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Study Abroad Files: Marseille

Study Abroad Files: Marseille

Marseille is a stunningly beautiful and richly diverse port city located in the Southeast of France. While tourists flock to Nice for a sunny day at the beach, those who travel to hilly Marseille are in for a history lesson, and exposure to a variety of cultures and cuisines. As the second largest city in France, the city is sprawling, but easily navigable by foot, bike, or the ever-popular rollerblade. I fell in love Marseille in my mere 48-hours there; it's deliciously raw, scattered, and familiar. Marseille is a city that sheds its pretenses, offering itself to tourists as the real deal--a cultural melting pot and a historical seaside town. 

A Historical Hub

Marseille is a hub of commerce, and has been so since it's settlement by the Greeks in around 600 B.C. The city has seen the trials and tribulations of history, from it's conquering by Caesar in 49 B.C., to its participation in the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The song of Marseille's own revolutionaries,  La Marsellaise, is France's national anthem, cementing Marseille's pivotal role in French history.

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View from the Hilltop

Because of this rich history, there is so much to do and see. For a breathtaking view of the city, port, and surrounding Mediterranean, climb the tall hill near the Old Port, up to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. The church inside is stunning and peaceful, and the decorations are in keeping with the nautical flair of the port city. From the panoramic points, you can see the whole city, including Chateau d'If  across the water. (Count of Monte Cristo fans should take the tour of Chateau d'If, the famed prison that held Edmond Dantès in the novel.) Another famous church, the Marseille Cathedral, is visible from the hilltop.

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A Diversity of Cuisines

Marseille's geographic location renders it a melting pot of cultures, evident through the variety of cuisines throughout the city. The Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food in Marseille is particularly incredible--the most coveted falafel in the city is from Au Falafel. If you are staying in the Old Port and looking for some authentic Marseille bouillabaisse, make a reservation at Les Arcenaulx, a cozy bookshop-turned-restaurant (or restaurant-turned-bookshop?). Disclaimer: I'm a vegetarian and didn't try the bouillabaisse, but my friends reported that the fish was sublime, and the restaurant was very accommodating to my vegetarian diet. On my last day in Marseille, I was particularly excited to find a South Indian restaurant, Sri Ganesh, which served vegetarian Biryani, a traditional Indian rice dish, and fresh vegetable samosas. (Although this wasn't traditional Marseille cuisine, I say if you are lucky enough to stumble upon a South Indian restaurant, give it a try. Indian restaurants in the U.S. generally stick to Northern Indian food which, while being a personal favorite, doesn't encompass the entirety of what Indian cuisine has to offer!)

Photo courtesy of Sima Shah.

Photo courtesy of Sima Shah.

Le Cours Julien

In search of a less tourist-y area, a local friend showed me Le Cours Julien, known as the artistic quarter of the city, crowded with cafes, bars, little shops, and tons of street art. Le Cours Julien reinforced what I loved about Marseilles--walking through the adorable alleyways and passing from cafe to cafe, people seemed at ease and familiar with each other. I spilled my coffee and some kids teased me, and then let me pet their dog. A bartender at a quirky local bar made fun of my American-French accent, and then pointed out a curious CTA map of Orange Line hung on the wall, a little slice of home in an unfamiliar place. 

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If you get a chance to visit Marseille, check it out. Visit Le Cours Julien and buy some fruits from the plethora of marketplaces. Try some authentic falafel, eat gelato by the port, and buy some traditional Marseille soaps. Marseille is truly the best of both worlds, a place where you can spend a sunny day by the beach people-watching, or hike around the streets and quaint alleys, immersing yourself in the diversity and history of this lovely port city. 

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