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Things to Do in Marseille - page 2

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Maritime and Commercial Museum of Marseille (Musée de la Marine et de l'Economie de Marseille)

Marseille's connection to the sea goes back millennia, and even today the city has one of the largest, busiest ports in Europe. While perhaps not the hottest ticket in town, the Maritime and Commercial Museum of Marseilles (Musée de la Marine et de l'Economie de Marseille, or simply the Marine Museum) should still be a stop on any visitor’s agenda, as it is dedicated to what Marseille is all about.

Housed in the Palais de la Bourse, the former Chamber of Commerce, the Marine Museum charges 2 euro per ticket, which is definitely within any traveler’s budget. The exhibits focus mostly on modern maritime history, which spans the last 500 years or so, and provide a fascinating look into what has made Marseille a major player in the worldwide maritime economy.

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Cassis
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The less glamorous but equally beautiful little sister to nearby St Tropez, those leaving Provence for the sun-dazzled shores of the French Riviera will find everything they’re looking for in Cassis. This is the South of France at its most postcard-worthy - vast sandy beaches flanking a pretty harbor of painted fishing boats and magnificent yachts, and traditional cafés lining the stone-paved streets.

The ancient fishing port of Cassis is now a popular seaside resort, marrying its historic architecture with a flush of modern restaurants and boutique hotels, but the town’s most unique selling point is its location. Set beneath the towering white limestone cliffs of the Cap Canaille – France’s highest cliff – and surrounded by ‘calanques’, a series of sheltered inlets, home to the region’s renowned white Cassis stone quarries.

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Cap Canaille
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Soaring 394 meters over the beaches of Cassis, Cape Canaille is France’s highest sea cliff and it’s a dramatic sight, with its steep grey and ochre colored cliffs jutting out into the ocean. Located between La Citotat and Cassis on the Mediterranean coast, the rugged headland has long drawn visitors from both towns, and offers spectacular views that span the glittering Cote d’Azur, the Calanques and the Gulf of Cassis.

The easiest way to take in the views is to follow the 15km ‘Route des Crêtes’, a dizzying serpentine road that curls its way along the coastal cliffs and climbs to the highest point – head there at sunrise or sunset for the most breathtaking views. Alternatively, adventurous travelers will find ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing.

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Calanque d’En-Vau
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Calanque d’En-Vau is one of the many fjord-like inlets along the coastline between Cassis and Marseilles. It’s hard to believe that this wild, untamed nature is right outside a major city, but once there, the hustle and bustle of Marseilles might as well be on the other side of the world. The calanques are a Mediterranean paradise, where the sea has carved its way and created shining white cliffs towering thousands of feet above the azure water. The landscape looks stony and brittle, but all over one can see it come to live. There are gnarled pine trees, dark blue pistachio, wild asparagus and juniper, as well as rare birds nesting high up in the limestone cliffs.

Of course, getting to Calanque d’En-Vau involves hiking along the adventurous hiking trails that follow the coastline to the hidden bays. It is one of the more difficult inlets to get to and requires hiking down the extremely steep inclines.

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Old Port of Marseille (Vieux Port)
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Marseille Vieux Port, or Old Port, is the hub of the city. It was the natural harbor of this port town since antiquity; the Greeks landed here in 600 BC and set up a small town for trading. The town grew and in the middle ages became a center for growing cannabis, or hemp, for nautical rope. Hence the name of Marseille's main street Canebiere, which leads down to the old port. By the mid-1800s, the port of Marseille could dock over 1,000 ships at one time and around 18,000 ships passed through each year. However once steam took over from sail, the harbor proved too shallow and the focus moved to new docks built at La Joliette. Then in WWII, the Nazis obliterated the port and the historic town in the Battle of Marseille. After 1948, a reconstruction project was undertaken and these days the port is again a bustling center of Marseille, although these days only for leisure boating.

These days the New Port, to the north, has taken over the commercial harbor functions.

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Fort Saint-Jean

Fort Saint-Jean is a historic but highly quirky fortification in the Old-Port of Marseilles commissioned by none other than Louis XIV in 1660—but not for obvious reasons. He had the fort built for defensive purposes, of course, but also because he wanted to please his Marseilles people, noticing that inhabitants were extremely fond of nice fortresses but were also wary of their governor; the two new forts were built in response to a local uprising rather than for the defense of the city - their cannons pointed inwards towards the town, not outwards towards the sea. The name of Saint-Jean comes from the site on which the fort is built, which was previously occupied by the Order of the Knights of Saint John.

The fort was later used for military purposes on several occasions, as it was in the possession of the French army for the better part of the 19th and 20th centuries.
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