Marseille (Provence), France
Located on the Mediterranean coast, Marseille is France’s largest port, second largest city and a virtual melting pot of peoples and cultures. Marseille has a vast history stretching back more than 2,000 years and was founded in 600 BC.
While much of the city is urban sprawl, it has a spectacular setting between dramatic limestone hills and the Mediterranean, and the once-industrial streets now feature stylish shops and cutting-edge art galleries. Among the many terracotta-roofed buildings lies many intriguing sights including the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. Other places well worth visiting are the city of Avignon and the quaint villages of Le Baux & Aix en Provence.
Most cruisers make a beeline for Le Vieux Port, a buzzing, picturesque harbor lined with boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Dominating the harbor is the infamous Chateau d’If, the rocky prison from which Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo escaped. Marseille is also your gateway to Provence. Explore the countryside around Arles and Avignon, immortalized in the canvases of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso.
The disabled cruiser visiting Marseille will find the terrain mostly friendly. Marseille’s public transport system is rated one of the lowest in France for wheelchair accessibility, but the trams and some of the larger newer buses are quite accessible. The little tourist train is wheelchair friendly too.
Historic Fort Saint Jean has been cleverly adapted with ramps and lifts/elevators. A new lift was installed recently at Notre Dame de la Garde.
Where You’re Docked
Cruise ships dock to the north of Le Vieux Port, in a large industrial zone which is rapidly being updated to appeal to ever-increasing numbers of cruise passengers.
The Joliette Terminal — which lies closest to the center of town — currently has two berths for small to medium-sized ships, while larger vessels have to dock further out at a jetty, approximately six miles to the north of Le Vieux Port at the Marseille-Provence Cruise Terminal. The bad news is that passengers here have a longer journey into the heart of the action; the good is that parts of the terminal were renovated in 2014.
Most passengers board a shuttle bus to Le Vieux Port and start exploring right away, but shopaholics will find an expanding range of retail outlets along the waterfront which links the cruise terminal to Le Vieux Port. It’s best to head into the lovely, lively Le Vieux Port as quickly as you can, and leave closer-to-ship browsing for later, if you have time before returning to your vessel.
Good to Know
Watch out for dogs. The French are very fond of little pooches, who run around at ankle-height and sometimes leave deposits on the sidewalk; remember to look where you’re walking. Also beware of heavy traffic in the port area, and be sure to check hours of operation for any sights you’re hoping to visit. Museums and most major attractions are closed on Mondays, and many local restaurants only serve lunch from noon to 2 p.m.
By Taxi: The ship’s shuttle is probably the best option for reaching the Le Vieux Port, but taxis are also available at the cruise terminal. Costs vary, depending on how far out your ship has docked.
On Foot: Once you’re in Le Vieux Port, you’re within walking distance of the major sights. If you want to go further afield, you can use the subway, which is safe, straightforward and accessible from Le Vieux Port station.
By Train: Like most French tourist towns, Marseille has a “petit train” which rides past the main sights for a few euros. The journey will give you a good overview of the local charms if you’re strapped for time. It operates roughly every half hour from Le Vieux Port’s Quai des Belges; tours take about one hour.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the euro. You’ll find ATMs around the cruise terminal and Le Vieux Port.
Note also that France applies VAT (Value Added Tax) to most goods and services, currently at the rate of 20 percent, which adds a hefty surcharge to restaurant and shopping bills. As a tourist, you can claim a tax refund on any goods bought for deportation, so keep all receipts and be prepared to present them; possibly with proof that you are taking the goods out of the country; at a VAT refund station. You’ll find these at airports, railway stations with international links and most tourist offices.
The official language in Marseille is French. English is widely spoken and understood in Marseille, particularly in restaurants. But don’t assume that everyone speaks it. Win favor with the locals with a few basic phrases, including “merci beaucoup” (thanks very much) and “l’addition, s’il vous plait” (the bill, please).
Marseille is a shoppers’ delight, with a broad variety of shops and markets. The Old Harbour’s Craft Market is a great choice for regional souvenirs such as fragrant Provencal soaps, locally-produced honey, olive wood bowls and prettily-carved santons (Nativity figurines for Christmas creches).
The best shopping can be found off of the city’s main thoroughfare and most famous street, La Canabiere, east of the Old Port. Look for Rue St. Férrol, between Rue de Rome and Rue Breteuil, for everything from designer clothes to books and CDs.
If you’re happy to rely on serendipity, stroll around Le Vieux Port, along the quai du Port, quai du Rive Neuve or around nearby Place Thiars, a pleasant square lined with al fresco eating areas. Here you’ll find many restaurants offering classic French lunchtime dishes such as moules, steak-frites or if there’s one local specialty, it’s bouillabaisse, or fish soup. The recipe is up to a bit of interpretation, with many chefs using the freshest catch of the day in addition to plenty of garlic, saffron, onions, tomatoes and other spices.
Though wine is the national tipple in France, the locals are increasingly getting into beer and the city now has its own microbrewery, Biere de la Plaine (16 rue Saint-Pierre). It supplies local bars with fruity, home-grown brews which come in many versions, including blonde, wheat and pale ale.
Points of Interest
- Marseille’s charming markets – Most are open daily between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Fish Market (near Le Petit Train departure point on Quai des Belges) is a local institution and a lively spot where you’ll see local restaurateurs haggling for that day’s catch. A better spot for foodies in search of take-home goodies is Les Halles de la Major, a gourmet food market set in the vaults of Marseille’s La Major Cathedral.
- Ile de Chateau d’If – This pretty island is a 20-minute boat ride from Le Vieux Port’s Quai des Belges and is home to the 16th-century fortress-turned-prison described by Alexandre Dumas in his famous novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Ferries operate hourly from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (weather permitting).
- Marseille and Notre Dame de la Garde – Enjoy Marseille’s Cornice coastal road, the bustling Le Vieux Port, the neo-Byzantine Cathedral de la Major, and the 19th-century Notre-Dame de la Garde, a beautiful Basilica overlooking the city. This 19th-century Catholic basilica sits at the top of Marseille’s highest point, La Garde Hill; it can be a tricky walk up, but the effort is worth it for the sweeping views of the Mediterranean. (Note: The petit train stops here and waits awhile, so those too unfit, or time-strapped can always let the train take the strain.)
- Aix-en-Provence – The former medieval capital of Provence boasts a 12th-century cathedral, Saint-Sauveur d’Aix, an Archbishop’s Palace and a medieval clock-tower. Fun for shoppers, there are many markets and shops to browse.
- Avignon – Avignon is home to the Palace of the Popes, which has been the residence of nine popes from 1309 to 1378, during their exile from Rome, plus the arched Pont d’Avignon bridge, which dates back to 1171.
- Cathedrale de la Major – This lovely cathedral is one of Europe’s largest and is celebrated for its multi-colored marble altar and Turkish-style dome. Once you’ve taken in the architecture, head to the vaults, where shops now occupy the arches that once served as port warehouses.
- Le Musee Cantini – Marseille’s modern art museum is housed in a splendid 17th-century mansion and is both inspiring and affordable.
- Palais Longchamp – Built to celebrate completion of a 19th-century canal that brought water into the city from the River Durance, this splendidly elaborate colonnaded water tower is a visual treat. You’ll find Marseille’s Fine Art Museum in one vast wing and the Natural History Museum in the other. There are also acres of spectacular parkland and botanical gardens to explore here, so it’s a good option if you like to spend time in the fresh air.
- Beaches – Water babies will be pleased to hear that Marseille has some natural beaches on its southwest coastline, and three man-made ones, called Les Plages de Corbiere, which lie to the north of the city in the district of L’Estaque. Most beaches here are pebbly rather than sandy, but the southern ones (in particular Plage des Catalans and Plage du Prado) can be fun at the height of the summer season (July and August), when kayaking, snorkeling, kite flying, beach rugby and dance contests are organized.
Marseille Accessible Excursions
Marseilles is situated in the South of France on the Mediterranean, which makes it quite different from Paris and other cities to the north of France. The warm climate makes it a comfortable place to be most of the year, and it is officially France’s sunniest major city. Enjoy an accessible guided tour of Marseilles and the surrounding region of Provence that is rich with beautiful scenery and a diverse history of art and culture. Round-trip wheelchair accessible transfers from the cruise terminal are available and each accessible tour includes a step-free route.
Highlights of Provence Accessible Guided Tour
Marseilles is the oldest city in France (established as a colony around 600 BC) and France’s second largest city, after Paris. You will begin the Highlights of Provence Accessible Guided Tour from the cruise terminal in Marseilles. Your guide and driver will pick you up in a wheelchair accessible van to enjoy this 8-hour accessible guided tour of Provence and visits Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, the beaches of Cassis, and a winery.
The best of Provence in just one day; history, culture, art, and scenery; Provence has it all! Visit the highest point in the city, Notre Dame de la Garde, “Our Lady of the Guard,” a Neo-Byzantine Catholic basilica, and one of the most impressive buildings in Provence. In Aix-en-Provence, you will take a step-free tour of the city center along the Cours Mirabeau. This wide, strolling thoroughfare is 440 meters long and 42 meters wide and lined with trees, shops, open-air markets, and beautiful fountains. You will also stop for lunch at an accessible restaurant in Aix-en-Provence.
Nearby is an accessible winery, where you will be able to taste some of the local wine and visit the vineyards if the weather permits. Finally, you will take a stroll along-side the promenade by one of the beaches of Cassis and enjoy views of the crystal turquoise water, soft sand, and scenic coastline of Provence. At the end of your accessible guided tour of Provence, you guide and driver will take you back to the cruise terminal in Marseilles where you can board your ship.
The Highlights of Provence Accessible Guided Tour uses a wheelchair accessible van and follows a step-free route. You will encounter mild cobblestones. The use of a wheelchair accessible van allows you to avoid the long uphill route up to Notre Dame de la Garde. Your guide will use the Notre Dame de la Garde wheelchair accessible entrance to avoid the stairs that most visitors use.
The historical city center of Aix-en-Provence is flat and accessible. Your guide knows the best accessible routes through the city. Your Provence accessible guided tour will avoid cobblestones as much as possible by staying on smooth streets.
There is a flat, smooth promenade next to the harbor. The outdoor markets make accessible shopping a possibility while in Cassis. If time allows, there is a wheelchair accessible path down to beach in Cassis.
Highlights of Marseilles Accessible Cruise Excursion
Visits Notre Dame de la Garde, Fort-Saint-Jean and the beautiful fishing village of Cassis on this 6 hour Marseilles accessible cruise excursion. This tour also offers a unique accessible wine tasting experience. Your guide and driver will pick you up in a wheelchair accessible van from the cruise terminal to begin your accessible Marseilles cruise excursion.
Marseilles is situated on the picturesque Mediterranean coast. Its long history is rich with art and culture, and this accessible tour explores the past and present of this ancient port city that has withstood the test of time. Accompanied by your guide, you will drive up to the highest point in Marseilles, where the Notre Dame de la Garde is located. This massive Catholic basilica sits high above the city and can be seen for miles. Because of this, you will have the best view in the city from here, and the chance to take some wonderful photos of Marseilles.
Your guide will also take you to Fort Saint–Jean, a fortification in Marseilles, built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port. Then you will travel to the small fishing village of Cassis, surrounded by white limestone cliffs, umbrella pines and vineyards descending directly into the sea, where you will have opportunities to visit outdoor markets and shops, and walk/roll along the little port area where pastel houses and colorful wooden fishing boats create a great scenery for beautiful pictures.
Before returning back to the cruise terminal in Marseilles, you will get to experience a memorable authentic Provence wine tasting experience.
The Highlights of Marseilles Accessible Cruise Excursion uses a wheelchair accessible van and follows a step-free route. You will encounter mild cobblestones. The use of a wheelchair accessible van allows you to avoid the long uphill route up to Notre Dame de la Garde. Your guide will use the Notre Dame de la Garde wheelchair accessible entrance to avoid the stairs that most visitors use.
Classic Marseilles Accessible Guided Tour
If you only have half a day to spend in Marseilles, the Classic Marseilles Accessible Guided Tour includes all of the must see attractions of the city. This 4 hour accessible guided tour of Marseilles includes Marseille Cathedral, the Palais Longchamps, and an inside visit to Notre Dame de la Garde.
Your tour will start when your guide and driver pick you up from the cruise terminal. From here you will drive to see Notre Dame de la Garde, which sits on a hill overlooking the city, and is a great spot for taking photos of Marseilles. Following this, the accessible Marseilles Guided tour will take you to the Roman Catholic, Marseilles Cathedral, one of France’s national monuments. Your guide will also take you to the beautiful Palais Longchamps monument and Fort Saint–Jean, a fortification in Marseilles, built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port.
At the end of your half day guided tour of Marseilles, you guide and driver will take you back to the cruise terminal.
Note: This Classic Marseilles Accessible Guided Tour does not use a wheelchair accessible van, so you will need to be able to transfer to a seat in a normal vehicle for this tour. The Classic Marseilles Accessible Guided Tour does not use a wheelchair accessible van, but follows a step-free route. You will encounter mild cobblestones. The use of a wheelchair allows you to avoid the long uphill route up to Notre Dame de la Garde. Your guide will use the Notre Dame de la Garde wheelchair accessible entrance to avoid the stairs that most visitors use.
Arles Accessible Guided Tour from Marseilles
Did you know that the city of Arles has the most Roman ruins outside of Rome? Or that it was the inspiration for many of Van Gogh’s paintings? This full day accessible guided tour of Arles includes medieval architecture, Roman ruins, and much more.
Your accessible guided tour of Arles will begin when your guide and driver pick you up from the cruise terminal in a wheelchair accessible van. Enjoy the scenic drive between Marseilles and Arles as you view the Southern France countryside between the cities.
In Arles, you will see a Roman Amphitheatre built in the year 90 AD. You will also see the some of the inspirations for Van Gogh’s paintings, before touring the rest of the city. After lunch at an accessible restaurant in Arles, your guide will take you to Moulin Saint-Michel in Mouries, a local olive oil mill in the Valley of Baux-de-Provence. The oil mill has been processing the harvest of the olive growers in the Alpilles near the foothills of the Alps since 1744. During your visit you will tour the old mill, experience the techniques of making olive oil and finish off with a delicious tasting experience.
At the end of your accessible guided tour of Arles, your guide and driver will take you back to the cruise terminal in Marseilles.
The Arles Accessible Guided Tour uses a wheelchair accessible van and follows a step-free route. However, you will encounter mild to moderate cobblestones and uneven ground in the ancient city of Arles. The Arles Roman Amphitheatre can be viewed from the outside. Reaching the interior requires going up a few steps.
Avignon Accessible Driving Tour From Marseilles
Visit the beautiful ancient city of Avignon on this 8 hour accessible driving tour from Marseilles. This tour combines memorable sightseeing and visits to historical attractions in Avignon with a visit to local, authentic Provence Vineyard. Your Avignon Accessible Driving Tour will start when your guide and driver pick you up from the cruise terminal in Marseilles in a wheelchair accessible van.
In Avignon, you will visit the Bénézet bridge and view the Palais des Papes, the largest Gothic building in the world. Your guide will also take your through the beautiful Rocher des Doms gardens for some wonderful photo opportunities before touring the rest of the city. Finally, you will make a stop at a vineyard at Châteauneuf du Pape, where you get to experience some of the best, high quality French wine there is, Côte du Rhone wines.
At the end of your Avignon accessible driving tour, your guide and driver will take you back to the cruise terminal.
The Avignon Accessible Driving Tour uses a wheelchair accessible van and follows a step-free route. You will encounter mild to moderate cobblestones.