Marseille: A spectacular summer full of art, history and sports

Marseille, the effervescent and sunny seaside city, is preparing for a summer like no other. As the 2024 European Capital of Sport and host city for the Olympic sailing events, it is preparing for an explosive season of art, history, sport and general celebration! And hotel Lou Calen, located just 1 hour 15 minutes by car from Marseille city centre, is an ideal place to recharge your batteries before or after your urban getaway.

Travel back in time

A thousand-year-old city, Marseille has an exceptional historical heritage. The Vieux Port (the old port) is the beating heart of the old city, lined with traditional buildings such as the town hall and the Palais de la Bourse. Just a stone’s throw away are the two towers of the Saint-Victor Abbey – a landmark in the Marseille landscape. This 12th century monument is a perfect example of paleo-Christian art, with its crypts, chapels and various sarcophagi. By climbing the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde hill, you will discover the famous basilica church by the same name, which also offers a breathtaking view of the bay and the Mediterranean coast. Built between 1853 and 1864, this Roman-Byzantine style basilica is topped with a golden statue of the Virgin Mary.

Marseille is also surrounded by forts, which bear witness to its rich military past. Fort Saint-Jean, located at the entrance to the old port, is an excellent place for a wander through, with its gardens and seasonal exhibitions. Fort Saint-Nicolas, an imposing 17th century building, offers a breathtaking view of the sea. In the centre of the city harbour, close to the islands of Ratonneau and Pomègues, you can see (and visit by boat) the Château d’If, a former prison built in the 16th century, made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”.
Founded by the Phoenicians in the 6th century BC, Marseille is one of the oldest cities in France. To learn more about the city’s ancient history, visit the archaeological site of Saint-Blaise, which houses the remains of a Roman city with Greek influence. Furthermore, lovers of 20th century architecture and design will be delighted by a visit to the Cité radieuse that celebrates Le Corbusier – a true masterpiece within the modern movement.

Delve into the city’s art and culture

Marseille is a true treasure trove for those in search of art and culture. The Mucem, (museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations) offers a rich and varied programme, with stunning temporary exhibitions and permanent installations that explore the links between the people of the Mediterranean through history.

Contemporary art lovers must not miss the FRAC Sud, which exhibits works by emerging and established artists, or the Château Borély, which houses the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de la Faïence et de la Mode (Museum of Decorative Arts, Earthenware and Fashion), the Cantini Museum, which presents a collection of modern and contemporary art, and the [mac], the contemporary art museum, which reopened its doors in 2023. Photography is also top of the menu at the Marseille Photographic Centre, offering exhibitions, workshops and photographer-led conferences.

For an artistic experience off the beaten track, several options are available to you: The Friche de L’Escalette, an alternative venue which hosts exhibitions, performances and site-specific installations; The Centre de la Vieille Charité, a former hospice converted into a cultural centre, which houses the Museum of Archaeology and the official history of Marseille as well as temporary exhibitions; La Friche la Belle de Mai, a huge 45,000 m2 space dedicated to contemporary artistic creation, bringing together 70 installations, structures, performance and exhibition halls.

A great symbol of Marseille culture is the Orange Orange Vélodrome stadium. It is the legendary home of the football team l’Olympique de Marseille, (l’OM) – and an essential stopover for fans of the beautiful game.

The very best of city strolls

Marseille can also be discovered through its streets and squares. Place Castellane, set in the heart of the newer part of the city, is dominated by a monumental stone fountain and then surrounded by traditional Parisian-style resident buildings. It is the ideal place to observe everyday life in Marseille, while sitting at a café  terrace or strolling between the shops.

The Panier district, the oldest in the city, is a labyrinth of colourful and picturesque streets, bursting with artisan shops, art galleries and traditional restaurants. This is the ideal area to get lost and wander about Marseille.

Don’t miss the Vieux-Port (city’s old port) either, lined with busy boats on the quays, and lively restaurants and bars. Why not join in the traditional fish auction, while admiring the seaside sport and the larger fishing vessels, all the while admiring the breathtaking sunsets.

A true symbol of the modern shifting transformation of Marseille, the Joliette district is an exciting spot for Marseille residents and tourists. Formerly an industrial section of the port, it has become a modern and dynamic place to visit, like the Docks, a unique architectural conglomeration that attracts many people every day.

Take a beach break

After a morning of cultural discoveries, there’s nothing like taking the time to relax – so why not try one of Marseille’s many beaches? Lovers of fine sand and turquoise waters can relax on the Prado beaches, a long spread of sand (ideal for families), or the Pointe-Rouge with its breathtaking view of the Friou islands, or the Goudes beach, a small fishing village at the beginning of the Calanques cliffs, which still enjoys its old-world charm.

For a more exotic experience, why not venture into the Calanques themselves – these are deep rocky coves with crystal clear waters set in the midste of limestone cliffs. Water sports are widely available – from kayaking, paddle boarding, or simply hiking to enjoy the idyllic setting. The Calanque de Sugiton, accessible by boat or by a hiking trail, is one of the wildest in Marseille; the Calanques of Morgiou and Sormiou are lovely, and easily accessible by car; but to take full advantage, why not arrive by sea? The local boat trips can take you where you’d like to go. The most spectacular cove by far is the Calanque d’En-Vau, which is accessible only by boat, or by a steep hiking trail.

An Olympic summer

From July 26th to August 11th, 2024, Marseille will dance to the rhythm of the Olympic Games. The city will host the official sailing events, which will take place across the bay of Marseille. This will undoubtedly be a series of exceptional events with moments of intense emotion and unity! 

In addition to the official sporting events, the Olympic Games will be an opportunity to discover Marseille in a different light. A colourful programme of concerts, shows and activities will be organised throughout the city, to ensure that an unforgettable summer is had by all. At 7pm on May 8th, the Olympic Flame will enter Marseille’s Old Port from the Belem, France’s second largest sailing ship.

Marseille, a multifaceted and modern city, is ready to seduce with its cultural vigour, its fascinating history and its exceptionally diverse setting. The city is best visited on foot, taking time to stroll through the streets and neighbourhoods while soaking up its unique atmosphere. Summer 2024 is the ideal time to discover the thrill of Marseille and experience unique moments at the heart of the Olympic Games.