A weekend in the Finnish Lapland

    A weekend in the Finnish Lapland

    The Finnish Lapland is like a playground for adults who never quite grew up.

    Amongst the winter wonderland you can chase the northern lights, take a husky safari through the countryside and stay in a glass igloo in the middle of nowhere. So being kids at heart, that’s exactly what we did….

    One of the first European adventures we took outside of Spain was to travel to Finland. Although it wasn’t a destination I had really considered before moving to Spain, Kim-Ling was obsessed with seeing the northern lights (aka the aurora borealis) and had booked cheap flights through Skyscanner for a brief weekend away. And that is how we found ourselves flying from Madrid with Finnair to Ivalo airport in Lapland in the north of Finland.

    The hunt for the Northern Lights

    Northern Lights above a cottage by Chris via Flickr CC by 4.0

    One of the main reasons you would want to visit Finland is to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. For our bucket list, it’s right up there with standing under the Eiffel Tower, hiking Machu Picchu or walking along the Great Wall of China – one of those magical experiences that can’t be easily replicated.

    For the uninitiated, the Northern Lights are caused by the mixing of gas particles from the Earth and the Sun, which results in them lighting up in different colours across the night sky. And they are spectacular!

    Where can you see the Northern Lights?

    The lights occur over the north and south poles of the earth and the Finnish Lapland is known the world over as one of the best places to see this natural wonder in its full glory. But the lights can be difficult to find and to get a great showing is similar to a NASA space launch – everything must be just right. The best way to view the aurora borealis is far away from any artificial lights, such as towns, streetlamps, etc. Think of a deserted, desolate forest in the middle of nowhere at night with a cloudless sky and that is the PERFECT place to watch for the lights. Which is why we decided to stay in secluded glass igloos in Kakslauttanen

    Activities to do in Kakslauttanen

    While we were waiting for those perfect conditions, we kept ourselves busy with a host of other cool things to do. The two big things on our list were to ride a husky dogsled and immerse ourselves in Finland’s sauna culture.

    Husky sledding in Lapland

    Through a husky tour organised from our hotel, we were picked up and driven to the husky kennels to get all the necessary equipment and clothing. Fully kitted out, we very soon found ourselves getting a crash course on how to command a team of huskies (who I am kidding, they commanded us), steer the sled (you really can’t) and what to do if anything goes wrong (don’t let anything go wrong!). Easy!

    Firstly, it must be said that these huskies are amazing creatures. True working dogs, they are tough, hardworking and want, no NEED, to run 10kms+ a day otherwise they start to go loony. The setup of a husky safari is sophisticated and coordinated: it can be as small as 4-6 dogs on a typical safari or up to 40 or more on endurance, or arctic expeditions. In the front are 2 smart and disciplined dogs who act as leaders, at the rear are 2 other dogs previously identified for their power and strength and the safari includes a balance of younger and more experienced dogs, as a teaching method. And the two in the middle? Well, they are known to be the dumb force. They aren’t quite smart enough to lead, nor are they strong enough to be the driving force, so they are there for the extra muscle.

    When we walk towards them, they are already harnessed and the sled is tied to a pole, which rocks as the dogs collectively pull against it with their insatiable desire to begin the journey. Amid yelping, barking and in-fighting, we take our positions on the sled and nervously await being set free into the wilderness. Our guide thoroughly checks everything and then as he pulls the cord holding the sled, we launch onto the track at a million miles an hour. What a rush!

    After the initial hang-on-for-dear-life beginning, the dogs settle into their groove and follow the track without any guidance from Kim-Ling or myself. Apart from the sound of the sled sliding across the pure white snow, the dogs are quiet, focused and really seem to be at their happiest. Kim-Ling and I were able to just sit back and enjoy the magical countryside, swept in gleaming snow, with the rising sun streaming through the trees. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this place was, so peaceful and perfect. It was breathtaking (it was -20C after all).

    After the safari had made its way back to the kennels and secured the sleds once again, we were able to meet the dogs, sip a delicious cup of warm, steaming cider, take photos and get up close and personal with some husky puppies. Being the crazy dog lady she is, I think this could have been Kim-Ling’s highlight. Overall, it was so fun that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone visiting the Lapland, as it’s money well spent in our books.

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    Finnish Saunas

    The other thing we made sure to do was get some time in a Finnish sauna. Finns are obsessed with saunas and seeing as though Kakslauttanen had their very own on site, we decided to hop over and give it a try. Now there are a few customs one should know when having a Finnish sauna. Firstly, Finns go bare naked in the sauna (but this is not necessarily expected of foreigners). Secondly, they advised us to alternate the hot saunas with running out and diving into the snow – just for the thrill of it!

    Northern Lights revisited

    So let me paint the picture. I say goodbye to Kim-Ling and we each head off to our respective male and female saunas after the sledding finished. The sauna is going well, I’m working up a decent amount of heat and so I decide to try a naked dash into the snow. Tiptoeing out of the sauna in the buff and onto the stairs leading down to the snow, it’s pretty slippery and I begin to imagine how the scene could unfold: “30 something year-old Australian man dies of hypothermia after slipping and being knocked unconscious while attempting to roll around in the snow ‘el naturel’ (funnily enough, Kim-Ling also had a similar fear). Putting these concerns to the side, I make a dash down into the snow and take a diving leap onto – a hard, rocky embankment. Clearly this was not how it was meant to go….

    I subsequently got my technique organised and enjoyed the hot/cold sensations of the sauna/ice combination. It was so refreshing, I went back for another two rounds!

    Northern Lights by Timo Newton-Syms via Flickr CC by SA 2.0

    Suffice to say, in between our many adventures of dog sledding and saunas, we made every effort we could to get the best views possible of the Northern Lights. Kim-Ling became a full-time meteorologist, providing up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and atmospherics (there’s actually websites and apps you can download to give you fairly accurate forecasts and provide alerts for when the aurora borealis will be best for viewing). Our weekend had some cloud cover which obscured most of the sky except for brief interludes here and there.

    As we were walking back from the lodge and dinner in the Kakslauttanen snow, I looked up at the sky and remarked to Kim-Ling how weird the smoke looked. It was at that moment, that Kim-Ling pushed me aside and started running after it. It was the Northern Lights! Or at least a mildly obscured, faint and barely recognisable cousin… It still counts.

    Getting to Finland and booking hotels

    Just a few quick tips to make the most out of your trip to the Lapland.

    1. Hotels: Book well ahead, as the peak season (December to March) get’s very crowded, very quickly. Kim-Ling booked Kakslauttanen (affiliate link) almost a year in advance, and there were only a few left at that time!
    2. Transport: Ideally look for a hotel with transfers, etc as I would recommend you not attempt to drive on your own. There is a bus company, Matkahuolto, which can also take you around the Lapland if needed.
    3. Activities: There is no need to book ahead for husky sledding or even the night Northern Lights safaris, particularly during peak seasons. However, check with your accommodation/tour provider beforehand for weather updates and indications on if a tour is booking up.
    4. Gear: No need to buy any advanced gear or single-handedly drive up North Face’s profits for your trip – we got along just fine without mountaineering jackets, etc. Almost all activities outside (e.g. Husky, etc) will provide specific clothing for the purpose anyway. Dress as you would for any snow trip.
    5. Flights: Finnair or Norwegian Airlines fly into Ivalo airport, which is close to Kakslauttanen igloo village and the activities that we described. Rovaniemi airport is another option to stay in the area.

    Have you visited Finland or have you seen the Northern Lights somewhere else around the world? Drop us a comment below!

    Prynt case review – Augmented reality comes to travel

    Prynt case review – Augmented reality comes to travel

    This post is part of our Travel Tech series, where we review the coolest tech gadgets and apps for travelling the world.

    We all have those moments when we are travelling that seem surreal, unique and memorable. So memorable, in fact, that we often want to share these moments and experiences with family and friends. And while a simple picture can say a thousand words, the augmented reality photos from the Prynt case can say a whole lot more.

    What is the Prynt case

    The Prynt case is an attachment for your phone (currently iPhone SE, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, and Samsung Galaxy S5) that allows you to print polaroid-style photos. Not only that, but when you view these photos using the Prynt mobile app, they come alive to play an embedded video or GIF that you have selected. Simply put, you can encode a video within a physical photo for your friends to watch later!

    Why the Prynt case is good for travel lovers

    Once you work out what you are doing with it, the Prynt case has all sorts of uses. You can take a happy snap and send it to your family as a postcard, or send it with a letter (remember those things made out of paper?). A little more creative way of using it, it to take a snap and leave it somewhere around the world for your friends to find! How cool is that!! The photos even double as stickers, so it’s perfect for the travel scrapbook, something Ling was very excited about.

    How it works

    To use the Prynt case, you need to download the Prynt app. Then, simply plug your phone into the case, open up the Prynt app on the iPhone and press the shutter button on the case. It will begin to record a 3-6 second video of what you are looking at and digitally embed that video into the photo.

    To print a photo, the process is equally as simple. Firstly, load up the case with printer paper. With the iPhone plugged in and the Prynt iPhone app running, you select the photo you want, press the print button and the case does the rest! It’s super easy!

    The details

    Hopefully by now you love this thing as much as we do. But there are some things that you should know. For instance, the case will only work with the iPhone 5 and 6 models and the Samsung Galaxy S5. That should cover most travellers but if you buy a cheap phone overseas, don’t expect it to work. You also cannot adjust the size of the photo paper; the Prynt ZINK® Photos are two by three inches (or 5 by 7.62 centimeters).

    While the app is pretty intuitive and easy to use, it doesn’t allow you to select the image from the video that you would like to embed. So if you want the image from the end of the video, then you’re out of luck. So when you are using the app, remember that the start of the video will be the image that gets printed. The other tip is that you don’t have to have the case connected to capture the photo/recording! This came in handy when we were doing some more active adventures, and didn’t want to risk bringing the case along and damaging it.

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    Conclusion

    Well as far as travel tech goes, this has to be an amazing step forward. We’ve certainly never seen anything like this before! We’ve used it a few times, capturing some fun activities on the snow, days sightseeing and even to send heartwarming photos with messages to loved ones overseas.

    Thanks to the Prynt team for supplying us with this case to review. All opinions are our own, and we really like this tech!

    Have you used the Prynt case before? How would you use it for travel? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

    Street XO Madrid – Restaurant Review

    Street XO Madrid – Restaurant Review

    Street XO Madrid

    Situated just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of central Madrid, Street XO is three star Michelin chef David Muñoz’s side project and gift to the masses. If innovative and creative gourmet dishes served amongst a loud and theatrical environment and at reasonable prices are your thing, then Street XO is an absolute must when you visit Madrid.

    Entry to Street XO Madrid

    The entry to the restaurant gives you an indication of what is to come

    While Madrid has its fair share of foodie restaurants, they often come with extravagant price tags and must be booked well in advance for that ‘special night’. This is how we found ourselves scouring the internet trying to find fine, but creative dining without a reservation in Madrid and by chance, stumbled upon Street XO.

    Spanish wonder-chef Dabiz (aka David) Muñoz is well known within the culinary world for his three Michelin starred restaurant in Madrid, DiverXO. But his side project, the gourmet street food project Street XO, has rapidly gained the attention of the masses. This project aims to bring Michelin starred quality and flavour to everyday people at a price they can afford.

    Crazy interior of Street XO Madrid

    Not what you might expect from a Michelin starred restaurant, right?

    Taking the elevators to the 7th floor of the El Corte Ingles on Calle Serrano (see the map at the bottom), you emerge into a real foodie heaven. The floor is a gourmet experience, as beside Street XO sits an artisan ice-creamery and a cool little cocktail bar for
    pre-dinner drinks.

    View of the kitchen in Street XO Madrid

    The view directly into the kitchen where the magic happens

    We joined the queue waiting for seats in the restaurant around 9:30pm (this is Spain after all) and a short time later we were seated inside with an unobstructed view to the kitchen and the organised chaos which ensued. We took our friendly waitress’ recommendations on cocktails (they were fantastic!) and started to peruse the many delights on offer on the menu.

    Street XO Madrid cocktails
    Street XO Madrid cocktails
    Street XO Madrid cocktails

    For the first course, we chose a sharing dish, the Pekinese dumplings and Pig’s ear with strawberry hoisin sauce. We were hooked straight away! The dumplings were fluffy and juicy and the pig’s ear, while a first for both of us, was paired perfectly with the strawberry hoisin sauce.

    Pekinese dumplings and Pig’s ear with strawberry hoisin sauce

    Our first course: Pekinese dumplings and Pig’s ear with strawberry hoisin sauce

    So it was with much anticipation that we were delivered our next two dishes, served with excited explanations by the chefs themselves. The first dish: suckling lamb shanks, Jabugo soul glace with chilli garlic fried udon, vegetables and corn; and the other dish, skate ribs on banana leaves with Indonesian Sambal sauce and creamy, spicy ‘salmarejo’. The lamb shanks were roasted to perfection with meat falling off the bone and the skate ribs were basted in a tasty, but not too spicy sauce. Both dishes did not last long before we inhaled them.

    Lamb shanks from Street XO Madrid

    Suckling lamb shanks, Jabugo soul glace with chilli garlic fried udon, vegetables and corn

    Skate ribs from Street XO Madrid

    Skate ribs on banana leaves with Indonesian Sambal sauce and creamy, spicy ‘salmarejo’.

    By now hooked on the amazing flavours, we decided to go for broke and ordered two more dishes: the Korean lasagne with old Galician beef and goat’s milk béchamel sauce, shitake mushroom wontons and spicy marinated tomatoes; and the roasted bone marrow with churros and an ‘almost jalapeno’ gazpacho.

    Korean lasagna

    This was amazing: Korean lasagne with old Galician beef and goat’s milk béchamel sauce, shitake mushroom wontons and spicy marinated tomatoes

    Roasted bone marrow Street XO Madrid

    Roasted bone marrow with churros and an ‘almost jalapeno’ gazpacho

    We didn’t think our night could get much better, but we were so very, very wrong. The Korean lasagne was the highlight and skilfully mixed kimchee and Korean flavours with an eternal favourite, the traditional Italian lasagne. Although the roasted bone marrow was probably a little rich for our tastes, we enjoyed every mouthful and happily devoured every trace of it.

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    eating at Street XO Madrid

    Satisfied we had tasted our way through the very best that Street XO could offer, we departed content and very pleased with what had been a stunning introduction to Madrid’s gourmet food scene. In total, the five dishes plus four cocktails cost €110-120. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than your regular ‘Menu del Día’ at €10, but the food quality and overall experience is priceless. If you’re looking for a funky, creative food experience that won’t require a second mortgage, then be sure to give Street XO a try.

    Street XO customers

    Two very contented customers!!

    Street XO has since changed their menu since we visited, but we are confident the food will be equally as titillating and delicious as the dishes we tried. Enjoy!

    Where to find Street XO:

    Calle de Serrano, 52, 28001 Madrid, Spain (on the 7th floor of the El Corte Ingles building – Metro – Serrano station)

    Have you had a unique dining experience while travelling?

    Tell us about it below!

    Monaco – The French Riviera’s sparkling crown

    Monaco – The French Riviera’s sparkling crown

    Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco

    Just a short day trip from Nice on the French Riviera lies the Principality of Monaco. Although well-known from countless Hollywood films, Monaco has another side which is rarely shown on the big screen.

    Casinos and luxury yachts. Princesses and paparazzi. Film stars and Ferraris. These are my expectations as I arrive into Monaco’s grand train station from Nice. One of the world’s smallest but richest countries due to its extremely low income tax rate, this principality on the French Riviera is home to only 10,000 local Monegasque, as the locals are known.

    I’m here to discover the genuine face of Monaco, the one hidden behind fast cars, dazzling pearls and high-end boutiques. A Monaco for the everyday traveller who doesn’t arrive into the city via private helicopter or yacht.

    Changing of the Guard ceremony in front of the Princes Palace in Monaco

    The changing of the Prince’s guard ceremony in the Place du Palais is attended by hundreds of people daily

    The Prince’s Palace

    We start our day with a walk up one of Monaco’s many hills, but I choose the one with a Prince’s Palace on top. The official residence of Prince Rainier of Monaco, the Palace is small by comparison to Buckingham Palace in London or the palaces of other European royalty. Nevertheless, it’s gleaming façade lights up the Place du Palais.

    Around 11:15am, hordes of tourists begin to swarm toward the square hoping to find the best vantage point to witness the changing of the guard at midday. The Prince’s personal guard, who all swear to protect the royal Grimaldi family, are elaborately dressed in ceremonial white uniform.

    The ceremony itself begins with the sound of a marching band, which leads the incoming guard from the other side of the square toward the Palace, before the teams pass responsibility from one to another. A truly historical ceremony, the changing of the guard has been conducted in this fashion for years and represents the traditional face of Monaco.

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    The Cathedrale de Monaco
    Walking down a street in Old Monaco
    The Cathedrale de Monaco

    The Cathedrale de Monaco in Vieux (Old) Monaco is where Grace Kelly is buried

    Cathedrale de Monaco

    Just a short walk down the Rue Colonel Bellando de Castro from the Prince’s palace sits one of the most stunning cathedrals in Europe. The Cathedrale de Monaco was originally built around the turn of the 20th century, but is probably most famous as the scene of the fairy-tale wedding of then-Hollywood star, Grace Kelly, to the Prince of Monaco. She is also buried in the cathedral beside her late husband.

    Entering the cathedral, it’s as if no expense has been spared. Columns raise the eye to the high vaulted ceilings and passageways with small, minimalist vaults adorning either side. Perhaps the highlight is the organ on the front wall of the church, illuminated by stunning purple lighting.

    An old, but architecturally modern building in 'Old' Monaco

    Old Monaco’s streets have an undeniable charm to them

    Old Monaco

    Continuing down the Rue, the Aquarium of Monaco commands amazing views out over the Mediterranean on your right hand side. Now recognised as one the most important maritime collections in the world, the aquarium is an architectural masterpiece and truly brings the underwater world to life.

    While small, Monaco’s old town has charming streets and alleyways reminiscent of any larger European capital. We wandered past many beautiful villas and homes, their brightly coloured flowers blooming in mid-June.

    Noting Monaco’s reputation as a haven for the rich and famous before I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable, if not good value prices, which abounded. For example, our decision to stop for lunch at Restaurant Aurora on Rue Basse was rewarded by a beautiful pasta, bread and a glass of rosé for around 15 euros.

    The view from a lookout on the Rue Bellando de Castro over the Mediterranean Sea

    The view from a lookout along Rue Colonel Bellando de Castro in Old Monaco

    Beautiful and rich cars lined up in front of the Monte Carlo Casino

    The Monte Carlo Casino is the most prominent symbol of New Monaco

    New Monaco – Casino and Monte Carlo

    But Monaco truly does have two faces and one is perhaps more prominent than the other. Monaco has changed considerably since, in a bid to lure foreign investment, the principality cut tax rates. Although the city-state has grown rich off the back of this decision, most of this money can be seen in one place: Monte Carlo.

    Today Monte Carlo consists of exclusive hotels, high-end fashion boutiques such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, and of course the ever present red Ferrari’s which patrol the streets. But the magnet which draws the wealthy, like moths to a flame, is the famous Monte Carlo Casino.

    Featured in many Hollywood films and TV series to imply the height of wealth and luxury, the Casino is quite a grand structure in and of itself. Although it’s free to enter the lobby to take a look and poke around, entrance to the actual Casino requires adherence to a strict dress code and €10 admission fee. This is Monte Carlo after all!

    Perhaps the best ‘sport’ enjoyed by all is car and people-watching from the tables of the Café de Paris, right next to the casino. With a direct line of sight to the Casino’s grand entrance and tables within spitting distance of the passing supercars, this is certainly the place to be in ‘New Monaco’.

    A red Ferrari sits in front of the Monte Carlo Casino

    I was so lucky to find this spot right outside….   🙂

    View of the front of the Monte Carlo Casino with beautiful cars lined up

    The rich and famous line up their cars outside the casino, while us mere mortals can only watch on in amazement!

    There is an undeniable charm to Monaco, a pleasant mixing of the old with the new. This city-state, with its prime location on the French Riviera and spectacular surrounds, has truly made itself a unique place for tourists and billionaires alike to enjoy. While you may not be able to berth your million-dollar yacht in the harbour or park you supercar in Monte Carlo, there is so much more to Monaco and it’s worth your visit to find out. Getting to Monaco is easy from the likes of Nice and other beach towns on the French Riviera, without having to break the bank. The train station is a convenient, short walk to the main attractions and the ride itself provides some pretty scenery along the way.

    Have you visited Monaco? Give us your two cents worth by commenting below.

    Marseille: Why it’s one of my favourite French cities

    Marseille: Why it’s one of my favourite French cities

    Marseille view from Notre Dame de la Garde

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this unshakeable desire to visit Marseille in the south of France. Not to do anything or try anything particularly new though. In fact, I’d forgotten why exactly I even THOUGHT to travel to this gritty, rough port city with its accented French and notoriously tough reputation. And then I arrived. And it all came back to me…..

    “Quoi?” – my teacher looked at me quizzically. I had tried to say “I want to go there” in my elementary French but probably managed to insult her in some way (not an unusual occurrence during my university days). On the screen was a picture of a beautiful Mediterranean port, with dazzling blue water and ships with tall masts. It was Marseille and it looked spectacular.

    Marseille old port

    Marseille’s beautiful old port is best experienced at sunset

    Why go to Marseille?

    France’s second largest city, Marseille is, and always has been, a melting pot of cultures, food and styles. Back in the old days the city belonged to the Greeks, Romans and countless others before becoming synonymous in the late 20th century with immigration from the former French colonies and there is now a large North African population. These days, Marseille is well-known for its musical scene and within France as the home of French hip-hop. And in 2013 the city was designated the European capital of culture.

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    Marseille pinterest image
    Marseille pinterest image

    Kim-Ling and I had travelled from Nice to Marseille, where we met up with my brother and his wife for a couple of days to explore the city together. We’d decided to go for an AirBnB and that choice really paid off! We hired a loft apartment close to Marseille’s old port which overlooked a large square and with a rooftop view of the city. Good start Marseille, good start.

    Marseille AirBnB accommodation

    Marseille’s Old Port

    There is something about ports that I just love, and Marseille’s old port is one of the largest and most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Our little group decided to meet around the port and took a good stroll, French-style, to both ends looking for food. As we walked along the edge, we were entertained by bands, perused knick-knacks at street stalls and stopped for a beer at one of the restaurants overlooking the water. The vibe is so casual and laidback that we often forgot that there was a city behind us!

    Marseille street stalls

    Street markets line Marseille’s Old Port

    Marseille old port

    The view of the Old Port is breathtaking

    Notre Dame de la Garde

    Eager to explore the city, we caught a bus from just north of the port (no. 60, €3,80), arriving at Marseille’s Notre Dame de la Garde church, which has killer 360 degree views over the entire city. These views come with a wind that could pick up small children, so hold on tight to your hats and belongings! The church in its current form was built in 1864, and is much loved by the locals, who believe that the Virgin protects the city. Battling cyclonic winds and fearing that if I flared my lats a little I might fly away (who am I kidding?), we moved inside to take a look at the interior of the church.

    Marseille Notre Dame de la Garde

    Notre Dame de la Garde

    Marseille church statue

    Notre Dame de la Garde

    The interior of the church is magnificent. It’s extravagant, grabs your attention and won’t let you go. Make sure you give yourself time to explore the cavernous underground with its many shrines and cool statues, before making your way back up to the main cathedral chamber. Here you will find these golden cupolas running through the middle of the church and engraved statues adorning either side. There are also these candy red arches which will remind you of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain if you’ve ever visited.

    Marseille Notre Dame de la Garde interior

    Oh, and I should mention the view. Perched high up on the top of a hill, Notre Dame de la Garde overlooks the city and gives you majestic views of Marseille. You will not find a better vantage point in the whole of the city. Besides, entering the church is free and you can get a good sense of Marseille’s cultural history by giving it a visit.

    view of Marseille

    The Le Panier district of Marseille

    We made our way back down into the city after a while and headed towards Marseille’s trendy Le Panier district. Filled with small cafes, street art and a funky bohemian vibe, it’s hard not to love this area. We stopped at one of the bars which spilled out onto the road to rehydrate and take in the atmosphere, but before long we were being ushered off into the kerb as a firetruck – yes a FIRETRUCK – came down along the road. It was a bit of a tight squeeze but literally as soon as it had passed, everyone came rushing back and not a drop was spilled during the whole operation!

    Marseille Panier district
    Marseille Panier district
    Marseille Panier district
    Marseille Panier art

    MuCEM and Fort St Jean

    Drinks complete we wandered off in search of two of Marseille’s highlights: the MuCEM and Fort St Jean. Wandering through some alleys we finally made our way around to the Museum of European and Mediterranean civilisations (or MuCEM for short). Wow, it instantly strikes you as a spectacular work of art/architecture. It’s a brand new building (2012) by architect Rudy Ricciotti and looks fresh, contemporary and cutting edge. It also makes for a stunning night shot!

    Marseille museum of european civilisation
    Marseille Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation
    Marseille museum of european and mediterranean civilisations

    Inside the museum is a bunch of cafes and of course art, sculptures, etc. They have a really good collection of ancient artefacts (Marseille has been a port for the Greek, Romans, Visigoths and numerous others throughout time) which provides a good overview of the city’s history. Entry is €9.5.

    When you are finished at the MuCEM, if you head to the roof and cross the walkway you will enter Fort St Jean. This 17th century port has been restored and opened to the public and is a really cool attraction for visitors. It has this interesting mix of history with some contemporary art pieces and some pretty outlandish sculptures thrown in for good measure! Entrance is free to just walk around, etc.

    Marseille Fort St Jean
    Marseille public art
    Marseille old port

    Sitting just behind the MuCEM and Fort St Jean is Marseille’s Cathedrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure. There is something about churches in Marseille: they are just so cool! Take this cathedral for example, its striped, candied design is pretty unusual but looks amazing.

    Marseille Cathedral

    Palais Longchamp

    If you are a fan of majestic French architecture and consider yourself somewhat of a romantic, then Palais Longchamp is for you! This 19th century monument houses a few museums and is surrounded by an expansive beautiful green garden, one of the finest in France.

    Marseille Palais Longchamp
    Marseille Palais Longchamp

    La bouillabaisse and Marseille’s most famous dish

    Of course, no self-respecting Francophile would visit Marseille and NOT gorge themselves on its world famous dish: La Bouillabaisse. Originally a fisherman’s stew consisting of at least three different types of fish, the rich flavours and fresh seafood became an instant hit and has since been imitated many times around the world.

    So after some extensive research (literally 4 and a half minutes on Google in our apartment…), I decided to try out the offering at La Voille Marsellaise down in the port area. Now La Bouillabaisse is expensive (some reaching up to €100) but this place was around €40 or so. And it was spectacular! The sauce was creamy but not too overpowering, and the seafood was to die for. If you’re a seafood fan, you must try Bouillabaisse in Marseille! 

    Generally, the food in Marseille was really good, reasonable prices (sometimes difficult to find in France) but all of exceptional quality. I inhaled one of the best burgers I’ve ever had at the port – (ask for the ‘charolais’ burger and thank me later!).

    Marseille Bouillabaisse

    Plage du Prado

    While we were tromping around Marseille, we also decided to head outside the city to the beach, or Plage du Prado as its known in French. Hopping on the No. 19 bus to ‘La Plage’ will drop you off at a nearby shopping centre and you can then cross the road over to the beach. Though it was warm it was a bit too windy for our liking (like a freaking hurricane actually!), the beach was quite large and we were all a bit disappointed not to be able to enjoy it more.

    Marseille Plage du Prado

    Other things to do in Marseille (that we didn’t get to)

    There was a whole heap of things we didn’t get to do in Marseille, but if you do have the time, be sure to fit these into your schedules somewhere:

    • Calanques are narrow rock formations on the coast which look like beautiful isolated lagoons and they have the most amazing blue Mediterranean water. They are mostly outside of Marseille city along the coast so you’ll have to organise a tour or hire a car to reach them. We’ll be back for these!
    • Cruising the harbour – Marseille is a port city so what better way to explore it than hire a boat to take you around. You’ll get stunning views of the port, forts and buildings on the headlands and even see some of the sights outside of the port and its surrounds.

    The verdict

    Hell, I loved Marseille! All of it. The city was buzzing and alive and much more enjoyable than other reviews had led me to believe. It’s also one of the most stunning French cities I’ve visited with just the right mix of new and old architecture, lively streets and natural beauty. Even the food was noteworthy, but then I never could go past fresh seafood…. What I’m trying to say is Marseille is cool and if you haven’t ever thought about visiting before, definitely include it on your wanderlust list for the future.

    Have you visited Marseille? What are your best tips to get the most out of this city? Let us know in the comments below!

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