Marseille is France’s second largest city. It’s a sprawling city, spread out over 241 square kilometers. It’s also a beach city, and in the summer months people dress in a casual, laid-back style that would stand out in Paris but that seems quite normal in Marseille. Part of the Marseille lifestyle consists in grabbing an hour or so at the beach – midday at lunchtime or at the end of the day.
A short walk from the Vieux Port in downtown Marseille is Les Catalans, a horseshoe shaped beach with fine white sand. A group of fishermen from Catalonia arrived in the area in the 17th century and settled in an abandoned infirmary. (For trivia fans: the area is featured in chapter 3 of Alexandre Dumas’ “Count of Monte Cristo” entitled “Les Catalans). By the end of the 19th century the waterfront had been developed and the fishermen had departed, but their name was left behind.
For a while Les Catalans was a private beach, but that changed in 2003 and the beach is now free and open to the public. The result is that it can be very crowded in the heart of the summer, although the police are on hand to control the number of people allowed on the beach at any one time. Outside of peak hours and peak season, the beach is a lovely place to swim, gaze out over the blue water and blue sky and admire the Iles de Frioul in the distance.
We happened by the Plage des Catalans a few days ago on a lovely September day. Warm sun, a slight breeze and the wonderful Mediterranean light. We stopped in at a little restaurant – Le Romarin – on the nearby rue César Aleman. It was an authentic neighborhood eatery with a wood-burning oven. The server brought a bottle of chilled water and some tapenade as we studied the daily menu. We chose a brochette de magret de canard accompanied by a gratin de courgettes. The duck was cooked perfectly, the service excellent. With a coffee, the bill came to 14 €. All the dishes at Le Romarin are “fait maison,” and naturally they serve pizza as well.
The bus number 83 runs from the Vieux Port along the Corniche, (the road overlooking the water) with one beach after another, starting with Les Catalans. This is also the terminus for the bus number 54, which runs from Castellane in the city center.
39, rue César Aleman