We arrive in the early hours. Marseilles is not a place we have visited before. Our last cruise to the Riviera stopped at the beautiful tendered port of Villefranche where we followed the ship's French Captain down a tiny backstreet to a lovely little Bistro for lunch . Here we dock at an enormous new complex to the North East of the city and have decided to do a walking tour in the morning then maybe a little shopping after lunch. The shuttle from the port takes about 15 minutes to slowly wind its way through the huge industrial port. We are the only cruise ship docked here today though it can handle up to 6 at a time which must make for a crowded city.
|Church of Saint Laurent|
Our walk takes us through the old town stopping at local bakers for a little taste of the crunchy/lemony Navettes biscuits (one of several specialities of the region - the others being that lovely olive oil soap (make sure the % oil content is correct) and that god awful drink Pastis, which looks and tastes like a solution for cleaning paint brushes in). At a stretch you could probably add Bouillabaisse though every town on the Cote d'Azur claims its version as the authentic one.
|The old Harbour with the Basilica Notre Dame overlooking it.|
Once again we are warned about how Marseilles is the pick pocket capital of the world - I suspect with all these warnings some guests must think the moment they enter the city limits they will be surrounded by hordes of professional multi millionaire pick pockets. As usual just take the same precautions you would take in any town or city in the world. What they don't warn you about; as Paul Theroux describes it so eloquently in his book "The pillars of Hercules" - is that the Cote d'Azur is without doubt the dog shit capital of the world.
Having said that this is a beautiful city - a lot of money has been spent pedestrianising and cleaning the buildings and new museums have sprung up all around the harbour. We eventually end up in the picturesque old harbour of the city surrounded on every side by restaurants and bars. A local fish market is taking place - everything looks fresh and fantastic. Unfortunately we cant buy the fish to take back but we do stock up on bars of olive oil soap.
Marseilles is an excellent hub port to have on the itinerary - the TGV from here can take you directly to Aix en Provence or Avignon within an hour. Avignon I would highly recommend. You can also enjoy a hike up to Marseille's basilica which sits on the highest peak overlooking the harbour or take a small ferry to the outlying islands.
We return to the ship for a late lunch and drinks which we take in the quiet section in the rear of the buffet with the captain and several officers. It looks likes most have had family members join them when we docked at Savona for a cpl of nights. The lunch speciality today is a giant multi meat tower of various meats spit roasting like a huge donner kebab. Delicious with all the trimmings added.
Dinner tonight is excellent yet again with fresh fish being heavily featured on the menu - a fitting choice for Marseille. Whole Bream for Jack and we give the Lobster a try tonight. Its good but as is usual on cruise lines its a warm water variant so lacks the softness and sweetness of a good New England or British beast from the icy waters - however its well cooked and seasoned with Parmesan and herbs - its not quite a thermidor but its a huge a step up from boring "drawn butter".
All in all this has been an excellent cruise - a superb,very repeatable choice of ports each with many options for traveling on somewhere different each time. We have been lucky with the weather for March in the Med - warm and sunny apart from that one day. The ship is delightful - big but spacious, plenty of wide open decks and excellent venues inside. Food has been superb and we actually enjoyed the set dining time (not something we ever use on NCL or Celeb). The drinks package is probably the best value of any cruise line and with it including such superb coffee is an absolute must. Service charge is a reasonable 10E per day though we tipped our waiter and steward a little extra.