KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Cruise Lines That Call: Costa and MSC regularly call at Marseille. Other lines include Carnival, Croisieres de France, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Seabourn, Celebrity, Oceania, Silversea, Regent, Azamara, Sea Cloud, Ponant, Princess and Celestyal. Weather: More than 300 days of sunshine a year make Marseille an appealing destination any time of the year, though peak season is summer with highs in the mid-80s in July and August and little rain. Most rain falls in late spring and autumn when high temperatures reach the upper 60s and low 70s.
Language: French, though English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas.
Money Matters: Currency is the euro, credit cards are readily accepted and ATMs are easy to find. A Marseille City Pass can be purchased online through the Tourism Office of Marseille for admission to museums, tours, boat to Chateaux d’If, tourist train, public transport and MuCEM. A 24-hour pass costs 26 euros, 48-hour pass 33 euros.
Getting Around: Marseille has two cruise ports. The J4 dock, walking distance to the heart of the city, can accommodate vessels up to 656 feet long. The larger Mole Leon Gourret is six miles north of the city center and has benefited from recent development, notably the franchising of the Marseille Provence Cruise Terminal, MPCT, to Costa and MSC. Shuttles and taxis at Mole Leon Gourret provide transport to the city center. Public transportation in Marseille includes a network of buses, two metro and two tram lines. Tickets can be bought on buses and from machines at tram and metro stations. Trains to Aix-en-Provence depart from the Saint Charles train station. The Petit Train, a toylike tourist trolley, departs from Vieux Port for Notre Dame de la Garde and Le Panier. A hop-on hop-off tourist bus has English commentary via earphone. Two minibus tour itineraries with audio guides in English are offered exclusively through the Tourism Office of Marseille.
While all of these points of interest can be accessed on foot from the J4 terminal, they also can be reached on public transportation and cruise line shore excursions. Other attractions in Marseille and environs will require cruise passengers to use more than their own two feet, again, either public transportation or shore excursion.
Chief among these is Notre Dame de la Garde, an iconic symbol of Marseille. A gilded copper statue of the Virgin Mary stands atop the basilica’s 130-foot bell tower looking down on the city from its highest elevation. Guardian of sailors and fishermen, “La Bonne Mere,” as the church is known, was consecrated in 1864 to replace an 11th-century church built atop an ancient fort. The 360 degree views of the city and Mediterranean coast from this perch would be reason enough to trek to the top of the hill, but the building itself also merits a look. Neo- Byzantine in style, its chapel is adorned with marble, mosaics and murals.
South of the city, the Calanques stretch for 12 miles along the coast. One of France’s national parks since 2012, the white chalk massif has fords enfolding turquoise waters and limestone cliffs studded with pines. Visitors come to hike on trails and swim off secluded beaches, some accessible only by boat or kayak.
More accessible beaches can be found off Comiche President John F. Kennedy, a serpentine roadway winding almost three miles along the city’s southern shoreline. Luxurious homes of merchants and the bourgeois, some dating from the 19th century, hint at the exclusive status of the neighborhood. Everyone traveling the roadway has views of the craggy coastline and rocky’ islands just offshore. Stairways lead down to tiny hidden beaches, some just a square of pebbles where locals, young and old in various states of undress, stretch out in the sun.
Visitors tend to seek out the easier-to-find and more well-known beaches. Prado Seaside Park has plenty’ of open space, a broad lawn and sandy beaches. Heading north are two smaller beaches, the Prophete and the Catalans, where an international volleyball tournament takes place in the summer. All three can be accessed on the No. 83 bus from Vieux Port.
Many’ cruise lines offer shore excursions farther into Provence, especially to Aix-en-Provence, about 20 miles north of the city’, 50 minutes by motorcoach or train. A university and spa town, it was founded by the Romans and served as the medieval capital of Provence. Artist Paul Cezanne spent much of his life there and “C” emblems in the streets mark a walking route past sites associated with him.
Cruise passengers who visit on major market day’s-Hiesday, Thursday and Saturday- will find plazas in Aix’s OldTown loaded with colorful booths containing flowers, produce, cheese, olives, meats, fish, bread and other baked goods. A stroll around Aix shows off its architecture. The city’ boasts the third-largest collection of Baroque buildings in France after Paris and Versailles. Don’t-miss spots include Place de 1’Hotel de Ville with its charming cafes, Saint Sauveur Cathedral with its mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture, and swanky Cours Mirabeau, the Champs Elysses of Provence.