With its temperate climate, extensive coastline and friendly character, Marseille has all the ingredients for prime picnicking. The sun shines over 300 days a year. Winter temperatures hover in the 50s and 60s while summer’s late sunsets let daylight linger until 10 p.m.
Marseille’s 26 miles of coastline are peppered with rocky coves, sandy beaches and hidden nooks where you can spread out your picnic blanket alongside the turquoise Mediterranean. Some of the city’s best picnicking spots are beside monuments that serve up sweeping views – like the grassy knoll at the Palais du Pharo or the craggy garden at the Bonne Mère.
With so many tempting outdoor spots, it’s no surprise the Marseillais love to gather al fresco for an apéro at the end of the day. These happy hours don’t stop at dinner – they spill into the evening and always include as much food as drink. Some keep it simple with a pizza, a bag of chips or grissini with a jar of tapenade. Others live up to France’s UNESCO World Heritage-approved gastronomic tradition with lavish picnic spreads.
In Marseille, a mix of Provençal classics and multicultural bites are on the menu. To help you pull off the perfect picnic, here are our picks for what to pack, where to provision and our prime spots for your al fresco meal.
Between La Plaine and Cours Julien, the Rue Saint-Michel stuffs a smorgasbord of epicurean shops onto a 250-yard street. At the Lebanese-Armenian épicerie Exosud, all the dips are made in-house – like the fabulous fig and olive tapenade, caviar d’aubergine (eggplant dip) and tzatziki. Cheese lovers will be tempted by mild manouri or fragrant chinklich while the basterma (paprika and fenugreek air-cured beef) and soujouk (spiced dried sausage) are a must for charcuterie fans. One of the friendly brothers who own the shop will serve you from the seafaring salad bar, which normally includes anchovy-wrapped olives, octopus salad and calamari marinated in piment d’Espelette.
Down the street, the pungent Art de la Fromagerie specializes in artisan cheese including chèvre from Tour des Pins, a pedagogical farm improbably located in the densely packed Quartiers Nords. Follow the smell of freshly baked bread to Pain Pan, whose sourdough (levain) baguettes and loaves and pain au noix (walnut bread) have earned the boulangerie a loyal following. They even stock gluten-free bread some days.
For beverages, Fietje stocks beers from microbreweries across the globe and close by, like Marseille newcomer Brasserie des Malfaiteurs. The staff at Vin Sobre recommends two regional rosés: the organic Domaine Tour Campanet from Aix-en-Provence has nice acidity and grapefruit notes while the Bastide du Claux from the Luberon has a bright minerality. Vin Sobre also stocks a selection of snacks, including the Marseille/Martigues specialty poutargue, dried mullet eggs.
If your picnic falls on a Wednesday, you can stock up on organic fruits, veggies and goods at the Cours Julien Farmers Market. Buy cones of brousse de Rove, AOC local goat cheese that can be enjoyed savory – drizzled with olive oil – or sweet – topped with honey or jam. The poissonier has tielles, hand pies stuffed with spiced octopus. Across from his stand, the Mas de Granier farm sells jars of pesto, cumin-scented chickpeas and other delights for dipping. The market runs rain or shine year-round from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Nicknamed the “belly of Marseille,” Noailles teems with takeout options. In the shadow of the former Gare du Noailles, Au Grand Saint-Antoine has fixings for a gourmet picnic. We’re particularly fond of the chorizo, the filet mignon (dried pork tenderloin) and the magret de canard (salted, smoked and dried duck breast swaddled in fat). For fish lovers, the brandade (whipped salt cod) is delicious when slathered on bread – especially with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Everything is made in-house by this father-and-son charcutier.
Head through the produce market stocked with inexpensive veggies – look for the signs that say “Provence” not “Espagne” (Spain) for the best quality – and down the Rue Longue des Capucins to Au Coin Gourmand. At this Algerian boulangerie, load up on khobz (bread grilled in tajines) and majouba (square crepes stuffed with cheese, meat, or veggies). On the Rue d’Aubagne, Epicerie l’Idéal is a one-stop picnic shop. Grab a bag of socca (chickpea) chips, homemade hummus or zucchini pesto, and a jar of pissaladiére (onion, anchovy and olive jam) for a Mediterranean feast. For hearty appetites, order one of their filling focaccia sandwiches.
Thanks to the city’s large Tunisian community, Marseille is a mecca for citronnade, refreshing lemonade made with whole lemons. Our favorite is across the street at Chez Yassine. Further up the Rue d’Aubagne, Le Cèdre is famous for their house-baked pita. Grab a bag of pita still warm from the oven, or order a falafel or kefta (bulgur meatballs) sandwich. The Azzi brothers also make za’atar flatbread and sfeehas (savory stuffed pastries).
For picnic provisions that double as great souvenirs, head across the street to Jiji La Palme D’Or. The dynamic Tunisian’s mini-empire of Maghreb goods spreads across four storefronts. Find straw paniers (baskets) in a range of sizes and colorful foutas, Tunisian cotton blankets.
Start provisioning in Cinq-Avenues at Place Sebastapol, one of the few outdoor markets in Marseille that’s open every day but Sunday. At the southern tip, the Corsican deli U Mio Paese sells figatelli (pork liver sausage) and brocciu (sheep cheese) to the city’s large community from the Île de Beauté. Walk a few minutes to Foch 2000 on Avenue du Maréchal Foch. This boucherie crafts the Sôccisse de Marseille, a line of charcuterie flavored with Italian, Provencal or Maghrebian spices. Be sure to pick up a bag of fresh potato chips – a regional specialty that beats processed chips any day.
Continue onto Boulevard Philippon to Cane Bière, a beer store and bar whose name winks at Marseille’s most famous road. The staff will help you choose from their 400-bottle stash. Our sip of summer is local microbrasserie Zoumai’s Gaby, a thirst-quenching white wheat ale brewed with combava (Thai lime) zest.
Some of the city’s best picnicking spots are besides monuments that serve up sweeping views
At the belle époque Palais du Longchamp, whose park has grassy knolls for picnicking, head down the Boulevard Longchamp to Balady. Each day, the Levantine épicerie’s deli case tempts with colorful dishes – think sumac, beet and quinoa salad, spiced stuffed eggplants, and peppers roasted with quince and honey. It’s hard to resist the popular feetir, puff pastry stuffed with cheese, veggies and/or meat. For more carby delights, pop into nearby Bar à Pain, the boulangerie beloved for their artisanal loaves, focaccia and fougasse, a leaf-shaped olive-oil bread from Provence. We’re partial to the chewy, square chocolate-chip cookies – the city’s best, in our opinion.
We like our picnics with a side of salt air, so we head to the flat boulders at Anse de la Fausse Monnaie, which are prime seating for watching cliff divers catapulting from the Corniche Kennedy. Sometimes we continue west to spread out our picnic blanket at the Anse de Maldormé, a pebbled beach that slopes into the sea – it’s perfect for a quick dip. Or, if we arrive early, we can sometimes score a place on the Anse de la Capricieuse, the itty-bitty cove reached by the staircase to the right of the yellow villa above Maldormé.
Other seaside spots can be found further west. If you head up the Montée Maldorme staircase, along the Rue de la Douane, and then take a left on Rue Notre Dame des Grâces, you’ll reach a tiny parking lot; from here, take the footpath to the left and grab a seat on one of the long, concrete benches or the jagged rocks below.
All these beaches are within walking distance of Eau à la Bouche, one of Marseille’s most popular pizzerias. In the summer, if we prefer to picnic with a pizza, we order our wood-fired pie in advance for pickup to avoid the wait. The easiest way to reach the coast is via the 83 bus or on a local Vélo bike, which are even more enjoyable thanks to the recent expansion of the Corniche Kennedy’s bike lanes.
Picnics With a View
Many visit Marseille’s most popular monument, Notre Dame de la Garde, for the view. Its prime perch on the metropolis’ highest hill affords a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of the sea and city. The Bonne Mère also happens to be home to one of the city’s best picnic spots: Jardin du Bois Sacré, a vertical park that clings to the backside of the church’s limestone cliffs and can be reached by taking the footpath from the parking lot or climbing the stairs from the Rue du Bois Sacré. There are benches shaded by beach pines, but we prefer to make our own picnic spot by ambling off the path.
Napoleon built the Palais du Pharo for his wife so she could behold the Vieux-Port without intermingling with the lower-class dockworkers. Though Napoleon died before they could live in it, the majestic palace now hosts conferences – and Marseillais picnickers. Some like to spread out on the expansive lawn besides the steel half-circle sculpture by famed artist Bernar Venet. We like to convene near the Monument aux Héros et Victimes de la Mer, the bronze statue dedicated to navy soldiers who perished at sea. The incredible view is a live action postcard.
Despite all those sunny days, Marseille does have one picnic deterrent: the mistral, the legendary gusts that can reach up to 60 mph. So take note if the wind icon pops up on your weather app – it may be necessary to delay your picnic by a day or two.
Editor’s note: As summer heats up, we’re looking to get outside. So we asked our contributors to write about their favorite spots to eat outdoors as well as nearby shops to fill a picnic basket for Picnic Week 2020.
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