Part 1 of EuroTrip 2017! I was unbelievably excited to get this trip underway – my first time in Europe! I was a a little bit concerned that jet lag might put a damper on our enthusiasm once we touched down after the overnight flight from JFK to Barcelona, but trusty old adrenaline kicked in, and Part 1 was a grand success.
- Hiking in Les Calanques
- Putting our French skills to the test
Days 1 and 2 – Flight to Barcelona and Drive to Collioure/Marseille
When it was all said and done, we spent about 24 hours traveling before we could officially say that we had made it. We had found a $400 round trip flight with Iberia from JFK to Barcelona, which meant that we had to start it all off with a 6-hour drive down to JFK from Rochester. Add in the roughly 8 hours of flight time to Madrid, another hour to Barcelona, and some layovers, and we were just about 20 hours into the trip before we were on the road in our rental car for another 5 or 6 hours en route to Marseille!
After a lovely flight with some better-than-expected food and less-than-ideal sleep, we landed in Barcelona at around 10am on Sunday morning and got on the road in our Citroen Picasso minivan around noon. Driving out of the airport, we were struck by how much the area around Barcelona reminded us of San Francisco. Neighborhoods built into the hills, the dry, 60-degrees-and-sunny weather, and the water brought me back to the drive from SFO to San Francisco on West Coast Trip 2015.
After getting over some initial nerves about how I would cope with European driving (turns out they do drive on the right side of the road!), we were on our way to Marseille. We had picked out a few options for cities and towns to check out along the way to split up the Sunday drive. Girona, Perpignan, Collioure, and Bouzigues were all on the list, but we ended up choosing Collioure based on when we started to get hungry.
Collioure is a beautiful, tiny, fortified coastal town in France, just across the Spanish-French border.
The first order of business was finding the castle and waterfront, and snapping some pics for Instagram! We walked through the narrow streets to get to the main waterfront area, and took in some lovely views of the Mediterranean and the castle protecting the town.
Next, it was time to find some food. Being careful to avoid the potential tourist traps near the water, we ventured back inland and checked out a few menus before landing on L’Ostra, a small oyster, tapas and wine bar.
Being so close to the Spanish border, we noticed that this place almost had more of a Catalan influence than French. We ordered pan con tomate, jamon iberico, and of course, oysters and a bottle of red wine. The food was fantastic, and the owners of the bar were very friendly (and spoke just enough English). It couldn’t have been a more perfect first meal of the trip.
With a little bit of daylight left, we walked around the town some more, this time getting some pictures of a tiny church on the other side of the waterfront area.
With the sun starting to set, it was time to complete the journey to Marseille. Our destination was Le Ryad boutique hotel, off of La Canabiere, which is one of the main avenues in Marseille. After a minor mishap that resulted in me driving around the tiny streets of Marseille by myself with no phone or directions (it’s a long story), we were checked in and ready to go find some grub.
We had just enough time to walk from the hotel to Toinou for some really great seafood. We got a huge platter of seafood with dippin’ sauces, a bunch of baguettes, and a bottle of house wine at a very reasonable price. We were off to a great culinary start.
Word to the wise – I would recommend taking an Uber around La Canabiere at night, especially on a Sunday night or weeknight when the area is kind of dead. As we walked around the corner on the way to dinner, we walked right by a legit brawl in the street, and the rest of the walk to Toinou was very desolate. Be careful out there!
Day 3 – Marseille
The plan for Day 3 was to start off with an early hike in Parc National des Calanques, on a route that we had identified that starts in Cassis, about a 35 minute drive outside Marseille. However, an early morning run beforehand down to the port and back revealed that it may have been a bit too cold for hiking. We decided to bundle up anyway, and head out to Cassis. We parked the car, got out, and instantly decided that it was indeed too cold for a hike. But Cassis looked nice, so we decided to explore and try to find a spot for breakfast.
Not much was open in Cassis on a Monday morning, except for some bars on the harbor with locals drinking pastis or espresso or who knows what, curiously watching a confused group of Americans wandering aimlessly at non-peak tourist time, incredulously wondering why nothing is open. Finally, we found a pastry shop and filled up on croissants before grabbing a “takeaway” cappuccino at one of the aforementioned bars.
While the day was off to a bit of a rough start, we figured we might be able to still catch some sweet views if we drove around the Calanques. And we were right!
With lunchtime approaching, we headed back to the hotel to change before heading out for dejeuner at Le Fantastique. Lunch was terrific; the menu rotates constantly, as they select only three meal options to serve each day. Everything was very fresh, and reminded us all of a great home cooked meal. I chose chicken thighs over a bed of yellow rice, topped with a lovely gravy. It probably has some kind of French name, but I forgot. Oh, and good cheap wine!
Next up on the agenda was walking around Le Panier district, which is the part of town just north of the port with quiet, narrow streets and old beautiful architecture. There was also some colorful street art in the neighborhood.
After some exploring, it was time to do some more exploring! We took a ride over to the Cours Julien neighborhood, which is supposed to be the diverse, eclectic, hipster neighborhood of Marseille – and also known for having a lot of street art. We arrived at Le Quartier de Createurs (that’s “creators,” not “creatures”) just at sunset, which allowed us to get some great pictures of the colorful “Escaliers du Cours Julien” and views out over the streets below.
We didn’t have too much time to lollygag around unfortunately, but we had reservations for bouillabaisse at the old Marseille stand-by, Chez Fonfon. A couple of us had tried bouillabaisse in America, but it is a whole different experience in its homeland of Marseille. Or at least at Chez Fonfon.
First, the waiter brings around a massive platter of pre-prepared fish, and describes each in detail. The fish used in the day’s bouillabaisse is whatever was caught fresh at the market that morning. We had 5 varieties in ours (but I cannot remember any of them at this point).
After the fish presentation, a pleasant Frenchman comes around with a piping hot pot of red fish stew, accompanied with toasted baguette slices and various aioli and sauces. He ladled out a bowl for each of us, and we went to town on the delicious broth until, some time later, an outrageous amount of cooked fish came out on a plate for each of us, along with some potatoes.
The socially acceptable way to proceed from that point was to take the pieces of fish and potato, dip them into the broth, and chow down! The delightful Frenchman with the stew pot came around several more times for refills, and by the end of it all we were stuffed.
But just because you’re stuffed doesn’t mean you can’t have dessert! The group was struck by a sweet craving, so we set back out to find some tasty treats at La Cantinetta, a very well-reviewed Italian restaurant in Cours Julien that was high on our radar. We only had the amazing desserts, but the rest of the food coming out the kitchen looked incredible as well.
And just like that, after finishing off our bottle of Montepulciano, Day 3 of EuroTrip 2017 was complete!
- Cours Julien
- La Cantinetta
- Olympique de Marseille match
- La Cantinetta for dinner
- Hiking Les Calanques (when it’s a little warmer)
What do you think of this trip so far? What did we miss? Leave a comment!
And stay tuned for more EuroTrip 2017!