With its electric street life, intoxicating potpourri of diverse neighborhoods and chaotic port, this ancient Greek trading post on the Med offers endless things to see and do. But the pace of life in bold, brazen, multicultural Marseille is full-throttle – escaping the sun-scorched city on a day trip can be a breath of fresh air.
Be it an elegant getaway to the posh yin of Marseille’s rough-cut yang in Aix, a gourmet break amid seaside vineyards, or a cheap romantic flit to some of the most beautiful wild beaches in Provence, there are plenty of great places to visit in the surrounding area. Here’s our pick, all within an hour of Marseille's city center by bus, train or e-bike – no car required.
Swim in the beautiful pristine coves of Les Calanques
The string of clandestine calanques (coves) and their wild swimming beaches bejeweling the rocky coastline southeast of Marseille are prized natural assets. Most are only accessible on foot or by sea, ensuring a pristine environment where Bonelli eagles soar overhead and Europe’s largest lizards slink around in relative peace.
Get a glimpse of the rich flora and fauna protected by the Parc National des Calanques at Calanque de Sormiou or Calanque de Morgiou. Both are easily reached by public transport and boast a restaurant for lunch (reservations essential!) with celestial sea view. The rugged hiking trail (4km/2.5 miles) linking the two coves tiptoes through untouched maquis (scrubland) in the Massif des Calanques and can be shut from June to September because of wildfire risk; check with Marseille tourist office before heading out.
How to get to Les Calanques from Marseille: For Sormiou, take bus 23 from Rond-Point du Prado metro to the La Cayolle stop, then walk 3km (1.9 miles). For Morgiou, take bus 22 from outside the same metro station to Les Baumettes stop, from where it’s a 4km (2.5 mile) walk.
Enjoy food and culture in elegant Aix-en-Provence
Meet Marseille’s handsome archrival. Meticulously stitched from aristocratic 17th- and 18th-century mansions, tree-shaded boulevards, and moss-laced stone fountains, polished Aix-en-Provence is a riveting antithesis to gritty Marseille. Ever since the Romans tapped into warm thermal springs here in Aquae Sextia, living well has been the USP of this university town, culture hub, and foodie destination.
Dive in with a slow, indulgent stroll along Aix’s main avenue Cours Mirabeau. Dip south into the Quartier Mazarin, awash with baroque squares and sculpted fountains since the 17th century: four dolphins spout water on Place des Quatre Dauphins. Dedicate a couple of hours to masterpieces by Picasso, Léger, Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, and Aix-born Paul Cézanne in the peerless Musée Granet.
Lunch on black truffles, asparagus, lamb shank slow-cooked in jus au thym and other seasonal Provencal dishes in the period salon or summer garden at Jardin Mazarin. Or mooch north, past independent bookstores and art galleries in the Vieille Ville (Old Town), to Sauvage, a contemporary bistro serving just one – surprise – market-fueled menu. Don’t leave Aix without grabbing a box of calissons (petal-shaped, almond and melon sweet bites) from historic confectioner Le Roy René for the ride home.
How to get to Aix from Marseille: Count around 45 minutes by bus (LeCar/Cartreize line 50) or train to Aix city center train station (not to be confused with Aix TGV station, 15km/9 miles from town).
Trail Cézanne by e-bike in Montagne Ste-Victoire
Aix-en-Provence is the launchpad for e-bike rides in the countryside – a masterpiece of scented garrigue (herbal scrubland), pine forests, silvery rock, vineyards, and arid burnt-orange earth famously immortalized on canvas by post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (1839–1906). The limestone ridge of Montagne Ste-Victoire was the Aixois painter’s exhilarating muse. Marked biking and hiking trails encircling the mountain take you to viewpoints where he set up his easel to paint.
Before hitting the road, shop at Aix’s morning open-air food market for bread, chèvre (goat’s cheese), springtime cherries, and other seasonal picnic fare. Or reserve a table for a countryside lunch alfresco at La Place in Puyloubier – its bourride de poissons (fish soup) and sweet melon soup are sublime. Once at cruising speed, don’t miss the Maison de Ste-Victoire, with visitor info 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 outlined above. Aix-en-Provence tourist office can set you up with an e-bike or fat bike, with a guide or self-guided itinerary. Romantics yearning for some Audrey Hepburn glamor can soak up the landscape from a vintage sidecar with Aix-based La Belle Échappée.
Go wine tasting in the pretty fishing village of Cassis
With its gin-clear waters, white cliff-cradled coves, and views of rocky Cap Canaille slashing China-blue skies, the fishing village of Cassis is straight out of a picture book. Linger with an aperitif on a cafe terrace overlooking clinking yacht masts or over the catch of the day at harbor-side fishmonger restaurant Poissonnerie Laurent, and all appears well with the world.
Exploring pea-green vineyards ribboning Cassis hillsides has an equally inviting, eschewing effect. Cassis is among France’s oldest wine appellations and the only one to lie within a national park. In the 1920s Virginia Woolf and other writers from London’s Bloomsbury Set summered here, penning novels and drinking copious amounts of Cassis white. Tasting opportunities abound in the village and several wineries – try Clos Sainte Magdalene by the old port – welcome visitors. The tourist office can suggest wine tasting itineraries by electric bike.
How to get to Cassis from Marseille: Regular trains link Marseille St-Charles and Cassis train station (€6.30, 20 minutes), from where local buses continue to the port 3.5km (2.1 miles) south.
Visit Arles on market day, and learn about the Romans and Van Gogh
A day trip to small-town Arles on Saturday is always a good idea. Its morning market – 400-odd street stalls framing 2.5km (1.5 miles) of old-world golden-hued lanes – is one of Provence’s best. Trestle tables groan with Camargue salt, rice, fresh goats cheese, saucisson d’Arles (air-dried bull-meat sausage), lavender honey, and heaps of seasonal fruit and veg. Dégustation (tasting) is part of the sensory experience.
Top-notch art and history also beckon. Explore thrillingly intact terraces and galleries at Arles’ oval-shaped Roman amphitheater and learn about local Roman history at the Musée Départemental Arles Antique, by the hippodrome where Romans raced chariots. Break for coffee, pastis, or lavender ice-cream on a cafe terrace beneath plane trees on Place du Forum.
For lunch, buy a sandwich laced with garlic and AOC Vallée des Baux olive oil from hole-in-the-wall Fadoli et Fadola and mooch to the Rhône riverbanks. Spend the afternoon with Vincent Van Gogh on a self-guided Van Gogh-themed walking tour – the Dutch post-impressionist artist painted more than 200 canvases while living in Arles in 1888. If you have time, the new arts center designed by Frank Gehry, Luma Arles is sensational. Come dark, magical concerts unfold beneath summer stars in the semi-ruined Théâtre Antique.
How to get to Arles from Marseille: Frequent regional TER trains trundle between Marseille St-Charles and Arles (€9.90 to €16.30, 45 minutes to one hour).
Embrace the slow life in the old-world fishing village of Les Goudes
Save this easy trip for a day when the pandemonium of metropolitan Marseille simply gets too much. The mellow fishing hamlet of Les Goudes slumbers on the southern fringe of the city and that first enchanting vista of apricot- and ochre-hued cabanons (fishing cottages) with sea-blue paintwork, cradled around a cove is instant balm for the soul. Meander quiet car-free lanes, hunt down hidden street art, and watch fishers at work.
Come noon, follow the uber-cool Marseille crowd to eco-conscious beach club Tuba, with a cocktail bar and restaurant in a 1960s diving club. No sea view is more peaceful than from a table perched on the rocks. Traditionalists might 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 fishers' cabins and seaside shacks in Callelongue, nicknamed "le bout du monde" (the end of the world). From here, Raskas Kayak runs sea-kayaking treks along the coast. Or continue walking 50 minutes (2km/1.2 miles) to Calanque de Marseilleveyre and its hidden shingle beach, backed by aloe succulents and spikey barbary figs. Don’t forget your swimmers.
How to get to Les Goudes from Marseille: Catch RTM city 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 RTM, yo-yo between Marseille’s Vieux Port and Les Goudes in summer. Public sharing e-scooters, e-bikes, and regular city bikes make equally light work of the 12km (7 mile) journey.
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