional method of serving is quite peculiar. The broth is first served in a bowl accompanied with bread and rouille (a mayonnaise with olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper), followed by the fish and vegetables in a separate bowl or platter.
That evening, as I walked around the Vieux-Port, I stumbled upon a lovely restaurant called Chez Loury (3, rue Fortia). This charming restaurant is famous for its traditional Marseille cuisine so I didn’t have to think twice – I popped in and ordered a bouillabaisse! The bouillabaisse came in three servings: first, the rich broth which was incredibly flavourful yet not as ‘fishy’ as I thought it would be; followed by two servings of large chunks of fish (six different types) with vegetables and potatoes. This is exactly how Eva described how traditional bouillabaisse is served. It was a feat involving a fine balance between the flavours and textures of the different fish, and the choice of herbs and spices. It was clear to me then: bouillabaisse isn’t just a fish soup, it’s an artform!
The next day, I made a reservation to have dinner at one of Marseille’s most popular fine-dining establishments: Les Arcenaulx (25 cours Estiennes d’Orves). The restaurant was absolutely gorgeous, with bookshelves lining the walls and ancient wooden beams crossing the ceiling. I looked at the menu and smiled. I couldn’t help myself… I ordered bouillabaisse again! This time, it came as one serving in a large bowl filled to the brim with big pieces of fish, mussels and potatoes. It was a slightly more contemporary version of the fish soup but no less tasty. The broth was simply superb.
You would think that two back-to-back bouillabaisse dinners would be sufficient to make me scramble for something more land-based on my last evening in Marseille. That was my intention, until I heard about the bouillabaisse hamburger! I was intrigued. I figured, I’m already on some sort of bouillabaisse trail in Marseille, I might as well find out what this hamburger was about. The restaurant that serves it, L’Aromat (49, rue Sainte), is a cosy place with colourful walls and ditto cushions. I had a good laugh the moment the bouillabaisse was brought to my table. It was indeed a hamburger, but oh so cleverly prepared. The chef had separated the main ingredients of a bouillabaisse (fish, potatoes and the broth) into three distinct parts on a platter: fries, a fish burger and the broth in a separate glass; creating a traditional dish with a quirky, contemporary twist! I loved the ingenuity of it!
I left Marseille bursting at the seams but quite a bit more knowledgeable about its most famous dish. If you’re visiting Marseille, don’t miss the bouillabaisse!
HouseTrip offers holiday rentals in Marseille that make the perfect base from which to explore the city. I stayed at a beautiful apartment with stunning seaviews in the Le Panier district, a short stroll away from Vieux-Port. The owner, Eva, is a wonderful host as well as a guide with the Marseille Greeters – she happily showed me around the city and assisted me with my bouillabaisse trail!
I also visited two other apartments, one in the city centre that’s great for solo travellers,
and another, Vieux Loft, that’s a spacious apartment with one of the coolest interiors around!
This post and all images from photo blogger Kirsten Alana as part of our #housetripping series.
The Council of the European Union annually chooses cities to be designated as Capitals of Culture for the calendar year. This year, Marseille in France and Košice in Slovakia have both been chosen; the former, being the far more accessible of the two and part of the region of Provence which is a draw in and of itself. In fact, The Capital of Culture officially is not just the city of Marseille but rather encapsulates an area that stretches from Martigues to La Ciotat and includes the towns of Arles, Aix, Aubagne.
I was privileged to visit France’s second largest city this spring and found it is the best place to start if you desire to attend Capital of Culture festivities. There are a myriad of events, concerts, walks, exhibitions and even a circus going on all around the city until December, but it is the brand new Pavilion M that I would advise making your way to first. It is made of wood and glass, sits in the Place Bargemon and was built specifically to house exhibitions about the city, its people and what goes on throughout the year related to The Capital of Culture. On the top floor, a tourist office can provide you with specific information and below ground there is an extensive multi-media installation highlighting relevant art and detailing French culture and history. There are entrances on several levels, but I would go in through the street level doors which look out at the harbor. I would also recommend paying a visit to Espace Culture at 42 Canebiere. Tickets for CoC events are available at both locations.
Marseille has split their year of festivities into what they call three ‘episodes’. The first is appropriately titled “Marseille Provence Welcomes the World” and runs from January to May; episode two is called “Marseille Provence Under Open Skies”, and runs from May to September; while the third is called “Marseille Provence – a Thousand Faces” and will conclude the year, beginning in September.
Construction will be a part of any visitor’s experience because new venues and exhibitions will premier all year long. Be prepared for this factor during your visit. I was most impressed with the new stainless steel pavilion that hugs one side of the World Heritage harbor, designed by the brilliant team at Foster + Partners specifically for Capital of Culture events. Modern and simple, it is a thin thousand-square-meter surface held up by only 8 unadorned pillars that reflects both the harbor and the town. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the city of Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture and will likely be very popular with locals and visitors alike.
Another installation, concentrated mostly around the harbor but occurring all over the city is the ‘Funny Zoo’ project that places colorful, painted animals in strategic areas accessible to children and adults alike. It was difficult to get a photograph of any of them that didn’t include a child, so loved are they already!
Unchanged of course, are some of the landmarks and museums which have always made the city special. Each will play host to some special element over the course of the year as well as being open for regular visiting hours. So be sure not to skip the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, La Vieille Charité in Le Panier [the oldest neighborhood of Marseille and Fort Saint-Jean.
The still-under-construction Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is an incredible building which extends out from the harbor into the ocean and connects directly to the upper levels of Fort Saint-Jean. As soon as it is open, I predict that it will be one of the highlights of any visit to Marseille. The Silo d’Arenc, built in 1926, has been newly-transformed into living, working and concert space and will play host to events all throughout the year. Within the same area, along the harbor, is the newly renovated Musée Regards de Provence. Just opened as a museum in March, for the purpose of The Capital of Culture, it was once a health station and has now been given new life by the Regards de Provence foundation.
Much more could be said about Marseille and the surrounding region which comprises this year’s French contribution to The Capital of Culture. However I hope I have already peaked your interest and caused you to want to visit. For the most up-to-date and relevant information, please direct your attention to the terrific website put together specifically for tourists and make sure to stay at one of the many wonderful apartments HouseTrip has to offer in Marseille.
We love Paris, obviously. But we’ve worn our heart on our sleeve long enough now. It’s time to take the torch and see what some other great French cities are up to. Think of it like ‘City Sorbet’; perfect to refresh your palate before you get back to being crazy in love with the capital again.
Keeping to the sorbet theme for a minute, Marseille has got to be citron vert; sharp, tart and surprising, takes a second or two on your tongue before you realise it’s exactly what you were craving all along.
Marseille © by Ophelia photos
Marseille is the second largest city in France and the country’s biggest port, so it’s busy. It’s also a European Cultural Capital 2013. Weirdly, this is all good news even if you feel about tourists the way a Marseille Sailor feels about etiquette. Because for every MoMEC and Le Silo, there’s somewhere else determined to hold on to pure Marseille and that’s what we like.
Marseille Old Port © marcovdz
Close to the Old Port, Le Panier is Marseille’s original working class district. But, unlike most cities, Marseille has resolutely refused to gentrify and Le Panier is what happens when they let the artists loose instead of the bankers. Forget the designer shops on Rue Saint Ferrol, the real designers are living and working in Le Panier alongside couturiers, artists, ceramicists, amazing cooks, musicians, most of their mums and dads and ‘pop-up’ just about everything.
Le Panier © marcovdz
For the best view in the city you’ll have to join the tourists. But if you’re prepared to walk (okay, hike) you can make it to Notre-Dame de la Garde on foot, nice and early and miss the crowds. The panoramic view of Marseille from 162 metres up is worth the effort. The Basilica itself is pretty grand too. And the way back to the Old Port is about as Marseille as it gets; tiny atmospheric streets and alleys, locals in sun chairs having a good gossip, pastel paintwork, wooden shutters and some of the strangest street names you’ll ever see.
View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde © hugovk
This is the South of France so expect sun in Marseille even in January. For city sand try La Plage Catalans. Sunsets have to be the Old Port. And take your cool drinks and strong coffee in cafés away from the sea – you’ll still find a view you just won’t have waiters that hover and a heart attack when you get l’addition.
Plage des Catalans © marcovdz
Nice might share the same coastline as Marseille, but the capital of the Côte d’Azur couldn’t be more different. Smart, elegant and just on the right side of decadent, Nice is never going to do edgy. And that’s fine by Nice, because along with all its other very attractive qualities this is a city that almost defines self-confidence.
Promenade des Anglais © bousinka
In Nice you must stroll, at least once, along the Promenade des Anglais past the Hôtel Negresco then stand and gaze moodily over the Baie des Anges. After you’ve ticked that F. Scott Fitzgerald box you can head for the Old Town, grab yourself a copy of ‘Nice Matin’ and look like a local over some dangerously strong espresso.
Baie des Anges © Rodrigo_Soldon
‘People watching’ is a favourite Niçoise pastime and it never gets tired. Pick a café in Cours Salayo on a sunny day – and there are plenty of sunny days – then just sit back and observe. But be warned; Niçoise ladies of a certain age do still wear fur and the sight of a little dog in a handbag is not entirely rare.
Nice Old Town is very pretty. It’s all ‘ice cream’ colours, pristine stonework, charming markets, tiny shops that sell things you probably didn’t even know existed and restaurants where it seems almost rude to eat anything but the Plat du jour. But if you want a slightly rough and ready sense of the city, take a walk to the Port.
Image © Teriyaki Matz’[S5 <3]
Okay, we admit it. The Port isn’t rough and ready at all. It’s just as glamorous and seductive as the rest of Nice, but that’s no bad thing. This is where you’ll find the Marche aux Puces from Tuesday to Saturday, seriously good seafood restaurants and literally (a word we don’t use lightly) hundreds of antique shops.
Antique market in Old Town © cking
It may seem strange that we haven’t mentioned how to avoid the tourists, but Nice is a law unto itself when it comes to this. It’s a city to see and be seen, promenade till you drop. Almost everything is al-fresco. And life is lived in its own particular Niçoise fashion. So our advice is, just join in and avoid nothing.
“Cure Gourmande” – confectionery in Nice Old Town © sokole oko
If Nice gives you a taste for singular French cities, then you should definitely add Bordeaux to your ‘must see’ list. Especially now that it’s firmly shaken off the ‘poor relation to Paris’ tag and reinvented itself as one of the world’s greats – and not just for wine lovers.
Carte postale de Bordeaux © camil tulcan
Overcome with a sense of déjà-vu when you first see Bordeaux? Don’t be surprised. There won’t be an iconic style magazine that hasn’t published an image of the city over the past decade. And with new designers, architects, artists, musicians, museums, galleries, studios and shops appearing all the time, it looks like the city’s days of smiling and looking pretty for the camera are far from over.
Bordeaux has an astonishing 320 listed ‘Monuments Historique’, topped only by Paris with 433. That’s a lot to get round so it’s probably best to start by finding a really nice café, ordering up a creamy Grand Crème and having a think. Like the monuments, there are plenty of cafés to choose from, we recommend you try La Rue Notre-Dame for a bohemian mix of places to sit, ateliers to visit, shops to browse and people to watch.
Monument aux Girondins © Rufino Lasaosa
If ‘doing’ the sights isn’t your thing, then Bordeaux is perfect for bringing the best to you. You can’t miss the River Garonne wherever you go, so it’s only natural to cross the many arched Pont de Pierre (there you go, one down without even trying). The Place de la Bourse is immense and comes with its own Water Mirror. But remember, prancing about in the Water Mirror is almost as bad as leaping in front of the Eiffel Tower. So take a look, dip a toe if you must, admire the reflection of the Place de la Bourse and coolly continue on your way. Don’t miss the Port de la Lune. Even if you hate shopping, you’ve got to at least set foot on the Rue St. Catherine, at 1.2 km it’s the longest, pedestrianized shopping street in France. And you have to promenade on the Waterfront as the sun goes down, if it’s good enough for the Bordelais.
Water mirror © Michael Yat Kit Chung
Historic as it is, Bordeaux is pretty committed to technology too. Take a sleek tram when your feet get tired. There’s free Wi-Fi in most public squares and parks. And thousands of QR codes all over the city give smartphone access to instant visitor information.
So that’s three great French cities that aren’t Paris to start you off. Will you ever look back?
Cover image of Paris © ChrisGoldNY