Marseilles – A Diverse, Colorful, Wonderful City

Many people told us that Marseilles – dangerous and unpredictable – is Not France.

Still, Marseilles has been on our bucket list for a while because we both love North Africa, and Marseilles is a Berber city. Because it’s on an operative port. Because the city has 80,000 Jews and 80,000 Armenians as part of its diverse population. (I’m Jewish. My husband is Armenian.) And because our friend, William Kornblum, a CUNY sociologist, spent years studying Marseilles with his wife. Didi Goldenhar.  Bill wrote a gorgeous book about his many years there and why he loves the city. (Marseilles Port to Port – Columbia University Press)  

We were lucky enough to spend a week there. We all look for different things when we travel. Some people like to return to their favorite places again and again. Some travel to see art, or famous churches, or to eat wonderful meals. We travel to see people on the streets, and to be in cultures and places we don’t know.

We travel and take long walks, and eat as much as possible, and to learn about the different ways that life can be lived. We’ve been on the road forever, but just like all of us, the pandemic kept us on the couch.

Flying to France was easy. The plane was on time. The customs were insignificant. We stayed in Paris for a few days to visit with friends. (We stayed in Montparnasse, at the Hotel Istria, a small funky place where Man Ray once lived. The Istria’s on the street where Jean Luc Goddard shot Breathless. It’s the neighborhood of Giacometti, Agnes Varda, Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett.)


The train to Marseilles takes a little over three hours, and goes through beautiful French countryside. As soon as we arrived at the station, we knew we’d love it there. What could be better than an extremely diverse city right on the Mediterranean Sea?

We stayed at the Bellevue, a perfect old hotel right on the port. On the hotel’s second floor is an old legendary bar, La Caravelle, with live jazz, fantastic drinks. And excellent food. We became regulars immediately.

Fisherman Mural

We walked and walked and walked – to Noailles, the Arab quarter full of food and spices and fresh food markets, to Cour Jullen the hipster neighborhood covered with fantastic street murals, vintage stores, restaurants and bars, and throughout the port.  Tarot was invented in Marseilles and the city is full of tarot practitioners.

With my husband in Marseilles.

Colorful graffiti

If you love dynamic and unexpected cities, Marseilles is pretty perfect. Although I’ve rarely said this in all our traveling years, we’ll be back.

Some of what we loved:

The Hotel Bellevue is pretty perfect.

View from the hotel at night.

Our three favorite restaurants:

Chez Madie Les Galinettes, on the port.
We actually had three perfect meals there.

La Boite a Sardine

A theatrical owner, and one of the best lunches I’ve ever eaten.

Local oysters and sardines.

Mama Africa – West African food in Marseilles.

Photos by Esther Cohen