July 3rd, 2015
As temps were still pushing into the upper 30s, we slathered on another layer of sunscreen and downed a liter of cool ice water to hydrate before setting out on an urban hike from the quayside of Port Vieux up to the landmark Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde sitting high atop her limestone bluff overlooking the ancient port city. Built in 1864, the basilica is accessible via a hot arduous hike up Port-Notre-Dame and Boulevard Andre Aune or as we discovered once we had already made it to the top, a little tourist tram that does all the heavy work of running passengers up the steep streets from the waterfront. The resplendent hilltop bluff of Rue Fort du Sanctuaire offers fantastic unparalleled 360 degree views looking out over Vieux Port, the Mediterranaen Sea, the Frioul Islands, and Chateau d’If, Marseilles’s Alcatraz.
After admiring the stunning landscape from up high, we trundled back down to the quayside on the tourist train, thankful of its powerful brakes as the mass and speed of the train fought against the steep downhill slopes. The heat and the exhausting hike had stolen the energy of the day from us so we retired to the cool confines of our hotel room for the afternoon, to put up our feet and read for a few hours. I’m already an avid reader but the forced afternoon seclusion from the heat on this holiday allowed me time to finish two hefty books by the trip’s end, putting a big dent into my 10,000 page goal for the year!
After the heat had abated, we ventured back out into the cooler air to capture the sunset over the Mediterranean from the rooftop courtyard of the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, a modern and artistic building prominently situated at the mouth of the rectangular shaped port with footbridges linking it to the 12th century monument of Fort St Jean. Open late nights on Friday till 10pm, its a popular spot in the summer to bring a bottle of wine and admire the nearly 360 degree views. The courtyard and other outdoor spaces are free to enter and you can climb up the tower at Fort St Jean for spectacular views of both the quayside and out toward the water.
Settling ourselves at the top of the tower, we fixed our gaze out towards the west as we watched a myriad of boats slowly returning to the harbor after their day excursions and as the blue sky faded into a fiery orange we were treated to a most truly stunning sunset.
After the sunset, we continued our exploration along the waterfront ambling our way towards the Cathedrale de Sainte-Marie-Majeure, an elegant 19th century Byzantine structure of alternating stripes of limestone and dark granite situated west of the old district of Le Panier. For some odd reason, the Cathedral isn’t too popular with the locals and only hosts two Sunday services a year but it is open every day but Monday and you will likely have the beautiful marble confines to yourself.
Just outside the cathedral lies a petanque court that was seeing a bit of friendly competition that night between a group of friends. Pétanque is a French game originating in Provence in 1910 in which metal balls are hurled towards a smaller wooden ball from a standing fixed position. Looked pretty similar in objective to billiards to me!