When planning a trip to the French Riviera, Marseille is not the first destination to come up. Undeservedly so, since it offers unexpected perspectives and excellent quality of life suffused with a hint of Mediterranean magic and plenty of Provencal flair. Chutmonsecret blogger Elodie van Zele decided to prove critics wrong and took us on a one-day exploration – and summer vacation – in the smart fortwo electric drive.
Marseille is miles better than its reputation: The tawny gem on the glistening Mediterranean coast might be just as messy as it seems at first glance, but its opposites attract: at the harbor, century-old warehouses face the ultra-modern Mucem museum. The narrow, winding Old Town alleyways contrast the dizzying views from Notre-Dame de la Garde with its stunning vista of the sea, city and mountain ranges. And, obviously, in Marseille’s coastal suburbs boasting bays that rival Corsica’s finest. And who better to let us in on the city’s secrets than journalist and blogger Elodie van Zele, who shares a steady string of new tips via Chutmonsecret every week. In a nippy smart fortwo electric drive, she took us to twelve current top spots that exude irresistible holiday flair – all year round.
Bonjour Elodie, what a wonderful day! Cloudless sky, summery temperatures, and a fully-charged smart electric drive. So, what’s on our schedule for the day?
Elodie van Zele: Let’s start with a quick overview of everything and drive up to the Notre-Dame de la Garde church. Luckily, it’s not far from my own hood, Vauban, with its bohemian charm and countless of little shops and restaurants.
Our route up, trailing a picturesque winding road, is lined with pine and olive trees. This no longer feels like a city …
Elodie van Zele: Yes, it’s more like a day trip into the mountains. But wait until we get there: From the parking lot, you have an amazing view, displaying the sheer size and dimensions of Marseille. More than 850,000 people call it their home – after all, we’re the second largest city in France.
You’re originally from Paris. What prompted you to stay?
Elodie van Zele: Just take a look around: sea, mountains, blue sky – when you are in Marseille, it feels like being on vacation every day of the year. I’ll show you what I mean later this afternoon …
Looking forward to it! But what about now? How would you normally spend a free morning?
Elodie van Zele: Since I’m always on the lookout for newly opened places and well-kept secrets for Chutmonsecret, I tend to blend business and pleasure. Down at the harbor, right in front of Marseille’s cathedral, Les Voûtes de La Major not only host a great market, Les Halles de La Major, but also several new shops. Let’s check them out!
The vaults of these historical boat- and warehouses have been taken over by several chic shops and restaurants – is this an example of the harbor’s recent revitalization?
Elodie van Zele: Yes, absolutely. A friend only just opened her “Essentiel Lifestore” here, a boutique for vegan fashion, sustainable products, and recycled items. It also includes a small coffee bar run according to zero-waste principles. That’s the new Marseille!
Right across from the boathouses, large car ferries jostle for space. But there’s also Mucem, the Museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations.
Elodie van Zele: That’s right. I love their bookstore most of all. And while the museum itself is mentioned in every guide book, I want to show you something most people don’t know … another secret tucked away right in the city center and one that’s also linked to the sea, but only reachable via narrow lanes. Most locals use a scooter to get there.
No probs, our smart fortwo should be able to squeeze through with ease – and less noise thanks to its quiet, locally emission-free electric drive.
Elodie van Zele: Then let’s head to Le Port du Vallon des Auffes, a small, picture-perfect fishing harbor with excellent spots for swimming in the turquoise waves. In one of the harbor’s old boat garages, my friend Maëlle has set up shop with her little boutique Le Pois Chic. And for sturdy sustenance, the Chez Jeannot pizzeria not offers a spacious patio, but also has its own butcher’s shop that treats guests to delicious steaks, tartars, skewers, and pates.
Incredible – anywhere else in the world, you’d expect a seafood place in such an idyllic harbor setting. But Marseille seems to love toying with our expectations.
Elodie van Zele: Exactly. Take another example – if we follow the coastal road south for twenty minutes or so, we reach the Les Goudes district. Its cozy bays are so beautiful that they easily rival those on Corsica or the Balearic Islands. Anyone driving out here always takes their bikini – and tries the amazing fish at Auberge du Corsaire. The owner, Paul, serves the finest sea bream, fresh octopus, and sensational desserts.
Elodie, that sounds fantastic! Keep those surprises coming …
Elodie van Zele: Sure thing! For example, Marseille hipsters don’t take their sundowners at the seafront, but prefer the sidewalk in front of the tiny Cafe de L’ Abbaye high above the city’s rooftops. The location has another advantage – right next door, there’s the La Passarelle restaurant with its enchanted garden. Let’s have dinner there – don’t miss their sea bass gazpacho!
Any tips for the weekend?
Elodie van Zele: Well, Maison Vauban, run by my friend Victor Parodi, has become my second living room. It’s in my hood and serves Southern French tapas. Everything is locally sourced, including the ceviche ingredients. Later at night, expect spot-on cocktails, hip DJs, and a weekly party.
Thanks so much, Elodie – what a great end to an exceptional day!
Elodie van Zele: My pleasure! For our final stop, I will whisk you away to another planet. The “Utopie Plastique” exhibition at the Friche de L’Escalette sculpture park is a blend of UFO landing strip and retro design museum. The smart electric drive fits right in since it’s already a design classic, just like the 1960s micro homes.
Since 2013, Paris-born Elodie van Zele aka Miss Chut has been using her blog Chutmonsecret (“shush … my secret“) to document the bustling life of Marseille and its surroundings. Elodie is our first point of call for the city’s best shopping, food & drink, culture, and leisure spots – thanks to her multi-faceted explorations and investigations as a freelance journalist, PR agent, and event promoter.
Local Secrets Marseille:
Notre-Dame de la Garde (vantage point)
Rue Fort du Sanctuaire
Les Voûtes de la Major
12 Quai de la Tourette
Les Halles de La Major
Les Voûtes de la Major
12 Quai de la Tourette
7 Prom. Robert Laffont
Quai de la Tourette
Le Pois Chic
125 B Rue du Vallon des Auffes
129 Rue du Vallon des Auffes
Boulevard Alexandre Delabre
Auberge du Corsaire „Chez Paul“
35 Rue Désirée-Pellaprat
Cafe de L’ Abbaye
3 Rue d’Endoume
52 Rue Plan Fourmiguier
109 Boulevard Vauban
Parc de sculpture et d’architecture légère
Route des Goudes, impasse de l’Escalette