Known as the heart of the Mediterranean, Marseille is the oldest city in France. This bustling metropolis with more than a million inhabitants, is France’s second-largest and its premier port. Marseille is a place of unique sounds, smells, and sights. It is a dynamic city, as cosmopolitan now as when ancient Phocaeans first founded it as an international shipping port 2,600 years ago.
The topography of the area has changed over the centuries: originally the port extended to what is now the Centre Bourse. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, all of the town’s marine activities took place here.
Today, pleasure boats are moored beside fishing boats, and every morning the fishermen sell their catch at the renowned local fish market. The town hall, situated on the right bank, looks onto the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica which dominates the south bank and provides a panoramic view of Marseilles.
The attractions of the city are largely concentrated around the port, including the opera house, museums, galleries, theatres, monuments (such as Pharos Palace, various forts, St Victors Abbey) as well as the Panier district where the ancient Phocaeans first settled. Beside the Hôtel-Dieu, which dates back to the 18th Century, and the Accoules bell tower constructed between the 17th and 19th Centuries, is a stairway typical of old Marseilles that leads directly into the Panier district.
Place de Lenche is where the Greek agora (meaning marketplace) of the ancient city once stood. The area still bustles with life in the market, restaurants and theatre. At the summit of the old town is Place des Moulins which in the 16th Century was home to fifteen windmills making flour. Both the windmills and the warehouses were demolished three centuries later. It retains the tranquility of a village square, with its fountain and local school.
The Vieux Port, the old harbor, is especially colorful, in contrast to the somewhat dreary industrial dockland nearby. It is also the destination of many North and sub-Saharan Africans, who, along with the Italians, French, Lebanese and Armenians, create a lively mix of races and creeds, that have always harmonized.
Marseille is the most important port in the Mediterranean. The major imports include petroleum, wine, fruits, and olive oil. New industry has recently come in: Eurocopter, the world’s largest helicopter maker and Comex, a marine and nuclear engineering group are recent additions to the economic life of Marseilles.
Marseille today actually occupies twice the amount of land space as Paris. In spite of the difficulties inevitably associated with life in a large city, it is bustling, always fascinating, and unlike any other in France. The arts are coming alive in Marseille! An abandoned, former cigar factory has been named La Friche la Belle de Mai, and has opened recently as a 164,000 square foot space entirely dedicated to dance, theater, music, film, visual arts, and literature. There are rooms for rehearsals, performances, workshops, a radio station, and lounges for conversation.
The city is a showpiece: a medley of brilliant white stone rising above a picture perfect seaport framed by enormous neo-Byzantine churches. The winding alleyways of the old town reveal ancient buildings painted in broad strokes of saffron and robin’s-egg blue. It provides the perfect setting for its film industry, because there is nothing artificial about Marseilles. The town is filled with real beauty and raw energy. In 1998 the World Cup was held in Marseille with four players on the winning French team being natives of the city.
Marseilles will always be known for its beaches, for its 35 miles of gorgeous coastline, and for its superb bouillabaisse. It is emerging now as a dynamic creative center for musicians, filmmakers, theater directors, and fashion and furniture designers. The exciting story of this new Marseilles is now unfolding. What a perfect time to visit!
807,071 in the city center; over 1,000,000 if the surrounding area of the city is included.
Bouches du Rhône
On highway A7 and route N7; 479 miles S of Paris, 116 miles SW of Nice, 19 miles S of Aix-en-Provence
Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour. The French equivalent of daylight saving time lasts from around April to September, which puts it 1 hour ahead of French winter time. Depending on the time of year, France is 6 or 7 hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.
The zone prefix for Marseille is 04. Dial the full 10 digit number (which includes this prefix) for local calls. The country code is 33. (use the country code only when calling Marseille from another country).
Currency is the Euro (EUR). The notes are in denominations of 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 euro. The denominations of coins are 2 euro, 1 euro, 50 euro cent, 20 euro cent, 10 euro cent, 5 euro cent, 2 euro cent, and 1 euro cent. The easiest method of securing cash at the best exchange rate is to make withdrawals using a US credit card from the ATM machines found at the major banks and stores.
Tele 01 43 12 22 22 for information Mon.-Fri. 9-3.
The Mediterranean coast has the driest climate in France. Most rain falls in spring and autumn. Summers are comfortably dry. Provence experiences le mistral (a cold, violent wind from the French and Swiss Alps that blows south down the Rhône Valley). It most often blows in winter, sometimes for a few days, but sometimes for up to 2 weeks.
Average Temperatures (In Fahrenheit):
|January – March||59F||35F|
|April – June||79F||46F|
|July – September||84F||63F|
|October – December||68F||37F|
In France, holidays are known as jours feriés. Shops and many businesses (banks and some museums and restaurants) close on holidays, but hotels and emergency services remain open.
New Year’s Day Jan 1
Easter Sunday (varies) and Easter Monday
V-E Day in Europe May 8
Whit Monday mid May
Ascension Thursday 40 days after Easter
Bastille Day July 14
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Aug 15
All Saints’ Day Nov 1
Armistice Day Nov 11
Christmas Dec 25.
Most banks are open Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Many, particularly in smaller towns or villages, take a lunch break at varying times. Hours are usually posted on the door. Most museums close 1 day a week (often Tuesday), and they’re usually closed on national holidays. Usual hours are 9:30am to 5pm. Some museums, particularly the smaller ones, close for lunch from noon to 2pm. Most French museums are open on Saturday; many are closed Sunday morning but open Sunday afternoon. Offices are, in general, open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, but always call first. In some small stores, the lunch break can last 3 hours, beginning at 1pm.
In France they are called pharmacie. Pharmacies take turns staying open at night and on Sunday; the local Commissariat de Police will tell you the location of the nearest one.
In general, expect 200 volts, 50 cycles, though you’ll encounter 110 and 115 volts in some older establishments. Adapters are needed to fit sockets. Many hotels have two-pin (in some cases, three-pin) sockets for electric razors. It’s best to ask your hotel concierge before plugging in any appliance.
In an emergency while at a hotel, contact the front desk to summon an ambulance or do whatever is necessary. But for something like a stolen wallet, go to the police station in person. Otherwise, you can get help anywhere in France by calling tel. 17 for the police or tel. 18 for the fire department (pompiers).
Most post offices in France are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 7pm and Saturday from 8am to noon. You can exchange money at post offices. Many hotels sell stamps, as do local post offices and cafes displaying a red “tabac” sign outside.
Most major cities carry copies of the International Herald Tribune, USA Today, and usually a major London paper or two. Nearly all big-city newsstands also sell copies of Time and Newsweek
Those intending to visit the south of France, especially Marseille, should exercise extreme caution: robberies and muggings here are commonplace. It’s best to check your baggage into a hotel and then go sightseeing instead of leaving it unguarded in the trunk of a car, which can easily be broken into.
As a member of the European Union, France routinely imposes a value-added tax (VAT) on many goods and services. The standard VAT on merchandise is 20.6%. Refunds are made for the tax on certain goods, but not on services. The minimum purchase is 1,200F ($204) for nationals or residents of countries outside the EU
You’ll find public phone booths in cafes, restaurants, post offices, airports, and train stations and occasionally on the streets. Pay phones accept coins of 1/2F, 1F, 2F, and 5F; the minimum charge is 1F (15¢). Pick up the receiver, insert the coin(s), and dial when you hear the tone, pushing the button when there’s an answer.
The French also use a télécarte, a phone debit card, which can be purchased at rail stations, post offices, and other places. Sold in two versions, it allows you to use either 50 or 120 charge units (depending on the card) by inserting the card into the slot of most public phones. Depending on the type of card you buy, they cost 41F to 98F ($6.95 to $16.65).
When calling from outside France, dial the international access code for your country, the country code for France (33), and then the last nine digits of the number, dropping the 0 (zero) from the area code.
All bills, as required by law, are supposed to say service compris, which means that the tip has been included.
The Marseille airport 04-42-14-14-14, 18 miles north of the center in Marignane, receives international flights from all over Europe. From the airport, blue-and-white minivans (navettes) make the trip from a point in front of the arrivals hall to Marseille’s St-Charles rail station near the Vieux Port for a low one-way fee. The minivans run daily at 20-minute intervals, 6:20am to 10:50pm. St. Charles Train Station: 3hr. 50 minutes from Paris by TGV (high speed train).
For rail information and schedules 08-36-35-35-35. The city is the terminus for the TGV bullet train, which departs daily from Paris’s Gare de Lyon (trip time: 4 3/4 hrs.). Local trains from Paris arrive almost every hour. Marseille has especially good train connections to and from Italy.
Buses pull into the Gare Routière, on the place Victor Hugo 04-91-08-16-40), adjacent to the St. Charles railway station.
Take the A7 autoroute into Marseille.
Districts of Marseille:
There are 111 different districts in Marseille, of which the following are the most frequently visited:
Le Vieux Port
The old port is one of the best-known parts of Marseilles and its streets are lined with restaurants and cafés. In the mornings, fishermens wives auction off their wares in the fish market opposite the boats.
This is the most famous road in town. Along it you will see shopping streets such as Rue St Ferréol, and the Musée de la Mode, the Musée de la Marine, and the Opéra.
A walk through this popular district, close to the old port, takes you around the Provençal pedestrian streets lined with multi-colored buildings. The Clocher des Accoules, la place des Moulins, la Vieille Charité and la Major are all rich in history.
The Joliette docks are the long red brick buildings along the motorway footbridge. The 4 blocks of buildings were built in the nineteenth century and the interiors have been completely renovated. The Musée des Docks Romains charts the history of the port of Marseille.
In Marseille, Place Jean Jaures is also known as La Plaine. This huge square has a market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and a busy shopping area at other times. In the adjacent streets, there is a wide choice of restaurants, bars and pubs.
Le Cours Julien
Just along from La Plaine, le Cours Julien is where young people like to go as there is a good variety of cafés, cabarets and fringe theatres such as Chocolat-Théâtre. For concerts there is Espace Julien. There are many antique shops and clothes boutiques.
Bars and cinemas such as César and the Prado keep this square at the end of the Rue de Rome busy day and night.
People come to the Prado to see the buildings that line the main road, the Boulevard Périer and the Rue Paradis. The Parc Borély and its castle provide one of Marseilles biggest open spaces. The racecourse here is also very popular.
This district is dominated by Notre Dame de la Garde. The name La Bonne Mère (literally ‘the Good Mother’) comes from the enormous statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the bell tower. This church is an important site for pilgrims.
The Corniche (coastal road) winds along the Mediterranean coast . Upscale villas are located in this district, as is the Musée d’Art Contemporain. From all directions, you can admire the open sea.
Palais Longchamp is a favorite place for walks.You can also visit the Musée Grobet Labadié, the Musée des Beaux Arts and the Muséum d?Histoire Naturelle – the natural history museum which used to be a zoo and has been converted into a park
Espace info RTM 6-8, rue des Fabres
Rue des Fabres
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
+33 4 91 91 92 10
Take a sight-seeing tour of Marseilles through the old port and the old town Panier district. The bus tour takes in 28 of the cities monuments, accompanied by a running commentary from your driver, who knows the city and its history. Buses depart from the Vieux-Port (the old port). If you are arriving by métro, come out of the station on the same side as the sea, opposite the town hall. Disabled access is available.
04 96 11 22 60
Founded in the 4th century, this abbey grew in influence in the ancient world. It was built above a crypt from the 5th century foundation of the church. The basilica, an example of Romanesque architecture, looks out from its vantage point on a ledge above the sea. The Saracens destroyed the first structure, so the abbey was rebuilt in the 11th century and fortified against further onslaught in the 14th. Its crudely peaked windows indicate the transition from Romanesque arches to Gothic points.
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Rue Fort du Sanctaire
04 91 13 40 80
Metro: Vieux-Port; Bus: 60
This Romanesque-Byzantine style church stands on a limestone rock perch overlooking the southern side of the Vieux-Port. It was built in the 19th century and topped by a 30 foot statue of the Virgin.
Musée D’histoire De Marseille (Marseille History Museum)
Centre Bourse, entrance on rue de Bir-Hakeim
This modern, open-spaced exhibition presents Marseille’s history through its treasure trove of archeological finds. Highlights include ancient metallurgy, Gallo-Roman pottery making, and shipbuilding. There is a section dedicated to medieval Marseille, and some background on the influence of Louis XIV and Vauban on the city. There is a recovered wreck of a Roman cargo boat, its 3rd-century wood amazingly preserved, and the hull of a Greek boat dating from the 4th century BC.
Centre De La Vieille Charité (Center of the Old Charity)
Designed as a hospice for the homeless, this superb example of 17th- and 18th-century architecture stands at the top of Le Panier (the basket).
Under this complex’s extensive roofs are two excellent museums.
(1) The larger is the:
Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne (Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology)
Centre Bourse, square Belsunce
04 91 90 42 22
Admission charged; children under 11 free
An amazing archeological garden where excavations are continuing. The many exhibits span ancient Mediterranean civilizations from ancient Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Rome. These include a sizable collection of ceramics, bronzes, funeral stelae, amphorae, and sculptures. There are also mummies, hieroglyphics, and gorgeous sarcophagi in an authentic tomb-like setting.
(2) The second museum is:
Musée d’Arts Africains, Océaniens et Amérindiens
(Museum of African, Oceanian, and American Indian Art)
2 rue de la Charité
May-Sept., Tues.-Sun. 11-6; Oct.-Apr., Tues.-Sun. 10-5.
Has a very good and quite dramatic collection of masks and sculptures.
Musée des Beaux-Artes
Admission charged. Children under 12 free.
June 15- Sept. 15: Tues-Sun. 11-7; Sept. 16-June 14: Tues-sun. 10-5
Metro: Cinq av. Longchamp or Réformés
This museum is housed in a northern wing of the Palais Longchamp. Its displays include a splendid array of paintings from the 16th-19th centuries. Among these are works by Corot, Davis, Rubens, and Miller. Sculptures are featured as well. One room is devoted to the works of Honoré Daumier, born in Marseilles in 1808.
19 rue Grignan
04 91 54 77 75
Admission charged. Free for seniors and children 10 and under.
June-Sept Tues-Sun 11-6; Oct-May Tues-Sun 10-5.
Metro: Estrangin Préfecture
The museum is devoted to modern art, with notable works by Derain, Balthus, Ernst, Masson, and Marquet. It also displays works by young international artists.
140 bd. Longchamp
04 91 62 21 82
Admission charged. Free for children under 11
June-Sept Tues-Sun 11-6; Oct-May Tues-Sun 10-5
This private collection was given to the city in 1919 and includes Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture along with an excellent collection of medieval Burgundian and Provençal sculpture. Other exhibits are 17th century Gobelin tapestries; 15th-19th century German, Italian, French, and Flemish paintings and 16th and 17th century Italian and French porcelain.
Musée de la Faïence
In the Chateau Pastré
157 av. de Montredon
Admission charged. Children under 11 free.
June-Sept. Tues-Sun 11-6; Oct-May Tues-Sun 10-5
One of the largest collections of porcelain in France. Its pieces date from Neolithic times. Most are representative of the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum is located about 3 miles south of the center of Marseilles in a manor house built in 1864.
Maison Diamantée (Diamond House)
The name is the result of the museum’s beveled-stone façade. The collection includes beautifully carved wooden furniture, crèches and santons, and 19th-century clothes. Of particular interest is a display of locally made playing cards; Marseille was one of the medieval ports of entry for playing cards from the East. Check with the tourist office for new hours. rue de la Prison, 04-91-13-89-00 info.
Eglise Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Georges
16, rue Clapier
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
This church is situated in the centre of Marseille in the Saint-Charles district, near the train station of the same name.
On Saturdays, Vespers takes place at 5.30pm. On Sundays, the Slavonic liturgy starts at 10am and the French at 2pm (apart from on the first Sunday of every month). During the week, the liturgy is at 10am.
4, rue du Bon Pasteur
Neighborhood: 2nd arrondissement
+33 4 91 55 57 38
métro: Jules Guesde
This mosque is situated in the Grands-Carmes district, in the north of Marseille.
The Islamic service begins at 10am on Sunday.
Arts and Entertainment:
Théâtre National de la Criée
30, quai Rive-Neuve
Neighborhood: 7th arrondissement
+33 4 91 54 70 54
+33 4 91 54 27 17
This theatre takes its name from an old fish auction, which was once situated here. Since 1981, this highly respected cultural landmark has been an important cultural center of the city. The programming is of good quality.
39, cours Julien
Neighborhood: 6th arrondissement
+33 4 91 24 34 15
+33 4 91 42 67 82
All types of music are represented here from rap to rai, jazz to rock. The auditorium has 1000 seats alongside the 150 seater cafe. In the heart of the plain, this up to date area caters for all tastes. There are concerts throughout the year.
Vieux Port and the streets surrounding it are filled with fascinating shops and boutiques.
55 rue Grignan
Where paintings from international artists are exhibited and sold.
61 cours Julien
39 rue de Lodi
Antiques from around Provence are sold here.
302 rue Paradis
The local fashion industry is booming. The fashion center is found along Cours Julien. Much of the clothing reflects North African influences, although there is an array of French styles as well.
Folklore & Souvenirs:
Especially popular are the santons (carved wooden creche figurines). The best place for acquiring them is just above the Vieux Port, behind the Theatre National de la Criee. All the souvenir shops along the pedestrian rue St-Fereol, running perpendicular to La Canebiere, sell replicas of handcrafts from Old Provence, including the cream-colored or pale-green bars of the city’s local soap, savon de Marseille.
Ateliers Marcel Carbonel
47 rue Neuve-Ste-Catherine
More than 600 figures, available in half a dozen sizes.
La Savonnerie du Serail
50 bd. Anatole de la Forge
Food & Chocolate:
69 bd. Eugene-Pierre
A photograph or a work of graphic art can be reproduced in various shades of chocolate on top of a delicious layer cake in any flavor you specify in advance.
25 rue Francis-Davso
Traditional pastries and chocolates with another location at 155 rue Jean-Mermoz
The treats available here include chocolates stuffed with almond paste (pate d’amande) or confits de fruits, along with a type of biscuit called une Marseillotte.
Le Four des Navettes
136 rue Sainte
It opened in 1791 and is dedicated to perpetuating the city’s most cherished medieval myth and guarding the secret of how the pastries are made. The boat-shaped cookies are sold by the dozen.
Brasserie Vieux-Port New-York
33 quai des Belges
Members of Marseille’s arts community gather here to chat with friends.
A waterfront development south of the town center. There are in this area about a dozen cafes as well as a variety of restaurants.
A seafood restaurant with a separate bar area where fresh oysters, clams, and chilled lobster are served.
Café de la Plage
in the Escale Borély
A 35-and-under crowd dance and enjoy life.
20 rue Fortia
Where 20- to 50-year-olds listen to recent releases from London and Los Angeles.
24 quai de Rive-Neuve
Is best known for its techno, house, punk rock, and retro music.
8 place aux Huiles
A many-faceted bar/disco/cafe and host of occasional live music.
La Cave à Jazz
7 rue Curiol
3 Quai des Belges
04 91 33 80 33
Owned by a former Olympique Marseille soccer goal keeper; it is decorated in blue and white, the team colors. Soccer matches play on the TV, and fans pack the terrace.
Le Chocolat Théâtre
59 cours Julien
A cabaret that presents broad humor, and occasional political satire.
New Can Can
3-5 rue Sénac
An enormous venue that’s everybody’s favorite dance emporium Thursday to Sunday, from 11pm – dawn.
Théâtre de la Girafe
Parc Longchamp, 43, rue Béranger
43, rue Béranger
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
+33 4 91 87 32 22
On the grounds of the old zoological gardens of the town, in the giraffe house called Suzie, a group of puppeteers from Bulgaria produce shows through different personalities. For children aged between 2-8 years old.
There are 2 shows a week in French. Reservations suggested. Disabled access is available.
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
+33 4 91 64 15 75
Formerly the site of a zoological park, these gardens are situated behind Longchamp Palace – the sumptuous architectural masterpiece from the Second Empire built to commemorate the arrival of water in the city, and now home to both arts and science museums. The wealth of waterfalls, fountains and sculptures create a truly magical atmosphere, intoxicating every visitor with surroundings reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. It is the perfect place to find relaxation. The Marseilles Observatory in Place Leverrier which holds regular planetarium shows is also nearby.
Préau des Accoules (Le)
29, montée des Accoules
Neighborhood: 2nd arrondissement
+33 4 91 91 52 06
This museum is situated in the Panier district, near the foot of the Montée des Accoules. It is housed in an old religious college dating back to the 17th century and is entirely dedicated to children. Both recreational and educational activities are organized to teach children from as young as four about art in all its forms.
Port de la Pointe-Rouge
Neighborhood: 8th arrondissement
+33 4 91 73 54 37
At “Pacific Palissades”, in the small village of la Pointe-Rouge, children over 7, can go out on sailing day trips.
For the more adventurous, wind-surfing is also available.
134, avenue Clot-Bey
Neighborhood: 8th arrondissement
+33 4 91 25 26 34
This magnificent 54-hectare park to the south of the city was designed by landscape gardener Alphan. Water is a major feature here, not least of which is the lake and the ponds where you can go rowing. An eighteenth-century country house stands in the heart of this open space, complemented beautifully by a garden “à la française” and a nineteenth-century landscaped park. Other points of interest include botanical gardens with a rose garden and tropical greenhouse (admission: 10F (EUR 1.52)).
Children love coming here to feed the ducks, take the go-carts for a spin, or watch the model boats sailing on the lake.
Monte Carlo Motor Rally
The world’s oldest car race.
For more information, call 92-16-61-66
Usually in mid-January.
Fête de la Chandeleur (Candlemas)
Basilique St-Victor, Marseille
A celebration in honor of the arrival in Marseille of the three Marys. A procession brings the Black Virgin up from the crypt of the abbey.
For more information, call 04-91-13-89-00
Féria Pascale (Easter Bullfighting Festival)
This is a major bullfighting event that includes not only appearances by the greatest matadors but also abrivados and bodegas (wine stalls).
For more information, call 04-90-18-41-20
Festival des Musiques d’Aujourd’hui (Festival of Contemporary Music)
This festival presents the works of very young French and European composers in music and dance.
For more information, call Experimental Music Groups of Marseille at tel. 04-91-39-29-00
April 29 to May 12.
La Fête des Gardians (Camargue Cowboys’ Festival) Arles This event features a procession of Camargue cowboys through the streets of town. Activities feature various games involving bulls, including Courses Camarguaises, in which competitors have to snatch a rosette from between the horns of a bull. For information, call 04-90-18-41-20
Cannes Film Festival
Movie madness transforms this city into the kingdom of the media-related deal, with daily melodramas acted out in cafes, on sidewalks, and in hotel lobbies. Great for voyeurs. Reserve early and make a deposit. Getting a table on the Carlton terrace is even more difficult than procuring a room. Admission to some of the prestigious films is by invitation only. There are box-office tickets for the less important films, which play 24 hours.
For information, contact the Direction du Festival International du Film, 99 bd. Malesherbes, 75008 Paris (tel. 01-45-61-66-00; fax 01-42-66-68-85)
Two weeks before the festival, the event’s administration moves en masse to the Palais des Festivals, esplanade Georges-Pompidou, 06400 Cannes (tel. 04-93-39-01-01)
Early to mid-May.
Monaco Grand Prix
Hundreds of cars race through the narrow streets and winding corniche roads in a surreal blend of high-tech machinery and medieval architecture. For more information, call 01-42-96-12-23.
May 13 to 16.
Le Pélerinage des Gitans (Gypsies’ Pilgrimage)
This festival is in memory of the two Marys for whom the town is named (Mary, the mother of James the lesser, and Mary Salome, the mother of James the greater and John). A model boat containing statues of the saints and a statue of St. Sarah, patron saint of Gypsies, is taken to the seashore and blessed by the bishop.
For more information, call 04-90-97-82-55
Last week of May.
Festival de la St-Eloi (St. Eloi Festival)
For this festival, wagons are decorated and raced in the Carreto Ramado, followed by mass, a procession in traditional dress, and a benediction. Special events are held and local produce and handcrafts sold.
For more information, 04-90-54-52-04
Festival Aix en Musique (“Aix in Music” Festival)
Concerts of classical music and choral singing are held in historic buildings, such as the Cloisters of the Cathédrale St-Sauveur and the Hôtel Maynier d’Oppède.
For more information, call 04-42-21-69-69
Festival d’Expression Provençale (Festival of Provençal Language)
Abbaye St-Michel de Frigolet, Tarascon
At this festival, homage is paid to the region’s language with works by Provençal writers that are acted in French and Provençal.
For more information, call 04-90-95-50-77
Late June to early July.
Reconstitution Historique (Historical Pageant)
Salon-de-Provence This pageant held in honor of Nostradamus includes a cast of 700 in historical costume and is followed by a son-et-lumière at the Château d’Empéri.
For more information, call 04-90-56-77-92
Late June to early July.
St-Guilhem Music Season
St-Guilhem le Désert, Languedoc
This festival of baroque organ and choral music is held in a medieval monastery.
For information, call 04-67-63-14-99
July to early August.
Festival International d’Art Lyrique et de Musique d’Aix
(Aix International Festival of Opera and Music)
Palais de l’Archévèche and Cathédrale St-Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence
This highly prestigious festival presents operas, particularly of Mozart, as well as concerts and recitals.
For more information, call 04-42-17-34-34
Celebrating the birth of modern-day France, the festivities in the south reach their peak in Nice with street fairs, pageants, fireworks, and feasts. The day begins with a parade down promenade des Anglais and ends with fireworks in the Vieille Ville. No matter where you are, by the end of the day you’ll hear Piaf warbling “La Foule” (The Crowd), the song that celebrated her passion for the stranger she met and later lost in a crowd on Bastille Day.
Similar celebrations also take place in Cannes, Arles, Aix, Marseille, and Avignon.
Nuit Taurine (Nocturnal Bull Festival)
At this festival, the focus is on the age-old allure of bulls and their primeval appeal to roaring crowds. Abrivados involve bulls in the town square as “chaperoned” by trained herders on horseback; encierros highlight a Pamplona-style stampeding of bulls through the streets. Music from local guitarists and flaming torches add drama.
For more information, call 04-90-92-05-22
Grand Parade du Jazz (Nice Jazz Festival)
This is the biggest, flashiest, and most prestigious jazz festival in Europe, with world-class entertainers. Concerts begin in early afternoon and go on until late at night (sometimes all night in the clubs) on the Arènes de Cimiez, a hill above the city. Reserve hotel rooms way in advance.
For information, contact the Grand Parade du Jazz, c/o the Cultural Affairs Department of the city of Nice (tel. 04-93-92-82-82; fax 04-93-92-82-85)
This musical event par excellence features everything from Gregorian chant to melodies composed on computerized synthesizers. The audience sits on the sloping lawns of the 14th-century papal palace for operas and concertos. Local recitals are performed in the medieval cloister of the Cathédrale St-Sauveur. Make advance hotel reservations and take a written confirmation with you when you arrive. Expect heat, crowds, and traffic.
For more information, contact the Festival International d’Art Lyrique et de Musique, Palais de l’Ancien Archévèche, 13100 Aix-en-Provence (tel. 04-42-17-34-34; fax 04-42-63-13-74)
Mid- to late July.
Les Chorégies d’Orange
One of southern France’s most important lyric festivals presents oratorios and choral works by master performers whose voices are amplified by the ancient acoustics of France’s best-preserved Roman amphitheater. For more information, call 04-90-34-24-24
Mid-July to early August.
One of France’s most prestigious theater events, this world-class festival has a reputation for exposing new talent to critical acclaim. The focus is usually on avant-garde works in theater, dance, and music by groups from around the world. Mime, too. Make hotel reservations early. For information, 04-90-82-65-11 or fax 04-90-82-95-03. Edwards and Edwards can order tickets to virtually any of the musical or theatrical events at the Avignon festival, as well as other cultural events throughout France. Its address is 1270 Ave. of the Americas, Suite 2414, New York, NY 10020 (tel. 800/223-6108)
Mid- to late July.
Festival de Marseille Méditerranée
This festival features concerts and recitals of music and song from the entire Mediterranean region. Theater and dance are also presented, along with special exhibitions in the city’s main museums.
For more information, call 04-91-99-00-20 or fax 04-91-99-00-22
Second 2 weeks in July.
Fête de la St-Eloi (Feast of St. Eloi)
Some hundred draft horses draw a procession of traditional flower-decked wagons. Folk troupes also perform.
For more information, call 04-42-32-18-44
Fêtes Daudet (Daudet Festival)
At this festival, mass said in Provençal is held in the avenue of pine trees. There’s folk dancing outside Daudet’s mill and a torchlight procession through the streets of town to the mill.
For more information, 04-90-54-67-49
Féria de St-Rémy (Bullfights)
This event features a 4-day celebration of bulls with abrivado and encierro (see the Nuit Taurine entry above), branding, and Portuguese bull fighting (matadors on horseback).
For more information, call 04-90-92-05-22
Fête des Olives (Olive Festival)
A mass is held in honor of the green olives. There’s a procession of groups in traditional costume, an olive tasting, and sales of regional produce.
For more information, call 04-90-47-56-58
Féria des Prémices du Riz (Rice Harvest Festival)
Bullfights are held in the amphitheater with leading matadors, and a procession of floats makes its way along boulevard des Lices; there are also traditional events with cowboys and women in regional costume.
For more information, 04-90-18-41-20
Journée de l’Olivier en Provence (Day Celebrating the Olive in Provence)
This event is attended by producers of olive oil, Marseille soap, olive-wood articles, booksellers, and pottery and earthenware makers. Special events are held in the history center.
For more information, call 04-90-56-27-60
Perpignan Jazz Festival
Musicians from everywhere jam in what many visitors consider Languedoc’s most appealing season.
For more information, call 04-68-66-30-30
Marché aux Santons
Craftspersons from throughout Provence congregate in this medieval village to sell their santons (carved representations of saints).
For more information, call 04-90-91-22-96 or fax 04-90-91-03-52
Four days in late November. This event is supplemented, sometimes with the same sellers, who move to the Foire aux Santons in Marseille, held between November 27 and December 31.
For more information, call 04-91-13-89-00 or fax 04-91-13-89-20.
Fête des Bergers (Shepherds Festival)
This festival features a procession of herds on their way to winter pastures. There are cowboys, a Carreto Ramado, a blessing of the horses, an all-night Provençal party with shepherds and Provençal storytellers, and folk troupes.
For more information, call 04-42-55-51-15
First 2 weeks in December.
Foire de Noël
Hundreds of merchants, selling all manner of Christ- mas ornaments and gifts, descend on Mougins in Provence, to herald in the Christmas spirit. December 11 and 12.
A traditional midnight mass, including the pastrage ceremony, the presentation of a new-born lamb. There’s a procession of folk troupes, Camargue cowboys, and women in traditional costume from Daudet’s mill to the church, followed by the presentation of the lamb.
For more information, call 04-90-54-67-49
Noël Provençal (Provençal Christmas)
Eglise St-Vincent, Les Baux
The procession of shepherds is followed by a traditional midnight mass, including the pastrage ceremony, traditional songs, and performance of a nativity play.
For more information, call 04-90-54-40-20
Fête de St-Sylvestre (New Year’s Eve)
Along the Riviera, it’s most boisterously celebrated in Nice’s Vieille Ville around place Garibaldi. At midnight, the city explodes. Strangers kiss strangers, and place Masséna and promenade des Anglais become virtual pedestrian malls.
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