Marseilles: Leave the Tourist in You Behind

Marseilles, despite its attractive location in southern France, is not the type of place you choose for idyllic vacation spot – especially if you can’t speak a lick of French.

The city’s buildings are obscured with graffiti while the streets are littered with trash. The people are loud, rowdy even. Shrewd as they are, they know the stench of tourist and seem to gravitate away from it.

Not all is as it seems.

Make the effort of a simple greeting – “bonjour” – and you’ll quite literally see a frown turn upside down. There’s nothing like a tourist willing to make an effort and blend in to the locals. This effort is not unrewarded. The graffiti, previously seen as filth, holds more meaning than you thought possible.

If you’re willing to truly live like the locals and “brave” the public transportation, even more surprises await.

An hour out of the heart of Marseilles resides the Calanques – their equivalent of a national park. It’s really a game of “pick your own adventure”. You’ll choose Sugiton, no doubt. It’s the path of least resistance with the greatest reward.

Prepare yourself: you’re going to be walking into a literal postcard.

Any dread at the thought of having an uphill hike on the way back dissipates as you take in the sheer beauty of the Calanque de Sugiton. The rock formations create a small inlet leading to a small natural beach, perfect for a picnic lunch. A packed meal of chicken salad becomes five star cuisine because with this scenery, how could it not be?

Later, back in the heart of the city, you reflect on Marseilles. It still is not the ideal vacation spot. When night falls, the city feels unsafe. The people blend into the poorly-lit streets and your heart pounds because you are a tourist in a relatively unknown city – a woman at that. Still, even as you buzz into the hostel that you call home for the weekend, you feel a sense of respect for the resilience the city has.

Marseilles commands you to shed your comfort – Yelp only gave this restaurant three stars…let’s keep walking? – in exchange for experiencing the city like a local, even if it’s only for a day or two.

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