Across Marseille, winter’s neon-yellow mimosas have given way to amandiers’ (almond trees’) fragrant white and pink blooms. Here, the French adage, “en avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil. En mai fais ce qu’il te plaît,” (in April, don’t remove a stitch. In May, do as you wish,”) is oft quipped, for our springtime weather can be fickle. Last weekend, I took a dip in the Mediterranean to cool off after a sun-soaked, 70-degree hike; as I write this, the local mistral wind has iced down the air temperature to just above freezing.
Despite spring’s yo-yoing thermometer, ‘tis the season for Marseillais to fill up outdoor patios. Whether the weather calls for down jackets or T-shirts, savvy locals know which terrasses get bathed in morning sun and which bask in a late-afternoon glow. And which offer sunset views for apéro now that daylight savings time has stretched their start past 8 p.m. Given Marseille’s summer swelter, spring is the ideal season for being outdoors. To help you make the most of Marseille en plein air, we’re sharing our guide to a perfect spring day with our friends. Go ahead and don good walking shoes – sneakers are in vogue.
We ease into the morning at Blackbird Coffee. Around 9 a.m., the springtime sun filters through the patio’s budding trees. This convivial coffee shop pours one of our preferred cups, using locally-roasted Café Luciani beans and a vintage Faema 61 machine recommended by their owner André Luciani. Blackbird’s buttery viennoiseries (croissants and pains au chocolat) are equally stellar. Still hungry? Order a croque-monsieur for a savory start.
If it’s Wednesday, we will pop over to the organic Cours Julien Farmer’s Market. The season marks the return of our friend Luc Falcot’s brousse du Rove, the small-batch, ricotta-like raw goat’s milk cheese that is only made and sold in the region. Other springtime bounty includes plump spears of white and green asparagus, fava beans, peas, and lip-smacking gariguette strawberries that local pâtissiers love in tartes. We like them unadorned – so we grab a basket to fuel our upcoming hike in the Calanques National Park.
The newly designated national park is made up of jaw-dropping limestone cliffs that spill into the Mediterranean. Spring is the perfect time to explore it since trails are often closed in the summer due to forest fire risk. To get there, grab the metro at the market stop: Notre Dame du Mont, take the M2 red line to Rond Point du Prado, then board the 22 bus to the last stop: Les Baumettes. The hike to the Calanques de Morgiou begins at Blvd Louis Marion and takes an 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach the turquoise cove. No need for hiking boots – sturdy sneakers will do. Though if it’s warm, you’ll want to pack a swimsuit for a refreshing dip.
Pick your lunch spot depending on your mood. For a mid-hike pause, Bar Nautic dishes seiches à la provençale, garlic and parsley sautéed squid, grilled whole fish, and salade de poulpe, octopus salad, above the tiny Morgiou port. When we prefer to feast at the end of our amble, we return to Chez Zé at the starting point. Open since 1960s, this family-run and family-style spot also has stellar squid, plus Marseille’s iconic wood-fired pizzas. The flames also flavor filling pasta dishes, a delicious way to replenish your carbs. Whichever you choose, be sure to reserve and bring cash.
On the 22 bus back, we hop off at Le Corbusier’s la Cité Radieuse for an architectural pit-stop. The colorful Unité d’Habitation is the Brutalist architect’s utopian vision for a vertical village. After sizing ourselves up to the Modulor Man (Le Corbu’s design method based on human proportions) at the entrance, we wander the halls and visit the sprawling rooftop of this ocean-liner-like building. Back on terra firma, the route is flat back to the city center. So, we rent a city bike (via Dott or Vélo).
Across France, 4 p.m. is goûter hour. In the very Maghrebi city of Marseille, this means snack time can be mint tea and pâtisseries orientales. We steer our wheels towards Pâtisserie Journo, an unassuming Tunisian-Jewish bakery that has a loyal following. We let David, the owner’s grandson who has taken the reigns, choose our order based on what’s hot from the oven. Today, its cornes des gazelles, crescent-shaped almond cookies, and loukoum, jelly-like sugar squares. Since its sunny out, we pair them with refreshing citronnade, deliciously tart whole-lemon lemonade.
Bellies full, we wander to the Vieux-Port, pausing under the Ombrière to snap selfies of our reflection in the mirrored canopy. We continue left off the harbor, with squawking seagulls and buzzing scooters accompanying us on our afternoon promenade. The staircase beside the Radisson hotel leads us to our destination. The Café de l’Abbaye already bustles with locals, so we squeeze along the sidewalk for sunset apéro . A friend orders us pastis and panisses, the city’s signature chickpea fritters, to pair with the panorama: the pink-tinted sky above the two medieval forts that proudly bookend Marseille’s harbor.
With our appetites perked up by the anise-y pastis, we head up the hill to the Parc Pierre Puget, the city’s oldest garden, named after its prominent 17th century architect – he’s behind the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). We cross a charming footbridge to reach Sepia, a former snack bar that has been transformed into a locavore restaurant. The mood is festive on the patio along the tree-lined park that boast views of the distant sea, each table of toasting the first evening al fresco meal of the season. Chef Paul Langlere’s set menu is a worthy splurge, skillfully navigating terre/mer (land/sea) flavors – think steak with smoked mackerel – and freshly plucked seasonal vegetables. Tonight, octopus tentacles, his specialty, are on the menu. So deliciously caramelized they melt in our mouths.
Bellies full and pleasantly buzzed, we hop in a cab back to Cours Julien to bookend our hedonistic day. At peak nightlife hour, the terrasses around the fountain heave with Marseillais since it’s warm enough to be outside in jackets. We search for a free table on the graffiti-lined side streets, finding one at Champs de Mars, an unfussy neighborhood favorite. Half our group opts for pressions (draft beer). The other half pops into the cocktail den Verre à Cruise for a smoky mezcal Tipsy Baby tucked in a wooden box. Different beverages to embody the many facets of Marseille – and our perfect spring day.
This article was originally published on May 05, 2022.
Published on April 20, 2023