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visiting the ciotadens and ciotadennes of la ciotat

After having moved to Marseille, Julia Child and her husband Paul decided to take a trip along the southern French coast toward Cannes.  They stopped for a picnic near La Ciotat, a small fishing village at the time.  Today, tourists find La Ciotat appealing and maybe it is second only to Cassis for a day trip from Marseille.

One day I joined Paul for a business trip to Cannes, which was about four hours east of Marseille by car. We took six hours, in order to explore the windy side roads. What a beautiful countryside. The hills rising from the coast were all golden with flowering mimosa. In a little beach town called La Ciotat, where Charlie and Paul had visited in the 1920s, we stopped for a picnic lunch on the edge of the sea. We sat in the hot sun on flat rocks in a strong breeze.  —Julia Child, My Life in France.

La Ciotat has some historical significance: it is said that pétanque was invented there, and the Lumière brothers, among the first filmmakers in history, filmed one of the earliest films there L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat, or “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat,” and Napoleon, as a captain of the artillery, had stayed in a house in La Ciotat during the 4th and 5th of September in 1793 while preparing the siege of Toulon.

Taking the #69 bus from Marseille to La Ciotat is simple once one locates the Halte routière Sud bus stop near Place Castellane.  It is on a side street at 11 Rue du Rouet, across from Cantini Medical if one looks on Google Maps.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

I would not recommend taking the train to La Ciotat and expecting a regular, frequent bus service to the town center. But wait, there’s more!

the blues and yellows of martigues

Auguste Renoir traveled to Martigues and painted.  So did Raoul Dufy.  Nicolas de Staël, as well.  Others but less well-known went: Émile Loubon, Félix Ziem, Paul Camille Guigou, Charles Pellegrin, Edouard Ducros, Charles Henri Malfroy and Henry Malfroy, father and son, Antoine Ponchin, Francis Picabia.

I go to Martigues to take photographs.  My efforts with watercolors should remain in the shadows.

I craft the day before I go.  I want the light.  The colors, blues and hues of yellow and some greens, are gorgeous around the ports and inside the village where the courts nap, always quiet, often vacant.

I go in the morning.  I check the Météo in advance.  I want a sunny clear day, otherwise I do not go.  Martigues is an excellent place to take pictures, and I want the light.  (Have I already emphasized that?)  During mid-afternoon, it becomes ‘hazy,’ less defined, and the heat can become unfriendly and difficult, so I leave.

When I arrive, I cross the bridge with the solid blue railings and circle around the harbor, or I walk straight into the village.  My favorite plaza is Place Mirabeau, a large, empty quiet space.  I wonder, “Where are the people?”  A café sits in the corner with a few tables and chairs.  What I find astonishing are the bright colors like paint patches covering the walls.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

julia child in marseille with her own words

Marseille’s hot noise was so different from Paris’s cool sophistication. To many of our northern-French friends it was terra incognita: they had never been here, and considered it a rough, rude, “southern” place. But it struck me as a rich broth of vigorous, emotional, uninhibited Life—a veritable “bouillabaisse of a city,” as Paul put it.  —Julia Child, My Life in France

A few years ago I read Julia Child’s autobiography My Life in France.  I was curious about it for three reasons: I cook from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she had lived in Paris, and she had briefly lived in Marseille.

I spend a good amount of time in both cities, and I have a digital copy of her cookbook on my laptop.  I consider those good enough reasons to remember her and to imagine her life in Marseille in 1953 and 1954.

I took some passages from My Life in France and put them in italics.  I wanted her words to describe what she and Paul, her husband, saw and felt.  Except for the hotel where they stayed when they first arrived in Marseille, she was specific about where they lived, the two apartments, even giving the addresses.

I decided to look for those apartment buildings and a 2018 version of their lives.


We arrived in Marseille with our minds open, hope in our hearts, and with our taste buds poised for new flavors. It was just turning 5:00 p.m. on March 2, 1953, when the heavily loaded Tulipe Noire rolled to a stop in front of our little hotel.

My natural inclination was to go out and explore while Paul was at work. But in order to get anything done, I forced myself to keep regular office hours at the hotel. There, my Royal portable typewriter was my steady companion. With no household or marketing work to distract me, I began to catch up on my correspondence and continued to research our cookbook.


I paced around our little hotel room. It was cute, but we needed more space. To get rid of my restless energy, I decided to look at rental apartments. The first one I saw struck me as a fake Art Nouveau gnome’s-hut type of place. Then I saw a tasteless circa-1900 stinker. Then I saw a small apartment on the fifth floor of a building on the Vieux Port, overlooking the fishing fleet. It was owned by a Swedish diplomat who had gone home to recuperate from tuberculosis; the caveat was that once his health improved he could return to Marseille at any time. That didn’t appeal. But after a few more days of living out of a suitcase in that dim, cramped hotel room, we decided to take the tubercular Swede’s apartment while we looked for a more permanent roost.

Our new rental apartment was located at 28-A Quai de Rive Neuve, on the fifth floor of a pale-beige Art Deco building with distinctive wave-patterned metal railings. It was a small space, but charming, and it had marvelously expansive views over the Vieux Port and its fishing fleet.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

far far away the distances surrounding Marseille

Marseilles isn’t a city for tourists. There’s nothing to see. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared.  –Jean-Claude Izzo

Contrary to what Mr. Izzo thinks, three prominent locations in Marseille offer superb panoramic views of far far away places.  On clear days one can see the small villages of Martigues and Estaques to the north; and when looking toward the Mediterranean Sea, one can see in the distance the Château d’If, where the Comte de Monte Cristo spent a few years of his life, and the Frioul archipelago.

I propose these three sites: 1) looking down from Notre-Dame de la Garde; 2) visiting the Parc du Pharo; and 3) walking along a section of the Corniche between Catalans and Endoume and, in particular, pausing near the Vallons des Auffes, where you will find the Square du Lieutenant Danjaume and the Monument aux morts de l’Armée d’Orient et des terres lointaines.

These are my favorites for grand panoramic vistas, but they are not the only places in Marseille.  Several restaurants along the Corniche will provide excellent views of the Mediterranean Sea with the price of a meal, Peron, L’Epuisette, Le Bistro Plage, Le Petit Pavillon, Le Rhul, Le Petit Nice, to name the most prominent.  The restaurant Chalet du Pharo overlooks the Vieux Port toward the MuCEM and the Panier quartier.  It is next to the Parc du Pharo.

The Musée Regards de Provence has a restaurant, the Regards Café, with a terrace on the second floor, and it offers a nice panoramic view.  During my last visit, while eating lunch, I watched three very large, multi-decked ferries leave Marseille for Corsica and North Africa.  They seemed close enough to touch.

The ramparts next to the Abbaye Saint-Victor on the south side of the Port will give you views across the View Port and toward the MuCEM and Fort Saint-Jean.

Let us not forget a boat ride to the Château d’If, and looking back, watching the land recede, then stepping onto the island, climbing to the Château, and scanning the horizon toward Marseille.

Any would be fun, combining a meal with extraordinary views, for example, but none of them can surpass, or even match, the free wanderings at the three  locations I have mentioned, my favorites.

Notre-Dame de la Garde

Notre-Dame de la Garde is visible from most any spot in Marseille.  It sits on a high hill that looms up, giving the cathedral its perch for overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the Vieux Port and much of Marseille to the east. But wait, there’s more!