The seaside has especially developed on the southern coast of the town, maybe because of the late sun rays. Marseilles and tourists follow the sun. The distance between the Vieux Port to the Callelongue is the busiest, even in winter or when the Mostral blows ; indeed, when the shoreline is whipped by the waves, picture hunters are out.
You can preview it from the sea, taking a boat at the Vieux Port to the Pointe Rouge and to the Goudes. Other shuttles go to l’Estaque, northern shore or to the calanques.
On the south, the town center has its beach, a few minutes away on foot or by bus (n°54, n°83, n° 583) : les Catalans, at the end of the boulevard Charles Livon, after the jardin du Pharo and next to the world famous Cercle des Nageurs (CNM).
In the 15th century, the place was away as it was isolated by the rocky coast (the bd Charles Livon was created in the 19th century). There was here the lazaretto or ‘Infirmeries Vieilles’. After the terrible 1720 plague, catalan fishermen settled there. (from 1423, there was a catalan invasion and a few of them settled in the town). This place was then named « les Catalans ». These fishermen lived in barracks, huts or warehouses lived by smuggling and illicit trafficking (wine, tobacco, …), but they sold the best fishes. That’s why, in 1790, the municipality recognized they were useful. Later, these fishermen settled in the Vallon des Auffes and as time goes by, they mixed with the population.
Then, les Catalans became a fashionable place, probably because of the proximity of the Palais Impérial (the Palais du Pharo), built in 1855, for the Empress Eugénie. There were a few factories and some port projects. But Napoléon III chose to built a big port at the north of the town (Joliette et Estaque).
Today, the beach is very appreciated, especially since it is free and open to the public. Go on mornings or during school hours to feel less surrounded… or early in the mornings to see the fishing boats coming back to the port. It is daily cleaned and supervised ; washrooms and showers available. The beach-volley court, created in 1949, by the Cercle des Nageurs, is still very popular. The view on the sea and its islands is actually the main attraction here. You can also see cruise ships leaving to Corsica or Northern Africa. And to enjoy the view even longer, go and eat at the restaurant « Pizzeria des Catalans » ! (a few meters away from the sand/ big window bays).
On the beach there is a refreshment bar. You can also enjoy free aquagym lessons. In winter, the traditional 1st of January bathing is organized by the Cercle des Nageurs and opened to everyone.
boulevard Charles Livon, le Cercle is one of the symbol of the town. It is where great swimming and water-pole champions train : Florent Manaudou, Camille Lacour, Fabien Gilot, Medhi Metella, Giacomo Pérez Dortona.
Le Cercle was created, in 1921, by a former swimmer, Fernand David (architect : Picornell). Paul Leccia is the president since 1990. The first basin built in 1932 was filled with sea water, outside. (it was destriyed during the war). Since then, three basins were built : the 50m covered olympic basin, a winter basin and a summer one, of 25m each. The CNM invest for youth (your children can go and train from 8 years-old).
The « cercle » has 4200 members, rather wealthy as the membership fees are important. You also have to be sponsored by two members. But inside, according to Paul Leccia, it is a family atmosphere. Anyway, the circular glazed restaurant is opened to everyone and the food is good. The view on the sea is also very pleasant.
Members of the club can use : swimming basins, SPA, sauna, weigh room, aquagym classes, a shop, a club house lounge, Beach Volley court, seminar rooms, supervised car park.
It starts at the beginning of the beach of les Catalans and goes up to the cove of the Prado, on 5 kilometers. At the origin, it was a rocky coast which was very difficult to access. Between 1848 and 1863, two viaducts were built (the Vallon des Auffes and the Fausse Monnaie) and a path was traced ; the mayor Gaston Defferre enlarged it between 1954 and 1968. In 1963, after the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the Corniche took his name.
This Pharaonic building is the backbone of the seaside, one of the most loved place in Marseille as it is a paradise for joggers, bikers, fishermen, lovers of beauty and fresh air. You can rest on the world’s longest bench : a 2km long concrete bench was built over the rocks. Motorists use the Corniche, enjoying a Sunday ride. But from the buses, you can look at the panorama longer (N° 83, 54, 583).
The fishermen barracks were destoyed to be replaced by luxurious houses. The Château Valmer is a good example or the ’île Degaby, facing the Marégraphe, and the restaurant Passédat, du Petit Nice. The Roucas Blanc gets much envy with its rich buildings, great hotels such as Ruhl, and near the cove of the Prado, the hôtel Pullman Marseille Palm Beach.
But here, everything is attractive : space, panorama on the beaches and the sea, the colors, the Mistral, the islands : Pomègues and Ratonneau (archipel du Frioul), the Château d’If, the île Degaby, the far and mysterious île de Planier, both dangerous for boats and paradise of the divers.
After the beach of the Catalans, on the left on the Corniche Kennedy, don’t forget to go to the Vallon des Auffes, not really visible if you drive as it is nestled in a cove. An asphalt road is the perfect place for you to park, otherwise, there is the « l’Escalier du Vallon des Auffes » marked by an old wrought iron sign. This valley was called after the Provençal word « auffo = alfa », which are graminaceous plants which were used by the “auffiers” to produce cords and nets.
This narrow cove is one of the most picturesque part of the town, with 50 fishermen barracks and their multicolored rowboats (so-called « pointus »=pointed). Under a 17m high bridge, the port is only 60m wide, but it sufficient to admire the sea, the rowboats come and go, the kayakers, the far Massif de la Nerthe, and above all the wonderful sunsets of our Mediterranean sea.
To enjoy this, come and sit at the restaurant « Chez Jeannot » created in 1947 ; you can taste pizzas and shells. Or go up to « Chez Fonfon » (created in 1952), the great specialist of the bouillabaisse where you could even sleep for a night or a week in « le Cabanon de Fonfon » (studios wonderfully organized, small space/ very modern / view on the creek). Even further, facing the sea, « L’Epuisette », another specialist of the bouillabaisse, the bourride, grilled lobster (gastronomic cooking and diligent service).
On the Corniche, look at the « Monument aux Morts de l’Armée d’Orient et des Terres Lointaines », by Gaston Castel, in 1927. This is a historical monument since 2011. It evokes the first world war : under an arch (with a star and a crescent) facing the sea, an elegant feminine silhouette made of bronze raises her arms in the air ; each side of the arch represents the stone sculpture of a winged woman who walks to victory, followed by armed soldiers.
On the huge explanade, you are exposed to the sea winds and to contemplation.
A few meters after the Vallon des Auffes, at the n°110 of the Corniche J.F.Kennedy, you will find an entrance which looks like the entrance of a house. If you look up you can see a wrought iron signboard : « Anse de Malmousque ». This way, you enter the country’s wonders of the sea through a maze of steep narrow streets, with suggestive or funny names : « rue va à la calanque », « traverse de la fausse monnaie », « rue des pêcheurs »…
You will go down to a fishing port as big as a handkerchief, full of colorful « pointus » and high and narrow houses façades. Regulars know the area ; they walk on a small ledge along the creek to go swimming (no beach, yu have to dive), enjoy a sunbath or relax facing the sea, whatever the season. Other narrow streets go up to the militarized zone, occupied by legionnaires. It is actually a resting place for permissionnaries. There is a bath for servicemen and their families, on n° 16 chemin du Génie.
You walk to the « l’anse de Maldormé » limited on one side with the peninsula of Malmousque. On its peak there is a splendid white and yellow ochre bastide. A small beach is available. Then, a narrow ledge circumvents « le Petit Nice » leads you to the luxuous restaurant of Gérald Passédat, top chef. In front of you, the les Roches Blanches (white rocks) go down to the sea.
A gentle sloping shore and you will be under the bridge of the Fausse Monnaie (it was called after a Greek phrase which means « lonely depth »). Another small fishing port awaits you. It is very small, with rowboats and small perched houses. A kayak and catamaran club has opened here. If you go on climbing, you will be on the Corniche, next to the Vallon des Auffes.
Malmousque is a special place where the calmness encourages you to look for a private accomodation, in the fishermen barracks. To live there for a few days is perfect to discover the walking paths around.
(n°174 Corniche Kennedy).
It is an important place known by few people, as it is a small building. It can be easily found thanks to the peninsula of the Malmousque and “le Petit Nice”.
It indicates the zero altitude calculated in 1897, after an extended series of measurements done for 13 years, between 1884 and 1897. The zero altitude is marked by a rivet made of bronze, platinum and iridium (white metal very hard and breakable, its melting point is 2410°) sealed in a granite block which is itself inserted in a rock.
Measures are still taken regularly. They are interesting for the scientists and experts in marine science to work on the movements of the ocean.
The height of the Mont Blanc (4808,73 m. recalcuted in 2015) is calculated from this zero altitude.
(Autobus n° 83)
Only sandy beach before the beach of the Prado. It is not difficult to see it : it can be seen from the Corniche above, when you come from the town. Its name is a mystery. (Explanations were given but none of them sounds to be convincing).
It is a municipal beach made of two coves, supervised from 9 am to 6 pm, daily cleaned, showers, washing accommodation and snack bar are available. There are less people in the morning ; divers go underwater fishing behind the embankment which protects the beach from the waves (where it is not supervised).
« le Prophète » is too populated on afternoons. Indeed, families come with their children ; youth play ball games or volley ball on the court. The municipal police manages the leisure center for disadvantaged teenagers.
The small ones can wade in the natural baths in front of the embankment. One of the cove is less crowded because of the rocks.
Sit on the sand, take your time to observe la Corniche you can see on a long distance this monumental project (built from 1954 to 1968). But to have a magnificent view, go up the Roucas Blanc (= white rock, in Provençal language). To access this privileged and intimate place, climb the « escalier du Prophète », the « Montée de la Napoule or the « Montée de la Rotonde ». One of the best view points is on the « Montée du Plateau ». From there, you will see all the sea, from the massif de Marseilleveyre to the Massif de la Nerthe. On strong wind days, you will clearly see the islands (Degagy, the closest one, le Frioul, Planier on the horizon) and all the beaches of the Prado until the Pointe Rouge. In Summers, wonderful sunsets, different every day, seem to last forever over the horizon.
Inhabitants complain about the noise ; indeed, after 7 pm, families or youth come to the beach to eat and play music. Beach parties are also organized on Thursday from 6pm to 2 am.
A collective of defenders of the seaside wants it to close after 10.30 pm.
In Provencal language, the « roucas blanc » means the white rock. You need to see the pictures of this place at its origin to understand its name. It is an extension of the colline de la Garde into the sea ; rocky, desert and wild area. In 1789, There was on the Roucas Blanc a path of customs officials and fishermen houses. In the 19th century, where the Prado is traced, from the place Castellane to the boulevard Périer, streets and houses disappeared. People are displaced to Saint Charles, the Porte d’Aix, Endoume and the Roucas blanc. The latter then developed and rich industrials built luxurious masterhouses which will become summer residences, such as the Château Valmer.
Today the rock is a marvelous maze sculpted by man, made of narrow and winding little streets, of stairways, adorned with a lush and perfumed vegetation. Its highest point is facing the Vierge de la Garde and overlooks the port of Marseille.
This place is also very appreciated by politicians, and became one of the most expensive of the Phocean city. Houses are sold at high costs. But don’t deprive yourself of a walk in this district as it is unique in its diversity. By car, take the « chemin du Vallon de l’Auriol », after the la plage du Prophète, on the right (follow « ville ») then « l’avenue des Roches » and finally « Chemin du Roucas Blanc ». You arrive at the feet of the « Bonne Mère ».
(Bus n° 83 et n° 19)
The actual beaches of the Prado were created in 1970, under Gaston Defferre, Mayor of Marseille, are on 20 hectares from the sea.
At the origin, the seaside was a wild place, made of swampy and unhealthy terrains where there were rubbish drained by the Huveaune and the Jarret. As a first step the Prado was traced in 1839, (right-angular shaped, Prado 1 et 2 on 3,4km), after the creation of the rue de Rome and the place Castellane. Then le tram was created in 1875. Finally, in 1891, 240 km of collectors were built. The Prado then progressively abandoned its status as a public wasteland.
The beaches were shaped with the remains of the tunnelling of the 1 and 2 undergrounds. Today, Marseilles enjoy them with their 5 ha of lawns and wooded areas. From the Corniche Kennedy, there are successively the beaches of the Roucas Blanc, David, Huveaune, Borély, Bonneveine, Vieille Capelle, Pointe Rouge.
On the Roucas Blanc you can admire the « le Bateau ivre » (by Jean Amado) dedicated for Arthur Rimbaud who died in Marseille in 1891. Travelling along it, you overlook the sea and the Centre Municipal de Voile. This wooded and hilly area is the ideal place to stroll.
The plage de David is at the end of the second Prado, facing the statue of David from Michelangelo (it is a copy). It is a few meters away from the Parc Borély, the most crowded garden in Marseille and it is in front of the Hippodrome created in 1860, and restored in 1990 (with a superb Panoramic Restaurant of 400 seats. Another remarkable building is the recent hotel « Villa Massalia » (entrance on the n° 168 rue Clôt Bey).
The plage de l’Huveaune is restricted to kitesurfs and windsurfing, as it is exposed to winds and there are waves. The kayak club is on the n° 109 avenue Pierre Mendès France, don’t hesitate to ask them for sea excursions.
The most crowded one is the Escale Borély ; there are many restaurants near the sea, areas for young and old (big wheel, bungee jumping, trampoline, merry-go-round), shops, artisanal ice creams of the gelateria. At the end of the beach, the mythical Skateboard Pro Bowl still attracts so many people, especially for the final of the Word Cup (Sosh Freestyle Cup). The beach offers its space to the « fête de la musique » (concert), fireworks of the 14th of July, as well as the « Coupe de foot de plage” or the very particular show “Spectacle Ballet” with 3 mechanical excavators and 6 dancers (may 2013)… On sunsets, there are sometimes Beach Parties from 6 pm.
The plage de la Vieille chapelle was called after a chapel wich is today disappeared. At the top of a mound covered with lawns there is a curious monument made of steel called « Les sept portes de Jérusalem » (the seven gates of Jerusalem) (by David Soussana). Traditional bowlers like to meet there and eat grilled meats on summer evenings. This rocky beach where the fishes abound attracts fishermen.
La Pointe Rouge is very popular and authentic, with its natural beach children and parents love. It is supervised until 7 pm. The place is clean (showers and washing areas/ free lockers). There are also many shops : restaurants (including pizzas) directly on the beach. On the avenue, the artisanal gelateria is always busy ; fishing shops and shops selling beach items, and many other shops.
On the seashore there is a marina since 1974 ; a 1800 spaces car park is available outdoor. On the port of the pointe Rouge, next to the big fishermen pier, there are a lot of nautical activities such as sailing, diving, rowing, kayak, paddle, Polynesian pirogue…
From 2012, there is a shuttle between the Vieux port to the Pointe Rouge, between the 25th of April and to 27th of September (5€/ or free access with the Transpass card/ every hour) ; Another shuttle goes from the Pointe Rouge to the Goudes.
After the Pointe Rouge, towards the Goudes and the Callelongue, you cross Montredon, typical little district of Marseille with bars and shops. The small beaches and creeks are more difficult to access, as they are rocky or small sandy areas ; they are very demanded as they are less crowded.
Further, there is the Madrague and its small fishing port (called after the time when there was tuna fishing). Today, the inhabitants are grieving the sailor Florence Arthaud ; she was living there for ten years (who died in March 2015 after the collision between two helicopters, during the shooting of a reality show in Argentina).
Then starts the wild coast (at the west end of the Massif de Marseilleveyre/ 438 m high) which will lead you to the end of the town. Stop in the long and narrow callanque of Samena. You cane at at the « Tamaris » (at the feet of the Mont Rose) very intimate in its loneliness, overlooking the sea, huge and romantical on evenings under the vintage lights (terroir cuisine and pizza on wood fires). It is a paradise for divers. Longs walks can be made on the Mont Rose (86 m high) which stretches up to the seaside (the ascension starts behind the restaturant). The view on Marseille is the rewards for hikers. It was called in 1750, when the Chevalier Roze (who distinguished himself during the 1720 plague), bought a part of the mountain. Today the Army owns the Mont Rose (marine radio centre since 1949/ weather forecast and medical radio).
Walking on the wild path, you will arrive in the small port of the Escalette, very original with its oval shape, with a very welcoming restaurant with bay windows. You will se the Fort de l’Escalette. In 1990, the premises were still occupied by the military navy. The Germans use dit during the first world war to bomb Aubagne.
The former lead processing plant can also be seen.
The winding road along the rocky coast finally leads you to the Goudes, near the calanques, a paradise for fishermen, divers and restaurants. It is a small traditional Marseille port face the île de Maïre and the île de Tiboulin. Before 1990, these premises were said to be a haven for crooks. Today, this bourgeoise district is very expensive. If you want to taste seafood specialties, go and see Didier (« l’Esplaï » or « Bar de Goudes »). Dishes are prepared depending on the fresh food available. You will be proposed either lobsters, soles, wolffish, anglerfish, mullet, palamide (=small tuna), ... Of course you can also eat Bouillabaisse or Bourride.
If you cross the only road in the Goudes, you reach a free car park. On your left, there is a hiking path on which you can visit the blockhouse of the Goudes, vestige of the second world war. You will have a wonderful view on the sea and on the ’île de Maïre that looks like an iceberg which is too close of your boat … On your right, a steep path will lead you in ten minutes to the end of the world, a little corner of paradise : Port Croisette, a tiny sandy beach protected by an embankment and a restaurant « la Baie des Singes » perched on a rock. After a bath in the clear water and a little rest on the deckchairs, you will taste the sea products of the day. The place can be accessed by the sea. (Previously, children from smuggling families were living here and they mustn’t talk about the activities of their parents. They had to stay as mute as monkeys…)