6 of the best day trips from Marseille

With its electric street life, heady potpourri of diverse neighborhoods and chaotic harbor, this former Greek trading post on the Mediterranean offers endless things to see and do. But the pace of life in bold, cheeky and multicultural Marseille is at full throttle – escaping the sun-scorched city on a day trip can be a breath of fresh air.

Whether it’s an elegant getaway in the chic yin of the coarse yang from Marseille to Aix, a gourmet break among the vineyards by the sea or a cheap romantic flight to some of the most beautiful beaches wild of Provence, there are many places to visit in the surrounding area. Here’s our pick, all less than an hour from downtown Marseille by bus, train or e-bike – no car needed.

Swim in the beautiful pristine coves of the Calanques

The string of clandestine creeks and their wild bathing beaches that adorn the rocky coast to the south-east of Marseille are prized natural assets. Most are only accessible on foot or by sea, ensuring a pristine environment where Bonelli’s eagles soar overhead and Europe’s largest lizards roam in relative peace.

Discover the wealth of flora and fauna protected by the Calanques National Park at Calanque de Sormiou or Calanque de Morgiou. Both are easily accessible by public transport and have a restaurant for lunch (reservation essential!) with views of the heavenly sea. The rugged hiking trail (4 km/2.5 miles) linking the two creeks on tiptoes across maquis (garrigue) in the Massif des Calanques and may be closed from June to September due to the risk of fire; inquire at the Marseille tourist office before leaving.

How to get to the Calanques from Marseille: For Sormiou, take bus 23 from the Rond-Point du Prado metro to the La Cayolle stop, then walk 3 km. For Morgiou, take bus 22 outside the same metro station to Les Baumettes stop, from where you have to walk 4 km.

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Be sure to stroll through the many baroque squares of Aix-en-Provence © RossHelen / Getty Images

Enjoy food and culture in elegant Aix-en-Provence

Meet Marseille’s handsome rival. Meticulously stitched from aristocratic 17th and 18th century mansions, shaded boulevards and moss-covered stone fountains, polished Aix-en-Provence is a fascinating antithesis to gritty Marseille. Ever since the Romans tapped into the hot thermal springs here at Aquae Sextia, living well has been the USP of this college town, cultural hub and foodie destination.

Immerse yourself in a slow and indulgent stroll along Aix’s main avenue, the Cours Mirabeau. Dive south into the Quartier Mazarin, flooded with baroque squares and fountains sculpted since the 17th century: four dolphins spring from the water on the Place des Quatre Dauphins. Dedicate a few hours to masterpieces by Picasso, Léger, Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh and Aix-born Paul Cézanne at the incomparable Granet Museum.

Lunch on black truffles, asparagus, lamb shank simmered in thyme juice and other seasonal Provençal dishes in the period salon or the summer garden of the Jardin Mazarin. Or north, past the independent bookstores and art galleries of the Old Town, to Sauvage, a contemporary bistro serving a single menu – surprise – fed from the market. Do not leave Aix without taking a box of calissons (sweet bites in the shape of a petal, almond and melon) from the historic pastry chef Le Roy René for the return home.

How to get to Aix from Marseille: Count about 45 minutes by bus (LeCar/Cartreize line 50) or by train to Aix center station (not to be confused with Aix TGV station, 15 km from the city).

Presentation of Provence and the French Riviera

Trail Cézanne by electric bike at Montagne Ste-Victoire

Aix-en-Provence is the springboard for electric bike rides in the countryside – a masterpiece of scrubland (herbaceous scrubland), pine forests, silver rock, vineyards and arid land of burnt orange trees famously immortalized on canvas by the post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). The limestone ridge of the Montagne Ste-Victoire was the exalting muse of the painter from Aix. Marked cycle paths and hiking trails encircling the mountain lead you to viewpoints where he set up his easel to paint.

Before hitting the road, shop at Aix’s outdoor food market for bread, goat (goat cheese), spring cherries and other seasonal picnics. Or book a table for an outdoor country lunch at La Place in Puyloubier – its fish mess (fish soup) and sweet melon soup are sublime. Once at cruising speed, don’t miss the Maison de Ste-Victoire, with visit information and exhibitions, in the village of St-Antonin-sur-Bayon.

How to get to Montagne Ste-Victoire from Marseille: Travel from Marseille to Aix as indicated above. The Aix-en-Provence tourist office can provide you with an electric bike or a fat bike, with an accompanied or free itinerary. Romantics in search of Audrey Hepburn glamor can soak up the scenery from a vintage sidecar with Aix-based La Belle Échappée.

A row of pastel colored houses on a busy harbor seen from the water
Relax at a café in the port of Cassis before visiting the nearby vineyards © Xantana / Getty Images

Go wine tasting in the pretty fishing village of Cassis

With its crystal clear waters, white coves cradled by cliffs and views of the rocky Cap Canaille cutting across the blue Chinese sky, the fishing village of Cassis is straight out of a picture book. Linger with an aperitif on a café terrace overlooking the masts of colliding yachts or over the catch of the day at the harbor fishmonger’s restaurant Poissonnerie Laurent, and all seems well in the world.

Exploring the pea-green vineyards that line the hillsides of Cassis has an equally inviting and evasive effect. Cassis is one of the oldest wine appellations in France and the only one to be found in a national park. In the 1920s, Virginia Woolf and other writers from London’s Bloomsbury Set spent the summer here, writing novels and drinking copious amounts of Cassis blanc. Tasting opportunities abound in the village and several wine estates – try Clos Sainte-Madeleine near the old port – welcome visitors. The tourist office can suggest oenological itineraries by electric bike.

How to get to Cassis from Marseille: Regular trains connect Marseille St-Charles and Cassis station (€6.30, 20 minutes), from where local buses continue to the port 3.5 km (2.1 miles) to the south.

Tourists walk past souvenir shops selling postcards and calendars next to the Arenes d'Arles, Roman Amphitheater
Explore the Roman history of Arles in the intact oval-shaped amphitheater © BrasilNut1 / Getty Images

Visit Arles on market day and learn about the Romans and Van Gogh

A day trip to the small town of Arles on Saturday is always a good idea. Its morning market – around 400 street stalls framing 2.5 km (1.5 miles) of old-world golden-hued lanes – is one of the best in Provence. Trestle tables groan with Camargue salt, rice, fresh goat cheese, Arles sausage (air-dried bull sausage), lavender honey and loads of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Tasting (tasting) is part of the sensory experience.

Top-notch art and history await as well. Explore the thrilling, untouched terraces and galleries of Arles’ oval-shaped Roman amphitheater and learn about local Roman history at the Musée Départemental Arles Antique, near the hippodrome where the Romans raced chariots. Coffee break, pastis or lavender ice cream on the terrace of a café under the plane trees of the Place du Forum.

For lunch, buy a sandwich with garlic and AOC Vallée des Baux olive oil from the hole in the wall Fadoli and Fadola and stroll along the banks of the Rhône. Spend the afternoon with Vincent Van Gogh on a Van Gogh themed walking tour – the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist painted over 200 canvases while living in Arles in 1888. If you have the time, the new art center designed by Frank Gehry, Luma Arles caused a sensation. Come dark and magical concerts unfold under the summer stars in the half-ruined Roman Theater.

How to get to Arles from Marseille: Many regional TER trains run between Marseille St-Charles and Arles (€9.90 to €16.30, 45 minutes to one hour).

Embrace the slow life in the old fishing village of Les Goudes

Book this easy trip for a day when the pandemonium of the Marseille metropolis just gets too intense. The gentle fishing hamlet of Les Goudes slumbers on the southern outskirts of the town and this first enchanting panorama of apricot and ocher hues sheds (fishing cabins) in navy blue hues, cradled around a cove is instant balm for the soul. Stroll through quiet, car-free lanes, hunt down hidden street art, and watch fishermen at work.

At noon, follow Marseille’s ultra-cool crowd to the eco-friendly beach club Tuba, with a cocktail bar and restaurant in a 1960s diving club. No sea view is more peaceful than a table perched on the rocks. Traditionalists may prefer lunch at 1920s icon Le Grand Bar des Goudes – its bouillabaisse (local fish stew) is renowned.

After lunch, follow the coastal path to a cluster of fisherman’s huts and seaside huts at Callelongue, nicknamed “the end of the world” (the end of the world). From there, Raskas Kayak organizes sea kayak trips along the coast. Or continue walking 50 minutes (2 km/1.2 miles) to Calanque de Marseilleveyre and its hidden pebble beach, backed by succulent aloe plants and prickly prickly pears. Don’t forget your swimmers.

How to get to Les Goudes from Marseille: Take RTM bus 19 from Rond-Point du Prado metro station to La Madrague de Montredon, then bus 20 to Les Goudes. Shuttle boats, also operated by the RTM, yo-yo between the Old Port of Marseille and Les Goudes in summer. E-scooters, e-bikes, and regular public-sharing city bikes also make the 12 km (7-mile) journey easier.

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