A general strike against pension reforms in France led to an almost two-hour delay to my flight to Marseille in France. As usual, I rented a car, but to make matters worse and delay my plans even further, it took me some time to find the car hire office. Eventually, I did, and after settling the paperwork, I drove straight to the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde (literally Our Lady of the Guard). After all, it’s only around 30 minutes by car from Marseille Airport. I had read that the views from up there were to die for and that parking was free (probably the only place in the city). In fact, it’s worth making the trip up there just for the breathtaking views alone!
I could only afford a couple of hours in Marseille but they were well-spent as the basilica is the city’s highest point. If you’re very limited for time, as I was, then you must visit Notre-Dame and enjoy the views from the top of the hill. It overlooks the Vieux Port or Old Port area of Marseille and is its most famous landmark, just as the Eiffel Tower is for Paris. In fact, for obvious reasons, the basilica is the most visited tourist destination in Marseille.
Built in the 19th century, the church stands on the site of a 13th century chapel and the foundations of a 16th century fort, remnants of which can still be seen at the base. Inside, the basilica is ornamented with coloured marble, superb Byzantine-style mosaics, and murals depicting ships sailing under the protection of La Bonne Mère (The Good Mother).
The entrance to the cathedral is free but there’s a small fee to visit the cathedral’s museum. Visitor facilities include two gift shops, a café and FREE parking. Most areas are wheelchair accessible – I seem to notice such things nowadays that my Mum is wheelchair-bound! I got there by car but you can also get there by bus from the Vieux Port – it’s just a 20-minute bus ride. If you have the stamina, you can also get there on foot but that takes around one hour of huffing and puffing up the steep hill.
I wish I had more time to walk around the city and view more of the city but I was on a tight schedule and had to ‘make do’ with just the Basilica and surrounding views. I would have loved to stroll around the Vieux Port or visit one of the nearby islands just off the coast or eat ‘ Bouillabaise‘ (a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille) at one of the local restaurants but unfortunately, none of this was possible. Some other time, perhaps!