Life on Mars

https://rachelsigner.substack.com/p/life-on-mars

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I arrived in Marseille after a week-long writing retreat in rural, central France as well as a few days in rainy, chilly Paris, and I basically wanted to do two things: I wanted to swim in the Mediterranean, and I wanted to dance.

My closest friend has moved to Marseille and she was more than happy to meet my wishes, bringing me immediately to the Valon des Aufles district to enjoy Campari spritzes while watching a gorgeous sunset over the Med. The next day we met at the Vieux Port to board the “beach bus,” which took us only fifteen minutes along the coast to absolutely gorgeous beaches and rocky swimming spots.

Being at the Vieux Port and riding on that bus, my mind flickered with scenes from the 2016 Netflix series Marseille, in which Gerard Depardieu plays the left-wing mayor of the city, up against anti-immigration and gang-fueled coalitions. The series portrays Marseille as a rough, fervent city whose stunning hills and rocky coastlines are shadowed by corrupt politicians.

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After an afternoon of swimming in the warm waters, we walked to Fare l’Amore, a glimpse of the persistent Italian influence in France’s most multi-cultural city. Rome being a 2-hour flight away, this shouldn’t be too surprising.

Fare l’Amore does gorgeous cocktails and delicious focaccia and anchovies and the like — a perfect aperitivo, the best I’ve seen outside of Italy itself. Feel free to sing Raffaella Carrà’s pop ballad A far l’amore comincia tu as you saunter up to one of the patio tables.

The heart of Marseille night life is the Cours Julien, a district filled with students, artists, and drinkers, peppered with some of the most outstanding vintage shops you’ve ever seen and defined by a central plaza where you have your pick of places to drink.

For you natty lovers, I offer a few Cours Julien stand-outs: Firstly, La Passerelle, a natural wine bar where a lovely David Bowie-lookalike calmly serves hoards of people ordering glasses or bottles (pictured above) at very affordable prices (the best seating is outdoors, so snag it if you can) alongside nice platters of cheese, beer tartare, and more.

I don’t think Passerelle has a website or Instagram, but it’s easy to find (26 rue des Trois Mages).

Another Cours Julien stand-out is Livingston, a gem of a restaurant (and the sister of Mercerie, more on that below) offering chefs-in-residence and a list of lively wines. Everything we ate there was absolutely gorgeous and really creative — the emphasis is definitely on sourcing products grown with incredible care, often biodynamic (there is a list within the menu detailing each producer). Bookings essential.

Then, the ultimate lunch time Cours Julien experience is Limmat, where a team of female chefs and servers offer immaculate, light, pescatarian food on a patio in the midst of a staircase overlooking an avenue that dips downhill into Marseille. An incredible experience. Call or stop by to book a table in advance.

Make sure to let them know if you want to sit outside and cross your fingers they can do it. Wine is pretty simple here — they offer a carafe of white or red and don’t say much about it. I was happy with that. The food was really excellent.

Moving away from the Cours Julien, the next neighborhood over is Noailles, marked by a daily North African food market and artisan goods (gorgeous handmade baskets, slippers, tea drinking equipment), as well as excellent Tunisian street food and the very good (cash only) Tunisian restaurant Chez Yassine. All of these dishes (above) were fantastic but the leblebi (chickpea soup) was life-changing. I’m not sure if Yassine accepts bookings but they definitely accept walk-ins.

Around the corner you’ll find the best bread and coffee in Marseille at Pétrin Couchette, which is right next to La Mercerie, an incredible restaurant with fantastic wine (bookings essential and expect it to be a somewhat pricey meal). Another great coffee spot is Deep Coffee Roasters… but Pétrin Couchette has the sourdough midas touch, plus a really nice patio.

But what about the dancing? We did go to a very special little spot called L’art Haché, and all I’ll say about it is it’s open 1-5am Saturday and Sunday, and it’s a great spot to let loose and dance — but don’t bring anything you wish to see again. No coats, no purses. Just you and your dancing shoes.

Marseille has my heart. Which brings me to another place that has my heart..,

An update about the Italy tours

As you all know by now, last year I led a tour to natural wineries in Central Italy and it was honestly one of the best weeks of my life. So, I was excited to offer it again and even added a Northern Italy option. However, when I had a hard look at the next few months and all the things I’m trying to do — including a three-week writing residency in Campania — I had to admit to myself, it’s a little too much for right now.

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Obviously I still want to share my passion for Italy and will continue to find ways to do so, but at the moment the 2024 tours are on hold and potentially will be re-offered the following year. In the meantime I am happy to provide customized natural wine itineraries for people visiting Italy who want to get into some vineyards and meet producers. I can also potentially do one-day or two-day tours in the Lake Bolsena area in early September. I’m using this year for research and planning and hope to come back with more Italy offerings.

Plus, I’ve got something in the works for Portugal in early May of 2025, so reach out if that’s on your mind.

And stay tuned for my Rome city guide next!

Thanks for reading!

xRachel