We are getting into the swing of our Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruises with our first port stop today at Marseille. I had envisaged strolling off the ship and walking into town, until I realised that we were docked around 20 minutes drive away from the centre of Marseille. There was a shuttle bus provided by MSC ($16 per person return) but we decided to try the public bus outside the port and after a transfer to the tram found ourselves walking down the main boulevard of La Canebiere towards the Vieux Port.
I hope you enjoy the video below from our MSC Cruise
I spotted an old fashioned looking shop selling traditional sweets and biscuits, called La Cure Gourmand and bought some marzipan lozenge shaped sweets and chocolate olives to take home, although they may not last that long. Once the hub of commercial shipping in Marseille, the Vieux Port is now a marina full of yachts and sailing boats, surrounded on all sides by restaurants and cafes. There was a Saturday fruit and flower market in full swing and an event run by the local Marine Fire Service who had numerous vehicles and equipment on show for the public.
We could see the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica up on the hill and we decided to take the No 60 bus that stopped right by the Vieux Port (Cost €1.80) to save ourselves a hot 30 minute walk. I didn’t envy the bus driver as he expertly negotiated oncoming traffic and parked cars in the narrow streets and bends on the hill. The Basilica is the city’s major landmark and was built by Napoleon III in the 1850s, topped with a golden statue of Mary and baby Jesus. Inside the Basilica a mass was in progress and there was some beautiful decoration and gilding, but the main attraction was the view over the whole city and out to sea. The walk back down the hill was not at all arduous and we reached the port again around lunchtime.
Around the three sides of the port were wide boulevards for pedestrians and cyclists, which made it a very pleasant stroll, in warm sunshine with the boats swaying on the rippling, turquoise water. As we reached the Quai des Belges where we had earlier taken the bus, my eye was caught by a stall selling artisan soaps, one of the famous products of Marseille. We stopped to chat to the young man in traditional fisherman’s dress and smell all the different fragrances, selecting a few to take home as souvenirs.
The far side of the Vieux Port was lined with cafes and restaurants fronting the old town Panier district, although the waterfront was destroyed in WW2 bombing. Guy was keen to try an authentic Marseille Bouillabaisse, a hearty fish stew, until he read one of the menus and realised it would set him back €60. We walked up the quay, where there were many tourist buses parked, trying in vain to find the correct place to take the free bus back to the ship, but gave up in the end and had a drink in a café at the far end with a view of the old fortress.
We wandered along to the St Jean Fort, an imposing fortress, one of the two that guard the entrance to the port, with its matching partner in St Nicholas Fort on the other side. There appeared to be a museum inside, but we walked around the pathway that circled the fortress where a man was sunbathing after a swim of the rocks. It was a lovely viewpoint to watch the sailing boats leaving the harbor and look out to sea. By early afternoon it was time to return to the ship and this time we decided to take a taxi back to the ship.
Back on board we watched the evening show, Paris Fou, with a French theme in honour of our stop in Marseille. The entertainment featured an Edith Piaf style singer, showgirls with skimpy costumes and feathers and some can can dancers, as well as an amazing juggler and artist who created shadow pictures with his hands.
Tomorrow, we reach Genoa in Italy, home port of MSC Cruises, where we plan to spend another day exploring the sights.
Options for getting into Marseille from the cruise port
- Take the transfer bus provided by MSC at a cost of around €16.90 per person for the return ticket. This leaves from immediately outside the cruise terminal and takes you to the Vieux Port.
- Walk 10 minutes down the road still within the port area to where a free shuttle bus takes you into the Vieux Port. This seemed to run every 30 minutes, however we couldn’t find where to catch it on the return journey, so I’m not sure if it is a one-way service.
- Walk 20-30 minutes to just outside the port gates where there is a bus stop by the road. The number 35 bus runs 3 times an hour and will take you to Joliette. Here you transfer to the tramway T2 and get off at Sardi Carnot with a further 10 minute walk to the Vieux Port. The cost is €1.80 per person one way and the ticket is valid for 1 hour and covers both the bus and the tramway. It will probably take you around an hour for the whole journey.
- You can take a taxi from outside the cruise terminal for a cost of around €20 one way, which I believe is probably the best option especially if there are not too many people waiting and you can share the cost with other passengers. The taxi ride takes around 20 minutes.
Excursion options for Marseille
The Marseille City tour (4 hrs, £42 Adult) begins at Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde on the hill overlooking the town and includes sightseeing in the centre of Marseille and time wandering in the Vieux Port. A popular alternative tour is Aix en Provence (4 hr, £42) for a 40 minute drive to this attractive old town with a visit to St Saviours Cathedral and a walk through the historic centre. There is also an excursion to Cassis (4.5 hrs, £32), a charming fishing town with high cliffs and brightly coloured houses which is a 1 hour drive from Marseille.
Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series
Join me on a week’s Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruise
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Thanks to MSC cruises who are hosting Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy will be travelling on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.
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