7 Top-Rated Marseilles Day Trips
Surrounding the cosmopolitan port city of Marseilles, the vibrant coastal region offers many interesting tourist attractions. This area of Provence has a distinctive Mediterranean ambience and a scenic countryside of beautiful coastline, unique nature sites, and ancient hilltop villages. The serene beauty of the Calanques enchants visitors with its pristine coves of turquoise water. Aix-en-Provence delights with the charm of a traditional Provençal town and an array of excellent museums. Visitors will also enjoy a day trip to the picturesque fishing village of Cassis and the "most beautiful village" of Gordes with its quaint ambience. The lovely seaside village of Hyères is another historic town and was one of the first winter resorts in France. Other highlights include Salon de Provence, a medieval hilltop village with incredible history, and Saint-Maximum with a fascinating pilgrimage church that will inspire the faithful.
Some of the most magnificent and unusual natural scenery of the Mediterranean is found in Calanques, an area along the coast between Marseilles and Cassis. The word "calanque" means "cove" and it describes the narrow fiord-like coves found in this region. The coves cut deep into limestone rock walls, forming pools of sea water that are as calm as lakes. Because the light reflects off the white limestone, the water appears a stunning turquoise color that is mesmerizing. The Calanques also has amazing wildlife and rare plant species because of the unique environment. The area is partly used as natural yacht harbors and is popular with rock climbers. The large Calanques, Port-Miou, En-Vau and Port-Pin, are particularly impressive; they are accessible by land as well as by boat from Marseilles or Cassis. Boat tickets are available at the Marseilles and Cassis ports 30 minutes before departure time. Organized private boat trips can be also arranged.
This quintessential Provençal town delights visitors with its leisurely lifestyle and elegant ambience. In Aix-en-Provence, as the ancient capital of Provence, the history is entwined in the building, streets, and fountains. Throughout the city center, there are majestic public squares and hundreds of lovely fountains, which is why Aix-en-Provence has the title the "City of Fountains." A vestige of the city's ancient Roman heritage, these monuments, gushing with water, are found in all manner of styles-from the monumental Fontaine de la Rotonde on the Cours Mirabeau to the whimsical Fontaine des Quatre-Dauphins (featuring four adorable dolphins) in the historic Mazarin district. At its heart, Aix-en-Provence is a slow-paced country town. One of the most important traditions is the city's Provençal weekly market where artisans, craftsmen, and food producers sell their fresh products and handcrafted goods. As a city of art and culture, Aix-en-Provence boasts several outstanding museums, including the wonderful Tapestry Museum with a rich collection from the 17th century, the Musée Granet with its extensive Impressionist collection, and the Atelier Cézanne where the artist painted some of his most famous works.
The historic port town of Cassis feels a world away from the big city of Marseilles, although the distance is only 22 kilometers. Presiding over a semicircular bay and framed by mountains, this picturesque fishing village once attracted painters, including Vlaminck, Dufy, and Matisse. The artists were drawn to the charming scene of pastel-colored houses and sailboats reflected in the bay. Today, Cassis is a popular recreation center for the residents of Marseilles, who enjoy relaxing visits in this scenic setting. Cassis is also an ideal destination for those who want to make an easy day trip from Marseilles. Tourist attractions of Cassis include the old settlement center with remains of 12th- and 14th-century fortifications, a castle built in 1381, and the beautiful Fontaine des Quatre Nations.
Listed as a "Most Beautiful Village" in France, Gordes has well-preserved historic sites and an atmospheric medieval ambience. The most monumental sites of this hilltop village are the castle and church that tower over the village and impress onlookers. Originally constructed in 1031, the medieval castle was rebuilt in 1525 and carefully restored with Renaissance influences. This imposing monument is strongly guarded with its round machicolated towers bearing terraces for the artillery. Clinging to the hillside, the ancient village of Gordes features charming narrow cobblestone streets that thread their way through tall houses built against the rock. Gordes also extends to include the Bories village and the noteworthy Sénanque Abbey, set in a peaceful green valley. Many a famous artist including Marc Chagall and Victor Vasarely have found inspiration here.
At the foot of the Castéou Mountains, the seaside scenery of Hyères has long attracted visitors and made the town a flourishing health resort (one of the first in France). Typical of the Provence region, Hyères has a lively daily market held in the Old Town on the Place Massillon. Also on this square is the 12th-century Tour Saint-Blaise, the remains of a residence of the Knights Templar. On the Rue Rabaton is the birthplace of the great preacher Massillon, court minister to Louis XIV and the Bishop of Clermont. Also worth a visit is the Eglise Sainte-Cathérine, originally built in the 12th century and restored in the 16th century. When walking up to the front door of the church, visitors will notice a charming little Renaissance house with corner turrets. The village also has a former monastery and lovely 13th-century houses on the Rue Paradis. Hyères' 13th-century Porte de la Rade, the former main gate, helps visitors to imagine the medieval ambience of the town.
Mary Magdalene is supposed to have landed by boat at Saintes Maries de la Mer, accompanied by her sister Martha, her brother Lazarus, Maximin, Sidonius, her servant Sara, and others, after their expulsion from Palestine. While Maximin and Sidonius went into the country as missionaries, Mary Magdalene, at God's behest, spent 30 years without earthly nourishment as a penitent in a grotto. She was buried, it is said, in a mausoleum, which has been preserved as the crypt of the church. The Eglise Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume-Saint Madeleine and the Dominican convent were begun in 1295 and intended for the waves of pilgrims who visited this village. The French Revolution drove out the Dominicans; however, the local Jacobin club saved the building. The historic church is worth visiting to appreciate its importance to pilgrims.
7 Salon de Provence
Salon de Provence lies on the edge of the Plaine de la Crau northwest of Marseilles. In ancient times, there was a Roman site on the Hill of Valdemech, and the town also has origins in the time of Charlemagne. In the 12th and 15th centuries the Archbishops of Arles built the impressive fortress-like Château de l'Empéri ("Emperor's Castle"), which dominates the town of Salon de Provence. This château is one of the best preserved and largest fortifications in Provence. The building was named "Emperor's Castle" because Salon had fallen to the German emperors in 1032 with the rest of the kingdom of Provence. When visiting the château, tourists can admire the beautiful Chapel of Saint-Cathérine from the 12th century. Another interesting attraction in Salon de Provence is the Maison de Nostradamus (2 rue Nostradamus), the former house of the cosmologist Nostradamus (1503-1566). Nostradamus spent the last 19 years of his life here. The house is now a museum that features historical editions of Nostradamus' prophecies, mementoes, and a reproduction of his study.