2 Days in Marseille, France

Being that Marseille is not a tourist city, there’s a good chance that you don’t know much about Marseille, despite the fact that it is the second-largest city in France – only behind Paris! Marseille is located on the south-eastern coast of France, almost near Nice and Cannes, and despite the fact that it is not frequented by tourists, this bustling city is definitely worth stopping by if you plan to be in the area! We visited on a whim when we flew from Madrid to Marseille, on our way to Switzerland. We decided to rent a car and drive from Marseille to Switzerland so that we could experience a quick 2 days in France and soak in the French countryside on our way to Geneva, and we were so glad we did! 2 days was plenty long enough for us, and we fit quite a lot into those busy days but we loved getting to experience the French culture for the first time. Below is a list of all of our Marseille favorites, and a perfect little itinerary for a quick 2-day stop!

What to Do

*Note that all of these are free activities, but can get crowded, so I’d recommend doing them earlier in the day if possible. Pro Tip: you can do all of #’s 1-5 in one day, leaving all day for the Calanques of #6 – if you don’t read anything else AT LEAST do yourself a favor and make sure you skip down to read #6 🙂

  1. Vieux Port (The Old Port) – this is the city center area that is right on the water.  img_6241.jpg Vieux Port is the main harbor and marina of Marseille, which is guarded by Fort Saint-Nicolas and Fort Saint-Jean. It’s the perfect place to eat, stop for a cappuccino (or glass of wine), or just spend time meandering through restaurants and shops. We did every Marseille meal here, and none of them disappointed! French food is absolutely AMAZING, the rumors are true 🙂 But more about that later….. (you can read about our favorite French foods to try here).
  2. City Center – The Port is (obviously) right on the water, but the main city center is right above the port and also has dining and lots of shopping. Soap is a big thing for IMG_6295 Marseille, so you’ll find lots of adorable little soap shops with walls full of colorful bars of soap. One thing that DID surprise me was IMG_6274 the lack of bakeries around town. Not that they weren’t there, but I was fully expecting to see a bakery around every turn with lots of bread and pastries, which was not the case. So, word to the wise, when you do find a bakery be sure to stop because you may not see another one for a while!
  3. Notre Dame de la Garde – this is an enormous Romano-Byzantine basilica that dates IMG_6084 back to the 19th century. Situated on a hill that overlooks the city, the view from here offers amazing panoramic views of Marseille and is definitely worth carving some time out for. Be sure to look out over the Bay of Marseille at the Frioul archipelago from the vantage point of the basilica. One of the four islands that makes up this archipelago is If, which is the location of Chateau d’If, from the novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Admission is free and you can get to the basilica IMG_6072by walking, driving, or bus. Keep in mind that it is on top of a hill though, so if you’re walking you’ll probably get a pretty good workout, so maybe don’t wear heals that day 😉 The intrinsic artistic detail that adorns the entire church is simply breathtaking, and is worth a visit just to view the inside of the basilica alone. Colorful mosaics adorn the walls and ceiling, priceless paintings hang from the walls, pillars of marble run all throughout the interior, gold is present around every turn, and statues of gold, silver, and bronze live inside the magnificent halls. It is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I would highly recommend checking it out!

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  4. MuCEM – the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations is located right IMG_6132 on the water, near Vieux Port. As you may have guessed, it is devoted to the history and culture of European and Mediterranean civilizations. This museum is split up into 3 different sites, the J4 building, Fort Saint-Jean, and the CCR (Center for Conservation and Resources). The CCR houses the museum’s actual collections and requires a paid ticket to explore. We explored Fort Saint-Jean (free), and the (free) J4 building, which is an astounding concrete  cube that forms a perfect square. It is a see-through lacy screen made of concrete that you can’t miss. It’s actually super hard to explain, so PLEASE do your due diligence and google photos of it because it really is an amazing architectural feat. The J4 building is known as the “heart” of the MuCEM, and hosts permanent and temporary exhibits (although, we didn’t see many – but that may be because we were too interested in the building structure itself). Please do yourself a favor and walk through this unique building if you find yourself in Marseille – you won’t regret it. Be sure to come back and see it at night too, as it is lit up from the inside!

     

  5. Catedrale Major – this Cathedral of Sainte Marie Majeure was founded in the 4thIMG_6184 century and is just a short walking distance from the MuCEM. We just walked over to the IMG_6223 outside of it, took a quick peak inside and left. It was cool to see, but small compared to Notre Dame de la Garde. If you’re only going to do one historic site I’d definitely recommend choosing Notre Dame, but if you’re visiting the MuCEM  too it’s worth a quick walk to check this one out as well. However, I probably wouldn’t make a point to go out of my way to see it if I wasn’t already in the area.

6. Calanque de Sugiton – this was the absolute BEST part of Marseille and is what really made this whole trip worthwhile, so I hope you’ve stuck with me long enough  IMG_6523 to get this far down! Calanque de Sugiton is a portion of France’s Parc National des Calanques, which lines the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. Calanques are rugged coastal areas interspersed with narrow, steep-walled inlets developed in white limestone or other similar rock. Think the fjords of Norway… these are dry limestone cliffs that jut into the water. Sugiton is the most
IMG_6546popular area of the park because it is the calanque that is most easily accessed by hikers and is open even during the hot season. During the summer some of the other calanques are closed due to high fire risk, so if the calanques are in your travel plans be sure to do some research to see which ones are open during your visit! Sugiton is the one closest to Marseille, but if you end up staying closer to the town of Cassis you’d probably want to visit a calanque that is closer to that town. If the trail is open, you can actually hike from Marseille to Cassis through the park along all the calanques. We didn’t have time to try this, but I’ve heard it’s a rather strenuous and sometimes dangerous hike at parts, so be sure to do your research ahead of time if you decide to go this route! You can access Sugiton through Luminy College, which you can GPS to.

When you enter Luminy College keep driving through campus until you can’t go straight anymore and park. There is also a bus that will take you to Luminy if you don’t have a car. From the parking lot you’ll see a clear path, which will be about a 30 minute walk (part gravel, part paved) to the trailhead, and then another 15 minute walk from the trailhead to the water for a total of 45 minutes hiking (one way). Be sure to take note of the trail markers at the beginning of the route so that you know which marks to look for. At one point in your hike you’ll come to a fork in the road….going up will take you to an observation deck and going down will take you the water. We (obviously) chose to go the water route. At the bottom there are 2 pebble beaches, but you’ll want to get there early to claim a spot as it gets pretty crowded. If crowded beaches aren’t your thing then just climb around on the rocks to find a more secluded area, or swim to the island in the middle to climb up and relax like we did. If you’re a fan of cliff jumping the island in the middle is a great spot, and you’ll probably see many of the locals taking advantage of the spot. Pro Tip: bring lunch if you plan to be here a while and have your bread and cheese on the rocks by the water…it doesn’t get much better than that! Even if you don’t go the lunch route, DEFINTELY bring water with you and wear sneakers….it is definitely a hike down and a hike up and there is little shade until you get to the bottom. If you have time and want to spend the money, there are lots of options to kayak, paddleboard, sail, or boat out and around all of the calanques, which would be AMAZING. We would love to come back to France just to try that someday. While we didn’t get a chance to try it while we were there, I can’t imagine any reason why it wouldn’t be absolutely fantastic!

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Summary

While the city is fun to see, it is still a city, and to be honest, we aren’t really city people. The French in general didn’t seem to be overly friendly or helpful (most didn’t speak English or pretended not to and didn’t try to communicate any other way), IMG_6301 and the city itself was actually kind of dirty. In fact, we ran into a family from Paris on our hike who just talked about how dirty Marseille was and how it was nothing like Paris. Honestly, it wasn’t THAT bad, it’s not like we saw rats running around or anything, it’s just a normal city. While the port and the history make this an interesting city, it’s still a city and isn’t designed specifically for tourists. The family that we met on our hike were shocked to find out that we were from the US and visiting on vacation since Marseille isn’t a typical vacation destination. However, the beauty of a non-touristy area is that you get to immerse yourself in the real culture of a French city, not just a watered-down tourist version with astronomical prices. And while we loved our visit and we were glad that we did it, we probably won’t put it on our return-to list now that we’ve done Marseille already. We WOULD, however put the Calanques on our return-to list for SURE 🙂

 

Where We Stayed

  • Kyriad Hotel ($100/night) right by the Marseille airport. We took a taxi from airport to hotel for 10 euros because we didn’t have reservations, but they do offer a shuttle service if you plan ahead. We took the free shuttle to the airport the next morning to get our rental car. Clean, king bed, hairdryer, can pay for breakfast in the morning if you want. This was the first big sized bed we had in Europe during our entire trip, all others were 2 twins pushed together.
  • Hotel Carre Vieux Port ($100/night) in downtown Marseille. This hotel was right next to the port and was a perfect location for us! It was small but clean, with 2 double beds. They let us check in early, and you can pay for breakfast if you want (but there’s a great café next door). It was located one street up from the port, and near a parking garage that cost 30 euros per day.
  • Hotel la place ($100/night) in Annemasse, France. This is a small town right outside Geneva but still in France, where lodging was much cheaper. The room was clean and warm, offered secured parking at no additional price and free wifi.
  • Pentahotel ($80/night) in Paris. We had a bit of an issue getting out of the Zurich airport (we drove from Marseille to Switzerland, stayed in Switzerland and then flew out of Zurich) after a flight got cancelled, so we hopped on a flight to Paris just to get out of Zurich – oh, the behind-the-scenes joys of flying standby ;). Once we got to Paris a few other flights got cancelled and we ended up having to spend a surprise night in a Paris hotel at the last minute. This hotels was a cheap, clean option that was near the airport that worked well for us. It was $10 from airport by taxi, clean, big bed, hairdryer, and had a bar/restaurant downstairs.

 

* Disclaimer: all photos and opinions are my own, for which I received no compensation or discount

The Omni Homestead Restort, VA

We were hosted at the Omni Homestead Resort in mid-December 2017 and had an absolutely wonderful time! If you are looking for a quick mountain weekend getaway this is an absolutely perfect place to do so! You can check it out here!

The Homestead is located in Hot Springs, Virginia, up in the beautiful Blue Ridge IMG_8282 Mountains. Built in 1766, this elegant old-timey resort is brimming with history at every turn and has even hosted 23 different US Presidents! The owners have gone to great lengths to preserve as much of the history as possible, even down to the wallpaper and carpets that really take you back in time. With over 2,000 acres, it offers just about any activity you could possibly want! We only stayed for 2 nights, so we chose to experience skiing, golfing, and the spa, but a variety of other activities are offered throughout the year including 2 different 18-hole golf courses, archery, carriage and hay rides, falconry, fly fishing, hiking, horseback riding, ice skating, kayaking and canoeing, mini golf, mini snowmobiling, paintball, Segway tours, shooting club, shopping, tennis, tubing at the ski mountain, and zip lining!

Additional free amenities and features include a 2-acre water park (water slides, pool, sand beach, and lazy river), an indoor pool, hot tub, fitness center, game/arcade room, historic tours, lawn games, movie theater, an outdoor fire pit, and tea time. The resort also includes 5 different dining options (formal dining, casual grills, pub), a market, and a bar on site.

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This huge resort boasts 483 guest rooms and 26 meeting rooms, along with a vast array of other rooms for you to wander about and explore – each one magnificently decorated (we went the weekend before Christmas and HIGHLY recommend going around Christmas season to see all of the decorations, they’re fantastic and will really get you in the Christmas spirit!). We spent one entire night just exploring the inside rooms and getting lost in the history of this incredible hotel.

 

The rooms themselves are very charming and cozy. We stayed in a deluxe room with a IMG_8228 king bed and a view, which typically runs about $280-$310 per night, but you should be able to find cheaper deals through TripAdvisor, Groupon, Expedia etc. The room was nice and cozy, and included a bedroom with a flat screen TV IMG_8233 and Keurig machine, a bathroom (complete with robes), and nice big closet. Extra features included an iron and ironing board, hair dryer, ice bucket, and safe. There was not a kitchenette or mini fridge in the room we had, which we were completely fine with, but if that is something that you care about you may want to look up other room options or plan to not bring food back to the room 🙂 You will honestly probably be pretty busy and not spend a whole lot of your time in your room since the activities at the Homestead are so amazing!

We went skiing on opening day at The Homestead, which was a ton of fun! There were  only a handful of people on the mountain, so we had a blast riding on the almost-empty  IMG_8309 trails! Lift passes look like they typically run $35-$59 depending on the day and when you buy them, lift passes along with rental equipment (ski or snowboard) run from $62-$94. This mountain was perfect for families and beginners. Since we went on opening day it looked like there were some trails that weren’t open yet that may be better suited for advanced riders, so I can’t speak to those, but we did both runs that were open and had a blast. Trained ski IMG_8326 instructors are on site to give private or group lessons, and the kids all looked like they were having a great time….if we had kids I would TOTALLY drop my kids off with them to learn! There is a cozy lodge up on the mountain where you can grab a bite (or in our case a beer and an Irish coffee) in between runs that has both an indoor and outdoor fire pit to warm you up. The ice skating rink is also located up here as well. We didn’t get a chance to skate, but it looked like prices were about $15-$20 per adult. If you have kids or are new to skiing I’d highly recommend checking out this mountain to grow your skills and have fun as you gain confidence in your skiing ability, as this mountain is fantastic for new skiers or snowboarders! (Note: if you purchase tickets on-site on a weekend it looks like it is $49 lift tickets for non-guests, and $45 for guests of the resort, with rental prices being $35).

 

We also visited the Spa for an 80 minute aromatherapy couples massage, which was seriously HEAVENLY! Neither of us had ever had a professional massage before, so this IMG_8390 experience was literally life-changing. I left telling my husband that he created a monster in that I may have picked up a new hobby 🙂 The Spa at the Homestead is actually ranked #9 in Robb Report’s top 12 spa destinations around the world! As a massage newbie I can understand if you don’t want to take my word for how amazing it was 😉 Check out the article here if you’re interested! The 80 minute couples aromatherapy massage lists for $510 but includes all-day access to the spa and its amenities as well. The spa itself is just as unbelievable as FullSizeRender (5)the actual massage was, and you could absolutely spend a full day there. The Aqua Thermal Suite offers a variety of different therapeutic options for anything you may be craving! Experiential showers (different “storm” experiences: Arctic mist, Atlantic storm, or Caribbean storm options) offer multi-sensory cooling after exposure to heat. The Herbal Cocoon is a series of heated niches below a starlit ceiling that enhances the purification and detoxification process by warming your body and relaxing the muscles. Thermal heated lounges look similar to nap pods and are heated lounge chairs that sit you in front of a relaxing scenic moving photo (mine was a waterfall). The aromatic steam room opens pores and infuses lungs with essential oils  FullSizeRender (3) that are carried in the steam and is insanely relaxing. After all of the heated experiences be sure to cool off in The Chill, which is a cold cabin experience that cools your body with a crisp misty vapor and flaked ice. Of course, the locker rooms are amazing too and offer normal showers, bathrooms, lockers, and refreshing areas with everything you need. They also offer a co-ed lounge room where you can wait for your massage, or hang out after your massage before you go to your separate locker rooms. The room is super comfortable and offers a magnificent view from the top of the spa that overlooks the spa’s Serenity Garden and the mainIMG_7950 Homestead building. The Serenity Garden is the spa’s exclusive adult oasis that includes an infinity pool, hot tub, geothermal pool fed by hot springs, shower, and river reflexology walk that massages your feet.  Any 50-minute (or longer) massage, facial or body treatment includes a day pass to the Serenity Garden. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit this part of the spa…..a.) Because we went the weekend before Christmas and we weren’t wanting to be in pools outside (even though they are heated), and b.) We had a tee time to play golf that afternoon and didn’t have time to spend all day here 🙂 However, I’d highly recommend treating yourself to a beautiful spa day – you could literally spend all day here! The spa would be perfect for couple’s trip, girl’s getaway, babymoon, anniversary celebration, or bachelorette party!

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We wrapped up our weekend stay with a quick 9 holes on The Old Course, one of two IMG_8436 golf courses that The Homestead offers. The Cascades is the other course located here, and is apparently amazing. Unfortunately it was closed for the winter so we didn’t get a chance to check it out, but we’ve heard great things! In 2017 alone it was rankedIMG_8421 GolfWeek’s #1 course in VA, GolfWeek’s #19 best resort course in the US, and Golf Digest’s #27 greatest public course in America….so if you get a chance you should definitely try it out and let us know how it is! It costs about $50-$70 to play the Old Course in December, and while the course had a few holes with snow, it was still a blast and absolutely gorgeous! I just rode in the golf cart while Andrew played a quick 9 (it was pretty cold), but we had a ton of fun! He fully intends to come back for a guy’s weekend to play The Cascades at some point so let us know what you think 🙂

 

Dining-wise, we tried out a few of the options on-site and tried to experience as much as we could, naturally 🙂

  • We did dinner at the Casino restaurant where we split a pizza and a flatbread appetizer for about $20. This was a casual dining option that is great for those on a budget or those wanting a more informal dinner.
  • Breakfast was hands down our favorite meal, we did the buffet in the main dining room, which runs about $29/person. While $29 is definitely a little pricey, it comes with so much food and is all high quality…if you’re a breakfast person I would definitely recommend splurging a bit and trying it out! It’s a whole room of buffet items (eggs, sausage, bacon, eggs benedict, pastries, breads, cheeses, meats, bagels, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, grits, all kinds of fruits and granola, yogurt, a wide variety of jellies and jams, etc.), complete with an omelet station and waffle station where chefs are there to make you fresh items however you like it! They even have gluten free options! By far our favorite meal here, be sure to check it out!
  • We also did one dinner at the main dining room, which is a formal affair where men wear suits and ties, women wear dresses, and reservations are required. Our 3-course meal cost about $68/each, which is about what you would expect from such a fancy restaurant. The environment is outstanding, complete with a live band and a dance floor and we had a great evening here! If you’re game for a night of dress-up, dancing, and formal dining this would be the place!
  • Also be sure to check out the lobby bar for an afternoon/evening drink! I tried a  IMG_8375 specialty drink of theirs called the Champagne Cobbler, which is the hotel’s interpretation of a classic cocktail from the 19th century. This one in particular was AMAZING…..raspberry vodka, lemon and strawberry purée, and rosé. Andrew was a big fan of their Kentucky Mules too 🙂 I highly recommend grabbing a drink at the lobby bar and cozying up next to one of the fireplaces in the grand lobby area!
  • The Jefferson is another great place to grab drinks and relax by the fire or by a window, or watch a game! We didn’t get a chance to try the food here, but it looked great for lunch and dinner!
  • We did check out the ski lodge at the mountain too, where we got drinks as well. Food is also available, but we didn’t get a chance to try the food there either….there were just too many options and not enough time! If you get a chance to try it though be sure to let us know how it is for the next time we visit!
  • Also, be sure to experience The Homestead’s “Social Hour”, or tea time. Every day IMG_8358from 3:00-4:00 they serve tea in the lobby area and it’s so cute! Options include hot tea, cold tea, and a pastry (ours was some kind of pumpkin bread that was fantastic). Everyone in the hotel comes down and grabs some tea and hangs out in the lobby by the fires, or meanders around to find an empty room to sit and enjoy their tea. It’s a very fun time and is a time honored tradition (and free!), be sure to try it at least one of the days you’re there!

All in all, we loved our stay here and would definitely recommend it. The highlights are definitely the activities that the resort offers, so be sure to plan for a few of those! The history of the hotel is also super neat and makes for some great exploring! You definitely feel like you’ve been transported back to another time when you step foot inside the hotel, which makes your stay a very unique experience. We stayed as a couple and had a blast, but the resort itself is extremely family-friendly and we would absolutely bring our family in the future….which we are certainly looking forward to 🙂

 

**This post was a collaboration with The Homestead Resort, but all opinions and photos are my own.