Guest Notes for Episode 454: Adventures of a Solo Woman in Marseille

Discussed in this Episode

  • Going to the Calanques by city bus
  • Visiting Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica
  • Staying in the Bompard neighborhood
  • Le Petit Nice Hotel and beach
  • The Vauban neighborhoods

Who was traveling? Ages? To Marseille: Eva Jorgensen, 42 (at the time, now 43). To Provence: Eva (me) + 5 other girlfriends from late 20s to early 40s.

Date of trip? End of September / Beginning of October, 2022.

What do you think we should name the episode? What’s a good theme for our conversation? “Traveling Solo in Marseille”. Or “Girls’ Trip to Provence & Solo in Marseille”. Or simply: “Marseille & Provence”. Open to your ideas as well, of course.

Where did your trip start and where did it end? Where did you stop along the way?

Started and ended in Paris. But as far as the South of France portion, my friends and I rented a villa just outside Aix-en-Provence and then I stayed in a hotel in Marseille on my own for a few days afterwards.

Rank your favorite activities and places on this trip

  • Getting to meet online friends / local artists in person in Menerbes, then going with them to lunch at Cafe du Progres and touring the Dora Maar House.
  • Seeing the calanques and fishing villages in the southern end of Marseille.
  • Attending mass (even though I’m not Catholic) at the famous Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille and then happening upon the people from the parish having an afternoon party (complete with a brass band. I saw the priest who gave the mass dancing at the party, so fun.)
  • The corniche (in Marseille) and spending a day along it and sunning on the rocks below it next to the ocean.
  • The flea market and antique shops at l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
  • Eating a $40 Michelin star meal (5 courses!) in Avignon.
  • Going to a classical piano concert at the Chateau de Lourmarin (and running into another online friend / local creative there.)
  • Spending an afternoon wandering around Aix-en-Provence. (Patisserie, market, shops, museums…)
  • Spending a morning taking in the outdoor art at Chateau la Coste and then having lunch on the patio there.
  • Visiting some great local shops in Marseille.

Did you stay at hotels or apartments? Please list them and write a sentence or two of what you liked and didn’t like about each.

In Provence, my friends and I rented a villa on AirBnb. We loved it – a very charming countryside stone house with ivy growing up the side and a big yard and pool. The only downside was that the wifi had trouble working through those thick stone walls. Also, that we had to have a car to get anywhere.

In Marseille, I stayed at Mercure Marseille Centre Bombard La Corniche. I wanted to stay at the Tuba Club or Les Bords du Mer, but they were booked up. This hotel was close to the Corniche (just a 5 minute walk), which was great, and I could also walk to Notre Dame de la Garde, the Vauban neighborhood, and even to the old port (although that was quite a hike). I like that it had a quiet courtyard and pool, since I was primarily in Marseille to rest up for a few days before heading back to Paris. Also, I requested a room with lots of light and they gave me one on the very top with a big window that opened to the sea breeze. I could see a sliver of the ocean and the mountains in the distance, which was lovely. The decor wasn’t my favorite, though, and it was in a very residential area, which meant walking quite a ways to get anywhere (other than the corniche).

Did you have favorite restaurants? Please list them and say what city they were in.

Pollen, Avignon (the affordable Michelin star restaurant I mentioned)

Cafe du Progrès, Menerbes (recommended to me by @ruthribeaucourt)

Carlotta With, Marseille

Restaurant l’Ideal, Marseille (recommended to me by @rebekahpeppler)

Vanina, Le Puy-Sainte-Reparade, at Chateau la Coste

Le Carré d’Herbes, l’Isle sur la Sorgue (recommended to me by @lostinarles)

What were your favorite foods on this trip?

The meals I had at the above restaurants! Also, the calissons from Patisserie Bechard in Aix. (Best I’ve ever had! Although we tried their other pastries and they aren’t as good, in my opinion. I’d stick with the calissons.) And the fruit tarts from Patisserie Jouvaud in l’Isle Sur la Sorgue.

How did you get around? Trains? Car rental? Metros? Walk?

In Provence while on the girls’ trip, we rented a couple of cars. In Marseille, I mostly walked, but took the bus down to the calanques and took taxis if it was after dark.

What did you learn about France on this trip?

Always more corners to explore! Also, that Marseille has so much to offer. It has gorgeous topography with mountains and cliffs that drop into the sea. And the light! It’s incredible. I think it’s something about how it reflects off of the ocean and then gets bounced around off of the mountains and big apartment buildings. There aren’t nearly as many tourists as in Paris and many other places in France, even though it’s the second largest city in France. But there are gorgeous beaches right in the city, cathedrals, lovely shops, restaurants, and neighborhoods… And I didn’t even get to any of the museums or the Chateau d’If… Can’t wait to go back and explore more (and also just lie on the beach again.)

Did you make any mistakes on this trip?

One evening, I rented a scooter in Marseille to ride along the Corniche pathway. I timed it perfectly for sunset and had an incredible time. But then it was getting a little late and I needed to drop off the scooter and run up the street to my hotel before it got dark, but I couldn’t find an official drop zone for the scooter. I think I would have had to return all the way to the downtown / old port area of Marseille to find one, which was pretty far away. So I just left it in a bike rack that was full of similar scooters. Luckily they didn’t charge me extra, but they said they would next time if I ever did that again.

Is there something you didn’t like very much and wouldn’t recommend?

Pastries in Provence and Marseille didn’t really measure up to the pastries in Paris, I have to say. (Although I have a feeling this is going to be controversial, haha!) An exception were the pastries at Maison Jouvaud, which has several locations. But I tried a lot of other boulangeries and patisseries and was disappointed every time. Even one in Marseille where there was a long line of locals! And I even bought several things to sample, but they just weren’t very good, IMHO.

It’s okay because the normal food in Provence is amazing! And they do have some great gelato and of course, calissons, as mentioned above.

What tips do you want to share with other visitors?

If you’re taking the train from Paris to Provence, try to time it for right after lunch. Then book a table at either the legendary Le Train Bleu, which is right inside the Gare de Lyon (where all trains to Provence depart), or at the classic L’Européen, which is right across the street from the Gare de Lyon. Both are beautiful, with great food, and they’ll store your luggage for you while you eat. I got oysters at l’Européen (as recommended by David Leibovitz) and they were fresh and delicious.

Also, try not to talk on the train. My friends and I got scolded before the train had even left the station, ha!

Overall was your trip restful or stressful?

Mostly it was fun, exciting, inspiring. And the 3 days at the beach in Marseille by myself were very restful.

How did the podcast and other trip reports help you prepare for your trip?

I love the podcast and have been listening for years! For this particular trip, I remember that the episode about l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue came out right before I left, which was perfect timing. The tips and ideas were great as well as the historical information that Elyse shared. I didn’t get to make it to Fontaine de Vaucluse where the Sorgue river starts (as recommended by Elyse), but I would love to next time!

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