A Quick Guide to Holidays in the South of France

Marseille

Marseille has historically been known as a somewhat scruffy port city notorious for drugs and violence, but now it’s becoming something like a Mediterranean hotspot like Barcelona. It was even named the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

Start by exploring the old port. Once you get tired of admiring the yachts in the marina, stop by the numerous cafes along the Quai de Rive Neuve or the New Bank. Behind it, take a walk in the sunlit square called the Cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, the largest pedestrian space in the city centre with plenty of café-terraces. It also hosts different celebrations, and the vast open space has made it a popular attraction.

One key attraction is old town, or Le Panier, a labyrinthine ethnic quarter that sprawls across a hill high above this intriguing city. The city has been restoring the area to its former glory since 1983. Take in the historic houses: the court (Palais de Justice) was built in the mid 18th century; Marseille’s oldest townhouse (the Hôtel de Cabre) was built in the 16th century; and the little Accoules church was built in the 6th century.

One particularly fine building is La Vieille Charité, an 18th century hospital for the poor with an ovoid dome, the epitome of Italian baroque architecture. Now it’s a historic monument and a centre for science and culture, housing museums, a cinema, and exhibition halls.

Now you should definitely try bouillabaisse, the iconic Marseille fish stew with several types of fish and shellfish. Harry Potter fans may remember it as the French dish that Hermione introduces Ron to during the Triwizard Tournament. It’s not a cheap dish. Two Michelin-starred restaurants worth paying for: Chez Michel, which you should dress up for and where the Michelin guide calls bouillabaisse “a religion”; or L’Epuisette, which is perched on rocks with a great sea view.

 

Cannes

Cannes is now famous for the film festival, and there are more than a dozen professional salons and festivals a year. The most prominent part of Cannes is the Promenade de la Croisette, the curved waterfront trip where all the expensive shops, restaurants, and hotels are. Don’t go there first.

It’s much better to start your visit at Le Suquet, or the old town. The narrow sloping streets, cramped by friendly restaurants, represent a more authentic experience. You can visit local butchers, fishmongers, bakers, wine merchants, and admire the spectacular view of the city and the port. You’ll get much better pictures, and spend less money.

Head to the Old Port for lunch; try the sea bream at L’Assiette Provençale, and since you’re on holiday, wash it down with rosé.

After lunch, take a short ferry ride out to the islands. It’ll only take around 15 minutes. The largest, the Île Sainte-Marguerite, is full of eucalyptus and pine trees. It’s famous for holding the mysterious Man in the Iron Mast captive in a fortress for 11 years.

When you get back, there’s probably time to shop for espadrilles and vintage film festival posters along the rue d’Antibes. By dinner time, head to the place de l’Etang, at the end of the Croisette, where you’ll find the highly recommended fish restaurant Fred l’Ecailler. Unlike the bouillabaisse, this won’t cost you.