Marseille: Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review main

By Kevin Pilley, June 2024

Standing inside a can of sardines, eating a bowl of bouillabaisse in the birthplace of bouillabaisse, drinking wine made by a former manager of Fulham FC and cruising the French fjords – here are just some of the excitements on offer when you visit Marseille and its coastline.

The nhow Hotel offers the photo opportunity inside a giant can. Nhows are “art and lifestyle hotels” which also means chairs made from old jeans and furniture which look like scorpions and giant question marks.

You no longer book a hotel room, you reserve some unconventional, multi-faceted and stimulating – if not dynamic – space and inner constructive environment which “encourages you to open up, to think about and to share a positive attitude of energy”.

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review nhow hotel

Inside nhow Hotel, Marseille

“Seafood shrine”

Nhow hotels are “chameleonic and disruptive”. Overlooking what will become the HQ for sailing at the 2024 Olympics, Marseille offers dark tunnels, a smoking room full of cactii, a huge spa and wellness centre and Adele Dakkar’s excellent Les Bains restaurant, not far from the old port and the famous seafood shrine, the Miramar Restaurant.

I never thought I would become “one of those people” who take photographs of the meals they have ordered just before they are about to introduce it to their alimentary canal and digestive tract. but everyone becomes a photographer in the south of France. Especially in Marseille, where the models are unbearably beautiful and some have fins, scales, and gills.

No 12 Quay de Port is a place of seafood worship, whose patron chef is a maitre de rouille, who knows how a sea robin should be cooked and is famed for the quality of his croutons.

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review Miramar

Miramar restaurant

“Spiritual home”

Le Miramar Restaurant attracts almost as many as the French Riveira’s Phoenician city’s Bonne Mere Basilica de Notre Dame de Garde. It is the gastronomic hub and spiritual home of bouillabaisse, the iconic Provençal fish stew.

Traditionally made for no less than ten people, individual banquets come at 79 Euros.

The pupil of Paul Bocuse, Jeaune Restauranteur d’Europe, Maitre Cuisiner de France, Christian Buffa treasures seafood. He is a founder member and Vice-President of the Charter of the Bouillabaisse with Gabrielle Gallignani (Restaurant le Rhul). It is a group of French chefs who passionately uphold l’art de la bouillabaisse. There are only 12 recommended bouillabaisse specialists.

Traditional bouillabaisse demands specific ingredients and respect for “les recettes de cuisine traditionnelle”.

Originally, bouillabaisse was a fishermen’s dish made from bony fish that didn’t sell well. Essential ingredients are rondin (sea robin), red raicaisse, rouget rondin (red gurnard), conger, baudroie (lotte or monkfish), Saint-Pierre (John Dory), vive (weever) and sea urchin.

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review cooking bouillabaisse

Cooking bouillabaisse

“One hundred servings every day”

The name comes from the method of the preparation—the ingredients are not added all at once. The broth is first boiled (bolh) then the different kinds of fish are added one by one, and each time the broth comes to a boil, the heat is lowered (abaissa).

Usually, this preparation is served in two different dishes: one for the fish, the other for the soup. What distinguishes bouillabaisse from other fish soups are the Provençal herbs and spices and bony broth to which the fish are added one at a time. Excellent saffron is also de rigeur.

The broth must also comprise salt, pepper, onions, sticks, grains of fennel, parsley, potatoes, tomatoes, and two glasses of pastis.

Maitre’d Remi Campo presides over one hundred servings every day of the year. One bouillabaisse uses 1.5kg of fish supplied daily by the Marseille fish market and Rungis International Market.

Sommelier Romain Beraha will also discuss wine and professional football with you.

One of the best wines in the south of France is not called Domaine de Craven Cottage and it’s not made by Marco Silva. But it is made by Jean Tigana who played 51 times for France and who managed the London club from 2000-2003.

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review view

Calanques at Ville de Cassis

“Tastings and tours”

He is now based in chic French Riveria resort of Cassis. Of the twelve local “exclusive” AOC vineyards, his is the only one which offers tastings and tours. You need a taxi to get there.

There is no taxi rank as such in Cassis. The local taxis are too busy ferrying the locals around the narrow, one-way streets and up and down the 15:1 gradients of the famously chic Bouches-au-Rhone fishing village in the south of France.

But, along the Quai des Moulins on the opposite side of the harbour from the bobbing traditional “pointu” fishing boats, there is a calanque rank to ferry tourists around the French fjords. All the captains have done the calanque “knowledge”.

You can choose between Moby Dick 111, L’Asterix, La Sirocco and other “Bateliers Cassidains” which offer 45-minute to 2-hour trips (starting at 17E) up and around the eight inlets/creeks of the 201 square mile, terrestial-maritime-peri-urban national park established in 2012 between Marseille and La Ciotat. Marseille is a 30-minute train ride away from Cassis.

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review pory miou

Port Miou

“Open arch caves”

From your boat you will see the Calanque de Sormiu with its beach (a two hour walk from Cassis), Calanque de Morgiou, the mile-long Port Miou (with is 1649 plague chapel), Sugiton and Cosquer cave named after the diver who discovered the underwater grotto’s 2700 year-old rock paintings.

If your French is up to it, you will learn that Cassis is name after limestone falaises or karstic cliffs, that often the calanques are closed because of fire and high wind risks and that the crème de Cassis – and therefore Kir Royale – comes from Burgundy and not Cassis (the word also being French for blackcurrant).

Above the crashing waves, while you Instagram the open arch caves, you hear words like Paul Ricard, “pins d’alep” and, presumably, the French for “effluvial erosion”.

The calanques can be hiked, e-biked and done by electric tuk-tuk. The one-hour Route de Petit Prince walk is manageable for most respiration systems, but will test the ocular. Located along the mile-long Port Miou peninsula, the scenic route is named after the author, Antoine de Saint-Expury who died in a plane crash near Cassis in 1944.

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review harbour

Cassis harbour

“Catch of the day”

La Route Des Crêtes is one of the most scenic coastal drives in the Mediterranean. The 15km D141 tops the Falaises Soubeyranes, some of Europe’s highest sea cliffs, between Cap Canaille and the Bec de l’Aigle. It is a breath-taking as well as a hat-taking road. Many beloved Panamas have been lost to the local mistral. Few corniches are headwear-friendly.

Once you have coffee-ed and crossaint-ed and watched the fishermen prepping and selling their catch of the day on the Quaix Des Baux (the daily conger eel filleting and wraisse de-scaling master classes are free to attend), you can take a further stroll.

Having done the 17th-century communal oven, an eglise or two, several public fountains, the three beaches, spritzed your pulse points with Eau de Cassis (depuis 1851), gasped at the price of furniture and property and ambled the most Provençale of Provençale markets under the plane trees at Place Baragnon with its straw hats, tapinades, fougasse breads, violet artichokes, Cote d’Azur cheeses and resident artisanal nougat maker, well, there is only one address to head.

Cassis does not have any 4-star hotels. With its rooftop terrace and wellness centre, La Coeur de Cassis is the most functional and central of 3-stars. The only 5-star hotel is one of the most famous in the world.

Marseille Cassis, Calanques and The Home of Bouillabaisse – Travel Review white hotel

The famous White Cliff Hotel
image: D Delmas

“Optimal chic”

The White Cliff Hotel or Hotel Roches Blanches (to distinguish it from any Art Deco B&B in Dover) is a former 1877 Art Deco private mansion with corbelled balconies, parasol trees, an original snail-shaped swimming pool, three restaurants and peacock-themed lobby. It has just undergone refurbishment and extension. If chic elans can be enlarged, the hotel has done it. The hotel is the epitome of optimal chic.

“RB” is another one of those posh “Grand Dame” hotels Sir Winston Churchill stayed at. A 3,000 Euros-a-night suite is named after him. You can’t go far wrong following Churchillian check-in locations.

Once called Bloomsbury-sur-Mediterreane, Cassis is still classic French chic, but you will struggle to find any statues of notable residents like Baywatch star Pamela Anderson or former French footballer and FIFA administrator Michel Platini. But there is a statue of an anchovy fisherman.

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