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Founded by Phocaean Greeks 2 600 years ago, Marseille is France’s oldest town, a melting pot of peoples and cultures, and a gateway to southern Europe and North Africa. Today, the city is still dependent on the port for its revenue and is dominated by fishing boats and people selling fresh produce. Marseille is cut in half by La Canebière, one of the main shopping streets, which runs west to east from the Vieux Port. The city is divided into 15 arrondissements (districts), ranging from gentrified to run-down, and is famed for its fish-dominated culinary menu and its potent aniseed tipple, called pastis. The exclusivity increases as you head further south to the corniche and Prado, the city’s best beach, with three kilometres of fine sand.
Marseille is an urban cultural hot spot, a French city with historical and maritime museums, lovely architecture and beautiful nature in the form of parks and a stunning beach. Visit the main harbour and take a stroll around the Abbaye Saint Victor, explore the narrow streets of the old quarter, or make time for one of the beaches not too far from the city centre.
Marseille boasts a culinary tradition heavily influenced by its surroundings. Fish dominates, and one dish in particular - bouillabaisse. This fish stew combines a variety of fish with saffron, fennel and orange zest. It is served with rouille, a garlic and chilli-flavoured mayonnaise. Olive oil, herbs, fresh fruit and vegetables are also quintessential elements of Marseille cuisine.
Numerous little shops and boutiques clutter the small streets in Le Panier, the oldest part of Marseille, whilst the trendiest spots are located in the south around the bohemian area of Cours Julien and Place Jean-Jaurès.
Marseille is all about bar culture - whether it be sipping on an aperitif at an outdoor cafe table in the late evening sun or standing around a bar chatting with friends, drinking beer and snacking on olives. The city’s cultural diversity means there is a little bit of everything in Marseille to suit all tastes. Locals really go for it, partying until well into the morning hours, especially during the summer.
Marseille’s main shopping areas are in the central and southern parts of town and cater to all tastes, from Côte d’Azur luxury and large department stores to quirky little boutiques and stores. If you want smaller shops then head to the Cours Julien area, which has built up a reputation as an alternative, bohemian quarter. The area is also great for food and antique markets at weekends. Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest neighbourhood, is the best place for local products. Rue des Petits Puits and places des Pistoles are good streets for Provençal pottery and shops selling lavender soap and olive-based goodies.
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