Never would I have expected to feel mesmerized by Marseille, the Old Town, and the charming ‘Quartier Le Panier‘, the oldest part of the city.
It took me only a few steps up one of the narrow alleys from the old port to be enchanted.
Old houses with pastel colored shutters, laundry hanging on the lines and fluttering, pretty lampposts, pretty shops, café, and restaurants. A charming and warm neighborhood where the best thing to do is getting lost and walking looking up in the air, to the tall buildings and the deep blue sky.
Albeit part of ‘Le Panier‘ district has been restored, it hasn’t lost its charm thanks to its look a little ‘fané‘, as the French calls everything withered.
Lovely narrow streets, pastel-colored shutters and that easy-going atmosphere that makes Marseille Quartier ‘Le Panier‘ so charming.
Surprisingly, apart from Rue du Panier, there were only a few tourists along the nearby narrow streets. I could hear many locals talking with the typical accent of southern France, with its warm, musical sounds.
A woman who saw me taking photos of a lovely window delightfully decorated with flowers and other greenery stopped me and proudly told me that this was her house, and the windows she lovingly took care of.
Maybe because it was a hot morning in July, ‘Le Panier‘ was quiet and peaceful, inviting for a stroll across the narrow alleys flanked by the high old houses, with no purpose save experiencing moments of pure bliss.
Like in other Marseille’s neighborhoods, the ‘Quartier Le Panier’ is a melting pot of races. One of the main ports of the Mediterranean, during the 20th Century Marseille, has been a gateway for people coming from Italy, Corsica, North Africa, Armenia, Vietnam and more nations, often as a consequence of wars and persecutions. The cosmopolite touch is part of Marseille charm, and I had the impression of a rather successful integration.
Sadly, during World War II Marseille Old Town was plagued by the deportations of Jews and the bombings by the Nazis.
However, the history of Marseille and ‘Le Panier‘ was clouded during the Second World War, when the Jews living in the quartier were first prosecuted according to the Nazi’s racial laws and then deported to concentration camps.
Furthermore, since the Germans considered the winding narrow streets of Marseille old town a possible hiding place for Jews and members of the French Resistance, in 1943 ‘Le Panier‘ and the area of the Old Port were evacuated and then bombed. (If you’re interested in this sad period, don’t miss these photos of Marseille deportations) .
Today, wandering through this picturesque area of Marseille it is hard to imagine the suffering and terror endured by so many people during World War II. Only the names of streets – Rue du Panier (basket street), Rue des Moulins (mills street), Rue du Refuge (shelter street), are a reminder that this used to be a poor area, inhabited by craftsmen and shop keepers.
A pretty vintage shop celebrates on its facade Fernandel, the French comedy actor born in Marseille who played Don Camillo, the fanatical catholic priest constantly at odds with Don Peppone, the communist mayor of the town, in the popular series filmed between 1952 and 1965.
A bright and colorful wall painting invites for an apéro, likely the traditional Pastis, the anis-flavored apéritif very popular in southern France. Along the Rue du Panier, picturesque small shops and cafés let me have a little jump in the past. No department stores or luxury boutiques in ‘Le Panier‘. And it’s precisely the air of ‘older times’, the touch of authenticity of this part of Marseille, that I found enchanting.
Have you visited Marseille and the ‘Quartier Le Panier’? How do you like this kind of old neighborhoods?
Getting there: Marseille can be easily reached by plane either directly or via Paris, and by train (the high-speed TGV connects the main cities across France).
Where to sleep: Don’t miss the trendy Mama Shelter Hotel, with its awesome décor designed by Philippe Starck and the lively atmosphere.
Going to ‘Le Panier‘: The best way to explore this area (see Map here) is walking aimlessly through the narrow streets. If you don’t feel like strolling, the Little Train (Petit Train) runs from the end of the Old Port every 30 minutes from April 1st to November 15th.
Note: My visit to Marseille was part of a beautiful road trip across Provence thanks to the hospitality of Atout France Italia and Provence Guide. Opinions and feelings, as always, are mine only.