Lunch in Marseille

I thought that sounded like a nice languid Ladies who Lunch headline. Better than a day and a half in Marseille because David had a scientific meeting to attend. So I tagged along.

But that is what we did.

And I am adding it to the list of embarrassingly obvious things I still haven’t done after 15 years on the farm in this part of France.

Like actually walking around our nearest city Valence. Having lunch at the amazing restaurant Pic. Never been.

I know every single aisle of every single large hardware and builders’ merchants on the périphérique around that town. But the centre? Nope.

Unless you count the train station in town, the car park next to the bus station, the Orange shop to get a new modem once. And a long time spent in a bread queue next to the train station. That’s it.

And then there is the coast. One hour away by train from Valence! Why on earth didn’t I drive down to the station (out of town by 10kms so it doesn’t count in the sightseeing side of Valence), park the car and jump on board the TGV to the coast before?

Because it’s there. It’s always there. And last week we were too.

I was trying to remember the last time I visited. Dare I admit it was almost 40 years ago? Yes I am that old. I went through on a gap year just after high school and never thought to return.

It is France’s second biggest city and so, so different to anywhere else I have been. I always conjure certain images of French towns and cities. Stunning architecture and considered urban zones seem to come to mind. Structure. Form. Planning. Delight.

Marseille right on the sea felt different. (We were staying in the port area.). It feels much more edgy, scruffy, then suddenly glam, and out of my comfort zone in terms of a woman ambling alone on city streets. All in about three blocks. I had a feeling I was more in Morocco than France.

But so intriguing and rather fun.

Look at streets like this. I was just itching to head on up and explore.

But actually I didn’t because I was waiting for the shutters to go up on Caincaillerie mecca. Maison Empereur.

How on earth do you just call this a hardware store? It is five stores now all along this small Marseille street. And just brimful of delights. Dark wood panelled rooms that flow into each other, luring you further in. And then up the wooden stairs to the children’s wooden toys, textiles, candles and scent section. I did not buy a blue Marseille worker’s jacket. But was sorely tempted. One cliché too far. But had I more time I would have staggered out with even more loot than I saw.

Perfect everything. From knives to spoons to saucepans to …. I’m gabbling because it was so wonderful. I came out armed with soap, spoons, tea towels, spice mixes, a mini salad spinner, herb chopper, perfect gifts for tricky people…

Just fab. They have an excellent website if you want to order online.

And the neighbourhood – about five minutes walk up from the port was intriguing too.

We ate really well. Insisting on seafood for every meal. Cuttlefish. Who knew they were so delicious?

And sardines, and octopus and monkfish….

Just in case you go, here are our favourite meals. From Les Arsenaulx near the old Port, and La Grotte out at Callelongue.

Les Asenaulx is in a converted bookshop and I was quite distracted as I was sure that Michel Roux Jr was over on the next table animating a crowd. I wanted to take a discrete picture of him… but felt too much like a groupie. I have eaten once at his restaurant Le Gavroche in London and it was just gorgeous.

La Grotte was even better.

That was the real treat. Lunch right on the sea.

And even an hour’s walk along the limestone cliffs of the calenque just after the last little hamlet before the National Park.

I botanised like mad – Pistacia lentiscus shrubs everywhere.

And a rocky path that led round to the next bay….

Except we ran out of time and had to go back.

As will I. And take my bathing costume. And an extra bag for Empereur delights.