I hadn’t realised that Eurostar run a Summer only service direct from London to Marseilles, and decided a few relaxing days in the South of France were just what the doctor ordered (not literally, though how great would it be if your GP was able to prescribe holidays in the sun on prescription?)
After doing some research I stumbled on the town of La Ciotat, about half an hour East of Marseilles and found a holiday rental that included a private pool and ‘zen garden’. I quickly snapped this up and on Monday 20th May I was up with the lark and at St. Pancras ready for the 07.19 departure.
A one-way ticket was only £57, and I upgraded to Standard Premier using my loyalty points (I’d recommend this if possible as it’s a six and a half hourjourney, so the extra legroom and free food and drinks were very welcome). The route is the same as the London – Paris trains but takes and avoiding route East of Paris city centre and joins the LGV Mediterrannee high speed line to Lyon, Marseilles and the Cote d’Azur just South of the city. I’d travelled this route last August on my way from Paris to Nice, with that train avoiding the main Marseilles station of St Charles and passing through La Ciotat non-stop. My train arrived at St Charles on time and I jumped on the waiting local train to take me along the coast.
My hosts met me at the station and drove me around the town, which was formerly dominated by a shipyard but is slowly turning to the tourist industry as its main form of income. My little flat was perfect, and to have my own garden and pool to relax in was blissful.
Only ten minutes’ walk from the flat was one of the beautiful calanques (rocky inlets with small pebble beaches) that can be found all along this stretch of coastline. I spent a peaceful hour here perched on a rock listening to the waves crash against the shore.
Ten minutes’ walk in the opposite direction is the town centre, and the old port with its bars and restaurants overlooking the yachts (some of a pretty impressive size) moored in the harbour. There’s quite a lively atmosphere here, mainly locals but with some English being spoken by the crews of the super yachts. I found a fantastic small craft beer bar right on the harbour called Le Caps which became my regular haunt. The owner knew his stuff and as well as the six beers on tap, there was delicious saucisson available to snack on. I really don’t think you can go wrong with beer and sausage (unless you’re a teetotal vegetarian, obviously).
The next day I explored the town centre (there was a market on) and walked to the far end of La Ciotat’s coastline, where there are a couple of miles of man-made sandy beaches, including a dog-friendly beach – great fun to see the dogs splash about in the sea. La Ciotat has two claims to fame – the Eden Theatre showed one of the first projected motion pictures in 1896 (a short film called “L’Arrivee d’un train en gare de La Ciotat)”, and the game of petanque was invented by Jules Le Noir here in 1907. Both the cinema and the game are still very much in evidence today.
On the Wednesday I had a day trip to Aix–en–Provence which you can read about here. The following day I decided on a boat trip from the old port to L’Ile Verte, a small uninhabited island a mile or so off the coast. There’s a small harbour for the regular boats to and from the mainland and private yachts, and a café on the small pebbly beach. Other than that, the only life is the scores of seabirds that throng the air here and the day-trippers like me that trek along the rocky paths.
It talks an hour and half to walk all the way round the island, through the woodland and with plenty of gorgeous viewpoints from the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. There’s also a couple of tiny calanques, one of which I had to myself with just the bird calls and the soft sound of the waves punctuating the silence. I walked back to the harbour and had a delicious Fritto Misto washed down with one of the wonderful local rose wines before catching the boat back to the mainland. What a beautiful place.
In the evening I walked to Parc du Mugel, overlooking the calanque of the same name next to the old shipyard. The gardens are quite wild and there are plenty of paths, some of them quite treacherous, that lead to the top of the cliff and stunning views out to the green island and beyond. As the sun set over the pebbly beach, a paddleboarder drifted out to sea and I wandered back to the old port for a final drink to round off a lovely few days in La Ciotat.
I travelled home via a whistle-stop tour of Marseilles and a night in Paris which you can read about here.