Main info

Departement

Bouches du Rhône

Location

On highway A7 and route N7; 479 miles S of Paris, 116 miles SW of Nice, 19 miles S of Aix-en-Provence

Time Zone

Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour. The French equivalent of daylight saving time lasts from around April to September, which puts it 1 hour ahead of French winter time. Depending on the time of year, France is 6 or 7 hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.

Dialing Code

The zone prefix for Marseille is 04. Dial the full 10 digit number (which includes this prefix) for local calls. The country code is 33. (use the country code only when calling Marseille from another country).

Currency

France’s currency is the Franc (Fr) which is divided into 100 centimes. The denominations of franc bills are 2o, 50, 100, 200, and 500. At present and until July 1, 2002, French currency is still being accepted during the transition time following the introduction of euro currency. The easiest method of securing cash at the best exchange rate is to make withdrawals using a US credit card from the ATM machines found at the major banks and stores.

Climate

The Mediterranean coast has the driest climate in France. Most rain falls in spring and autumn. Summers are comfortably dry. Provence experiences le mistral (a cold, violent wind from the French and Swiss Alps that blows south down the Rhône Valley). It most often blows in winter, sometimes for a few days, but sometimes for up to 2 weeks.

Average Temperatures (In Fahrenheit)

High Low
January – March 59F 35F
April – June 79F 46F
July – September 84F 63F
October – December 68F 37F

National Holidays

In France, holidays are known as jours feriés. Shops and many businesses (banks and some museums and restaurants) close on holidays, but hotels and emergency services remain open.

New Year’s Day Jan 1
Easter Sunday (varies) and Easter Monday
V-E Day in Europe May 8
Whit Monday mid May
Ascension Thursday 40 days after Easter
Bastille Day July 14
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Aug 15
All Saints’ Day Nov 1
Armistice Day Nov 11
Christmas Dec 25.

Business Hours

Most banks are open Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Many, particularly in smaller towns or villages, take a lunch break at varying times. Hours are usually posted on the door. Most museums close 1 day a week (often Tuesday), and they’re usually closed on national holidays. Usual hours are 9:30am to 5pm. Some museums, particularly the smaller ones, close for lunch from noon to 2pm. Most French museums are open on Saturday; many are closed Sunday morning but open Sunday afternoon. Offices are, in general, open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, but always call first. In some small stores, the lunch break can last 3 hours, beginning at 1pm.

Drugstores

In France they are called pharmacie. Pharmacies take turns staying open at night and on Sunday; the local Commissariat de Police will tell you the location of the nearest one.

Electricity

In general, expect 200 volts, 50 cycles, though you’ll encounter 110 and 115 volts in some older establishments. Adapters are needed to fit sockets. Many hotels have two-pin (in some cases, three-pin) sockets for electric razors. It’s best to ask your hotel concierge before plugging in any appliance.

Emergencies

In an emergency while at a hotel, contact the front desk to summon an ambulance or do whatever is necessary. But for something like a stolen wallet, go to the police station in person. Otherwise, you can get help anywhere in France by calling tel. 17 for the police or tel. 18 for the fire department (pompiers).

Mail

Most post offices in France are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 7pm and Saturday from 8am to noon. You can exchange money at post offices. Many hotels sell stamps, as do local post offices and cafes displaying a red “tabac” sign outside.

Newspapers/Magazines

Most major cities carry copies of the International Herald Tribune, USA Today, and usually a major London paper or two. Nearly all big-city newsstands also sell copies of Time and Newsweek

Safety

Those intending to visit the south of France, especially Marseille, should exercise extreme caution: robberies and muggings here are commonplace. It’s best to check your baggage into a hotel and then go sightseeing instead of leaving it unguarded in the trunk of a car, which can easily be broken into.

Taxes

As a member of the European Union, France routinely imposes a value-added tax (VAT) on many goods and services. The standard VAT on merchandise is 20.6%. Refunds are made for the tax on certain goods, but not on services. The minimum purchase is 1,200F ($204) for nationals or residents of countries outside the EU

Telephone

You’ll find public phone booths in cafes, restaurants, post offices, airports, and train stations and occasionally on the streets. Pay phones accept coins of 1/2F, 1F, 2F, and 5F; the minimum charge is 1F (15¢). Pick up the receiver, insert the coin(s), and dial when you hear the tone, pushing the button when there’s an answer.

The French also use a télécarte, a phone debit card, which can be purchased at rail stations, post offices, and other places. Sold in two versions, it allows you to use either 50 or 120 charge units (depending on the card) by inserting the card into the slot of most public phones. Depending on the type of card you buy, they cost 41F to 98F ($6.95 to $16.65).

When calling from outside France, dial the international access code for your country, the country code for France (33), and then the last nine digits of the number, dropping the 0 (zero) from the area code.

Tipping

All bills, as required by law, are supposed to say service compris, which means that the tip has been included.

 

Getting There

By Air

The Marseille airport 04-42-14-14-14, 18 miles north of the center in Marignane, receives international flights from all over Europe. From the airport, blue-and-white minivans (navettes) make the trip from a point in front of the arrivals hall to Marseille’s St-Charles rail station near the Vieux Port for a low one-way fee. The minivans run daily at 20-minute intervals, 6:20am to 10:50pm. St. Charles Train Station: 3hr. 50 minutes from Paris by TGV (high speed train).

By Train

For rail information and schedules 08-36-35-35-35. The city is the terminus for the TGV bullet train, which departs daily from Paris’s Gare de Lyon (trip time: 4 3/4 hrs.). Local trains from Paris arrive almost every hour. Marseille has especially good train connections to and from Italy.

By Bus

Buses pull into the Gare Routière, on the place Victor Hugo 04-91-08-16-40), adjacent to the St. Charles railway station.

By Automobile

Take the A7 autoroute into Marseille.

Districts of Marseille

There are 111 different districts in Marseille, of which the following are the most frequently visited:

Le Vieux Port

The old port is one of the best-known parts of Marseilles and its streets are lined with restaurants and cafés. In the mornings, fishermens wives auction off their wares in the fish market opposite the boats.

La Canebière

This is the most famous road in town. Along it you will see shopping streets such as Rue St Ferréol, and the Musée de la Mode, the Musée de la Marine, and the Opéra.

Le Panier

A walk through this popular district, close to the old port, takes you around the Provençal pedestrian streets lined with multi-colored buildings. The Clocher des Accoules, la place des Moulins, la Vieille Charité and la Major are all rich in history.

La Joliette

The Joliette docks are the long red brick buildings along the motorway footbridge. The 4 blocks of buildings were built in the nineteenth century and the interiors have been completely renovated. The Musée des Docks Romains charts the history of the port of Marseille.

La Plaine

In Marseille, Place Jean Jaures is also known as La Plaine. This huge square has a market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and a busy shopping area at other times. In the adjacent streets, there is a wide choice of restaurants, bars and pubs.

Le Cours Julien

Just along from La Plaine, le Cours Julien is where young people like to go as there is a good variety of cafés, cabarets and fringe theatres such as Chocolat-Théâtre. For concerts there is Espace Julien. There are many antique shops and clothes boutiques.

Castellane

Bars and cinemas such as César and the Prado keep this square at the end of the Rue de Rome busy day and night.

Le Prado

People come to the Prado to see the buildings that line the main road, the Boulevard Périer and the Rue Paradis. The Parc Borély and its castle provide one of Marseilles biggest open spaces. The racecourse here is also very popular.

Endoume

This district is dominated by Notre Dame de la Garde. The name La Bonne Mère (literally ‘the Good Mother’) comes from the enormous statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the bell tower. This church is an important site for pilgrims.

La Corniche

The Corniche (coastal road) winds along the Mediterranean coast . Upscale villas are located in this district, as is the Musée d’Art Contemporain. From all directions, you can admire the open sea.

Longchamp

Palais Longchamp is a favorite place for walks.You can also visit the Musée Grobet Labadié, the Musée des Beaux Arts and the Muséum d?Histoire Naturelle – the natural history museum which used to be a zoo and has been converted into a park.

Events

January:

Monte Carlo Motor Rally

The world’s oldest car race.
For more information, call 92-16-61-66
Usually in mid-January. 

February:

Fęte de la Chandeleur (Candlemas)

Basilique St-Victor, Marseille
A celebration in honor of the arrival in Marseille of the three Marys. A procession brings the Black Virgin up from the crypt of the abbey.
For more information, call 04-91-13-89-00
Early February. 

April:

Féria Pascale

(Easter Bullfighting Festival)
Arles
This is a major bullfighting event that includes not only appearances by the greatest matadors but also abrivados and bodegas (wine stalls).
For more information, call 04-90-18-41-20
Easter.

Festival des Musiques d’Aujourd’hui

(Festival of Contemporary Music)
Marseille
This festival presents the works of very young French and European composers in music and dance.
For more information, call Experimental Music Groups of Marseille at tel. 04-91-39-29-00
April 29 to May 12. 

May:

La Fęte des Gardians

(Camargue Cowboys’ Festival)
Arles This event features a procession of Camargue cowboys through the streets of town. Activities feature various games involving bulls, including Courses Camarguaises, in which competitors have to snatch a rosette from between the horns of a bull. For information, call 04-90-18-41-20
Early May.

Cannes Film Festival

Movie madness transforms this city into the kingdom of the media-related deal, with daily melodramas acted out in cafes, on sidewalks, and in hotel lobbies. Great for voyeurs. Reserve early and make a deposit. Getting a table on the Carlton terrace is even more difficult than procuring a room. Admission to some of the prestigious films is by invitation only. There are box-office tickets for the less important films, which play 24 hours.
For information, contact the Direction du Festival International du Film, 99 bd. Malesherbes, 75008 Paris (tel. 01-45-61-66-00; fax 01-42-66-68-85)
Two weeks before the festival, the event’s administration moves en masse to the Palais des Festivals, esplanade Georges-Pompidou, 06400 Cannes (tel. 04-93-39-01-01)
Early to mid-May.

Monaco Grand Prix

Hundreds of cars race through the narrow streets and winding corniche roads in a surreal blend of high-tech machinery and medieval architecture. For more information, call 01-42-96-12-23.
May 13 to 16.

Le Pélerinage des Gitans

(Gypsies’ Pilgrimage)
Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer
This festival is in memory of the two Marys for whom the town is named (Mary, the mother of James the lesser, and Mary Salome, the mother of James the greater and John). A model boat containing statues of the saints and a statue of St. Sarah, patron saint of Gypsies, is taken to the seashore and blessed by the bishop.
For more information, call 04-90-97-82-55
Last week of May. 

June:

Festival de la St-Eloi

(St. Eloi Festival)
Maussane-les-Alpilles
For this festival, wagons are decorated and raced in the Carreto Ramado, followed by mass, a procession in traditional dress, and a benediction. Special events are held and local produce and handcrafts sold.
For more information, 04-90-54-52-04
Mid-June.

Festival Aix en Musique

(“Aix in Music” Festival)
Aix-en-Provence
Concerts of classical music and choral singing are held in historic buildings, such as the Cloisters of the Cathédrale St-Sauveur and the Hôtel Maynier d’Oppčde.
For more information, call 04-42-21-69-69
Throughout June.

Festival d’Expression Provençale

(Festival of Provençal Language)
Abbaye St-Michel de Frigolet, Tarascon
At this festival, homage is paid to the region’s language with works by Provençal writers that are acted in French and Provençal.
For more information, call 04-90-95-50-77
Late June to early July.

Reconstitution Historique

(Historical Pageant)
Salon-de-Provence This pageant held in honor of Nostradamus includes a cast of 700 in historical costume and is followed by a son-et-lumičre at the Château d’Empéri.
For more information, call 04-90-56-77-92
Late June to early July. 

July:

St-Guilhem Music Season

St-Guilhem le Désert, Languedoc
This festival of baroque organ and choral music is held in a medieval monastery.
For information, call 04-67-63-14-99
July to early August.

Festival International d’Art Lyrique et de Musique d’Aix

(Aix International Festival of Opera and Music)
Palais de l’Archévčche and Cathédrale St-Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence
This highly prestigious festival presents operas, particularly of Mozart, as well as concerts and recitals.
For more information, call 04-42-17-34-34
Throughout July.

Bastille Day

Celebrating the birth of modern-day France, the festivities in the south reach their peak in Nice with street fairs, pageants, fireworks, and feasts. The day begins with a parade down promenade des Anglais and ends with fireworks in the Vieille Ville. No matter where you are, by the end of the day you’ll hear Piaf warbling “La Foule” (The Crowd), the song that celebrated her passion for the stranger she met and later lost in a crowd on Bastille Day.
Similar celebrations also take place in Cannes, Arles, Aix, Marseille, and Avignon.
July 14.

Nuit Taurine

(Nocturnal Bull Festival)
St-Rémy-de-Provence
At this festival, the focus is on the age-old allure of bulls and their primeval appeal to roaring crowds. Abrivados involve bulls in the town square as “chaperoned” by trained herders on horseback; encierros highlight a Pamplona-style stampeding of bulls through the streets. Music from local guitarists and flaming torches add drama.
For more information, call 04-90-92-05-22
Mid-July.

Grand Parade du Jazz

(Nice Jazz Festival)
This is the biggest, flashiest, and most prestigious jazz festival in Europe, with world-class entertainers. Concerts begin in early afternoon and go on until late at night (sometimes all night in the clubs) on the Arčnes de Cimiez, a hill above the city. Reserve hotel rooms way in advance.
For information, contact the Grand Parade du Jazz, c/o the Cultural Affairs Department of the city of Nice (tel. 04-93-92-82-82; fax 04-93-92-82-85)
Mid-July.

Festival d’Aix-en-Provence

This musical event par excellence features everything from Gregorian chant to melodies composed on computerized synthesizers. The audience sits on the sloping lawns of the 14th-century papal palace for operas and concertos. Local recitals are performed in the medieval cloister of the Cathédrale St-Sauveur. Make advance hotel reservations and take a written confirmation with you when you arrive. Expect heat, crowds, and traffic.
For more information, contact the Festival International d’Art Lyrique et de Musique, Palais de l’Ancien Archévčche, 13100 Aix-en-Provence (tel. 04-42-17-34-34; fax 04-42-63-13-74)
Mid- to late July.

Les Chorégies d’Orange

Orange
One of southern France’s most important lyric festivals presents oratorios and choral works by master performers whose voices are amplified by the ancient acoustics of France’s best-preserved Roman amphitheater. For more information, call 04-90-34-24-24
Mid-July to early August.

Festival d’Avignon

One of France’s most prestigious theater events, this world-class festival has a reputation for exposing new talent to critical acclaim. The focus is usually on avant-garde works in theater, dance, and music by groups from around the world. Mime, too. Make hotel reservations early. For information, 04-90-82-65-11 or fax 04-90-82-95-03. Edwards and Edwards can order tickets to virtually any of the musical or theatrical events at the Avignon festival, as well as other cultural events throughout France. Its address is 1270 Ave. of the Americas, Suite 2414, New York, NY 10020 (tel. 800/223-6108)
Mid- to late July.

Festival de Marseille Méditerranée

This festival features concerts and recitals of music and song from the entire Mediterranean region. Theater and dance are also presented, along with special exhibitions in the city’s main museums.
For more information, call 04-91-99-00-20 or fax 04-91-99-00-22
Second 2 weeks in July.

Fęte de la St-Eloi

(Feast of St. Eloi)
Gémenos
Some hundred draft horses draw a procession of traditional flower-decked wagons. Folk troupes also perform.
For more information, call 04-42-32-18-44
Late July. 

August:

Fętes Daudet

(Daudet Festival)
Fontvieille
At this festival, mass said in Provençal is held in the avenue of pine trees. There’s folk dancing outside Daudet’s mill and a torchlight procession through the streets of town to the mill.
For more information, 04-90-54-67-49
Mid-August

Féria de St-Rémy

(Bullfights)
St-Rémy-de-Provence
This event features a 4-day celebration of bulls with abrivado and encierro (see the Nuit Taurine entry above), branding, and Portuguese bull fighting (matadors on horseback).
For more information, call 04-90-92-05-22
Mid-August. 

September:

Fęte des Olives

(Olive Festival)
Mouričs
A mass is held in honor of the green olives. There’s a procession of groups in traditional costume, an olive tasting, and sales of regional produce.
For more information, call 04-90-47-56-58
Mid-September.

Féria des Prémices du Riz

(Rice Harvest Festival)
Arles
Bullfights are held in the amphitheater with leading matadors, and a procession of floats makes its way along boulevard des Lices; there are also traditional events with cowboys and women in regional costume.
For more information, 04-90-18-41-20
Mid-September.

Journée de l’Olivier en Provence

(Day Celebrating the Olive in Provence)
Salon-de-Provence
This event is attended by producers of olive oil, Marseille soap, olive-wood articles, booksellers, and pottery and earthenware makers. Special events are held in the history center.
For more information, call 04-90-56-27-60
Late September.

Perpignan Jazz Festival

Musicians from everywhere jam in what many visitors consider Languedoc’s most appealing season.
For more information, call 04-68-66-30-30
Late September. 

November:

Marché aux Santons

Tarascon
Craftspersons from throughout Provence congregate in this medieval village to sell their santons (carved representations of saints).
For more information, call 04-90-91-22-96 or fax 04-90-91-03-52
Four days in late November. This event is supplemented, sometimes with the same sellers, who move to the Foire aux Santons in Marseille, held between November 27 and December 31.
For more information, call 04-91-13-89-00 or fax 04-91-13-89-20. 

December:

Fęte des Bergers

(Shepherds Festival)
Istres
This festival features a procession of herds on their way to winter pastures. There are cowboys, a Carreto Ramado, a blessing of the horses, an all-night Provençal party with shepherds and Provençal storytellers, and folk troupes.
For more information, call 04-42-55-51-15
First 2 weeks in December.

Foire de Noël

Mougins
Hundreds of merchants, selling all manner of Christ- mas ornaments and gifts, descend on Mougins in Provence, to herald in the Christmas spirit. December 11 and 12.

Midnight Mass

Fontvieille
A traditional midnight mass, including the pastrage ceremony, the presentation of a new-born lamb. There’s a procession of folk troupes, Camargue cowboys, and women in traditional costume from Daudet’s mill to the church, followed by the presentation of the lamb.
For more information, call 04-90-54-67-49
December 24.

Noël Provençal

(Provençal Christmas)
Eglise St-Vincent, Les Baux
The procession of shepherds is followed by a traditional midnight mass, including the pastrage ceremony, traditional songs, and performance of a nativity play.
For more information, call 04-90-54-40-20
December 24.

Fęte de St-Sylvestre

(New Year’s Eve)
nationwide
Along the Riviera, it’s most boisterously celebrated in Nice’s Vieille Ville around place Garibaldi. At midnight, the city explodes. Strangers kiss strangers, and place Masséna and promenade des Anglais become virtual pedestrian malls.
December 31.

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