When planning this trip back in the Fall of 2018, I knew that I wanted to get us directly from Rome to our next major stop, Barcelona, Spain by train. In looking at the train schedules and reading the guidebooks, I soon figured out that the train ride, if taken all at once, from Rome to Barcelona was more than 30 hours along the Mediterranean coast. That obviously wasn’t going to work, as there were no overnight trains available like the one that we took through Switzerland from Paris to Venice two weeks prior.
So, we decided to split the trip up in order to catch our breath and sleep, with a one-day stop in what turned out to be a fabulous city, Marseille, France, which is a little over halfway between Rome and Barcelona. To do so, the speediest way is to take a high-speed Trenitalia train from Rome to the major hub of Milan, Italy, and from there a more-or-less local train from Milan to Marseille, France, passing through the tiny country of Monaco and through the world-famous resort and film festival town of Cannes, France. Good plan, right? So, here we go, according to plan:
Morning of April 26th: This was to be a full day of train riding, so we were going to make the most of it. As I’ve explained earlier on in this blog, first-class tickets on European trains are generally only 10% or so more than standard, so if you can, always opt for first-class – where you will find roomier seats, a wifi network, ports for all of your devices, better service and tastier food. The high-speed train trip from Rome to Milan only took about three hours ten minutes, as we sped up the spine of the Italian peninsula. We had a short, easy transfer in Milan, and from here on into Marseille the Italian Thēllo train would spend most of the distance hugging the famous Côte d’Azur or French Riviera coastline traveling through Monaco and France.
Monaco is truly tiny – it has an area of 2.1 km (0.81 sq mi), or 208 hectares (510 acres), and a population of 38,400, making Monaco the second-smallest and the most densely populated country in the world. The country has a land border of only 5.47 km (3.40 mi), a coastline of 3.83 km (2.38 mi), a maritime claim that extends 22.2 kilometres (13.8 mi), and a width that varies between 1,700 and 349 m (5,577 and 1,145 ft). Monaco is also home to the world-famous Monte Carlo casino – playground of the wealthy.
We kept our eyes peeled for sumptuous villas, gorgeous seaside villas, yachts, big waves, sea views and beachgoers along this stretch of famous coastline, and it didn’t disappoint. I was surprised that the Monaco stop was way up on a mountainside above the sea and halfway underground, so I didn’t get much of a look at this tiny but surely fascinating country. Cannes seemed to slip by as well, so I didn’t get much of a look at that glitzy city either. But the whole Côte d’Azur was beautiful, although I found it hard to capture the deep azure blue of the sea as the light never seemed just right to get the perfect photograph.
It was another 8 hours and 51 minutes on the slower Milan to Marseille train with plenty of stops, so all-in-all it was sort of an exhausting day. Our guidebook suggested a small hotel smack dab next to the Marseille St. Charles train station, so that is where we stayed for the next 2 nights. Once checked in, we consulted Google for a good, local restaurant and soon found one we really liked, Ashourya. The food was exotic, tasty and very good, and as usual, I didn’t have any difficulty ordering as a vegetarian – there were many good options. After dinner, we turned in after a long day on trains.
Morning of April 27th: This morning I did something again which I learned I love to do on this trip to Europe – search out a good bakery and bring the treats back for Mandy to enjoy. This gives Mandy a little more time to rest and time for me to have a small adventure before heading out for the day! This morning I found Boulangerie Les Trois Frères, which was lovely and had delicious treats. I was out to explore the stunning city of Marseille.
It turns out that the Marseille St. Charles train station is on one of the city’s higher points. It opened on 8 January 1848, having been built for the Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (PLM) on the land of the former Saint Charles Cemetery. The station is perched on top of a small hill and is linked to the city centre by a monumental set of stairs. We proceeded down the monumental staircase and headed straight for the old town of Marseille, Panier. This section of the city has been inhabited since 600 B.C., when it was settled by the Greeks.
In Panier, there was lots of interesting street art on the buildings. The roads through Panier were mostly one-car-wide and featured 3 to 5-storey townhouses with many shuttered windows, blowing drapes, earth tones and many pastel-colored walls. The whole feeling was very charming indeed.
After Panier, we wandered down to the old Port area, Vieux-Port, and walked through a cathedral, the La Major is a Romanesque-Byzantine church. The Old Port (Vieux Port) of Marseille surrounds a lively yacht marina and is known for its stylish hotels, waterfront cafes, and seafood restaurants serving mullet and lobster from the quayside fish market. Guarding the port is the centuries-old Fort Saint-Jean, which stands near the Romanesque-style Saint-Laurent Church.
Marseille served as the European Capital of Culture for 2013 along with Košice, Slovakia. Many new buildings and facilities were built to revitalize Marseille leading up to this event. Marseille is the second-largest city in France, after Paris. One of the main things built was a new museum, dedicated to the civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, the MUCEM. The MUCEM is in a fantastic new building, connected to the ancient Fort Saint-Jean over the shimmering entrance to the Vieux-Port.
The exterior skin of the museum is open-web style abstractly designed to look like great strands of seaweed, masking a glass facade and interconnecting ramps and walkways behind. It was inaugurated on 7 June 2013 as part of Marseille-Provence 2013, a year when Marseille was designated as the European Capital of Culture. In 2015, it won the Council of Europe Museum Prize.
Connected by a high bridge to the MUCEM is the centuries-old Fort Saint-Jean, built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port. Surrounding the old fort were fantastic grounds, dominated by wonderful native plant gardens. We strolled through the large garden for a good while, admiring the flowers, native plants and herbs, bees and butterflies.
After the Fort we found our way to the Musée d’ Archéologie Méditerranéenne. There were amazing antiquities from all around the Mediterranean, most notably ancient Egyptian sarcophogi – one amazing one in basalt – statuary and tablets. Most notable were the Funerary stele of Nebimose, priest of Osiris and the Funerary stele of the chief silversmith Khonsu. Apparently, this archeology museum is the best in France and one of the best in all Europe.
After the archeology museum we retired to our hotel to rest up for the train ride into Barcelona tomorrow!