Like many others, I had very different plans in mind for summer 2020 from the ones I ended up making. Trips to the Balkans and Canada lost in the wind, I remember complaining to my parents that I would be stuck in France all summer, only for them to retort that “there are far worse places to be stuck in than France.”
They were right, of course. Once I got over my self-pity party, I reminded myself of all the beautiful places there were to visit in my adopted country – many of which I hadn’t even been to yet.
Still, worried about a second confinement, I was apprehensive to book any trains or accommodation and didn’t plan any thing until the very last minute. After scrolling through Ouigo, I opted for a few days in Provence, an area I had been wanting to see more of for years.
One reason why I chose to go to Provence was because while prices were hiked up for other destinations, it was still relatively cheap to take a train to Marseille (under 50€ each way). I also lucked out and found an air-conditioned AirBNB right next to the train station – the perfect base as I was planning to take a few day trips.
Having been to Marseille a number of times before, I did not spend too much time in the city during my trip and didn’t explore too much. Still, I went to my favourite spots, walking around and dining at restaurants by the old port, and sunbathing at la plage des Catalans.
I also did a spot of shopping in this area, with there being a wide variety of high street and specialty shops, including ones where you can buy regional items such as dried lavender, calissons (a melon-flavoured candy covered in marzipan – my favourite!), and savon de Marseille.
My first day trip from Marseille was to the port town of Cassis. To get there, you simply need to take a train from Marseille Saint-Charles. It cost 6.50€ each way and took roughly 20 minutes to arrive. Trains depart very frequently throughout the day, so you do not need to book in advance.
Upon arriving in Cassis, I realized that the train station was quite far from the sea. While there was a bus, I opted to walk, which took around a half hour. It was a pleasant walk, and I passed by vineyards and beautiful homes on my way, with chirping cicadas in the background.
The Cassis harbour is small but quaint and colourful, with many shops and restaurants. Once there I immediately looked for a boat tour to see the nearby Calanques, and spotted a stand with a big queue. It appeared to be the main company to do this type of tour, and they offered different options: to see 3 calanques, 5, 8, or 12 (if I remember correctly!). While I wanted to see 5, they told me that they only sold tickets a half hour in advance and that all they had available was the boat to see 3, so I opted for that and bought a ticket for 16€.
In the end, seeing 3 calanques was enough, as the boat tour lasted 45 minutes and I wanted time to hit the beach afterwards. The Calanques were everything I expected and more – absolutely breathtaking! – and I plan to return next summer to visit them by kayak.
Finding a beach to visit afterwards that was not too far from the harbour proved to be a difficult task, with la plage de la Grande Mer absolutely packed with tourists. After checking out a few others I managed to find a spot at la plage de Corton, a stunning pebble beach tucked behind a cliff.
The second day trip I had planned was Aix-en-Provence. While the end of August was long past the ideal time to visit the nearby lavender fields (it’s often recommended to visit from mid-June to mid-July), I still wanted to explore Aix, which I heard was a wonderful place.
To get there, I again took a train from Marseille Saint-Charles. The ticket cost 9.50€ each way and travel took around an hour in total. As there is no train that goes directly to the city center, I had to get off at the Aix TGV and take a bus (with fare covered by my train ticket).
I did not do too much research beforehand, and so went to Aix expecting a quaint town in the South of France. As such, I was quite shocked to arrive at a modern bus station with an Apple Store and shopping complex around the corner!
Nevertheless, I still found Aix to be very beautiful. The city center was old but clean, and the day of my visit there was a market where local artisans were selling jewelry, lavender-scented products, baskets, and more. Wandering around I found many ancient fountains and buildings surrounded by high street shops and chain eateries such as Columbus Café & Co. and Bagelstein.
While in Aix I was quite eager to visit museums. While Cezanne’s studio was sadly closed, I still got to go to the Hôtel de Caumont – Centre d’Art. In addition to its temporary exhibit, the stunning art center features well-tended gardens, a cafe, and baroque furniture. I lucked out and got to see an exhibit by Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla while there.
I’m glad you were able to get away for a while! Sounds really lovely there!
I lived in Marseille during 12 years. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to meet and drink a pastis there! In case you plan to go there again with friends, my cousin is renting a large Airbnb with a fabulous view!
I’ve done the last two thirds of your trip but haven’t yet been to Marseilles. Thanks for bringing back some fond memories.