Honeymoons in the south of France: Marseille

Honeymoons in the south of France: Marseille

Move over Paris: Marseille, with its rich history, craggy shores and arty ambience, is a strong contender for the fairytale French honeymoon

In a French famille made up of Paris, Lyon, Nice, Cannes and Saint Tropez, Marseilles has always been the poor younger brother - oft-maligned, forgotten and underrated. But no more. Last year it earned the title of European Capital of Culture and came into its own, proving that there's more to this thriving city then a culture of fishing and trade. And here's how best to explore this historic port on your honeymoon, with a romantic twist of course.

Discover deep history and modern mysteries

As the oldest city in France, it's no surprise that Marseille is drenched in cultural significance. Founded more than 2,600 years ago by Greek seafarers, life in this metropolis revolves around its well-placed natural harbour, Vieux Port, which is bursting with upscale bars, avant-garde theatres, luxury yachts and sloping streets. It's a place of contrast though, with 20 museums covering all periods of history - from antiquity to modern times - as well as fine or contemporary arts, archaeology and motorcycles.

One icon not to be missed is the Neo-Byzantine beauty: Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Built between 1853 and 1870, this intimate basilica is the emblem of Marseille, rising 154m above sea level and boasting extravagant mosaic floors crafted in Venice, as well as alternating red and white marble pillars. Rewind time even further at the Abbaye Saint Victor, a beautifully-preserved late Roman monastery. Best of all, you can visit both historic sites in one day, leaving you just enough time to take your partner for an amorous meal in the evening. Bliss.

Picnic on Ile d'If

A tiny islet of snow-white stone, Ile d'If is just minutes from Vieux Port, part of the Frioul archipelago and home to salamanders and seagulls. It is most famous for its mention in the Alexander Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristowhich also features Chateau d'If, a fortress and former prison that is the focal point of the island. On this inspirational land mass, wonderfully isolated in the summer, you can enjoy a romantic picnic while listening to the gentle sounds of its clear lapping waters. Ferries to Ile d'If are €8p/p (£6.50) return.

Hike a wild coastline

Unlike most stereotypical honeymoon destinations you have to earn your trip to a Marseille beach - whether it be rock, sand or shingle - by first pulling on your walking boots. The city shores take in 37km of seafront from L'Estaque in the west to Cassis in the east. Most of it is only accessible by scrambling through small canyons and past heart-stopping cliff drops. The paths are easy to follow but are not for faint-hearted couples. A craggy paradise, the hills will seduce you and your partner with their diversity and vibrant colours, which alter from jagged rock face to jagged rock face. The coast is also home to the Cap Canaille, France's highest sea cliff, not to mention a series of calanques (steep-sided valleys/inlets) that stud the coastline with glittering bays for miles.

Dive into the calanques

Marseille's hidden fjords are about more than just hiking: find the right bay and you'll be rewarded with abundant wildlife - on land and underwater. Seabirds, foxes, stone martens, bats, snakes and lizards are in abundance, while more than 900 plant species, 50 of which are rare (such as the triangular-leafed scolopendrium fern), make for picturesque landscapes. The 'Callelongue' calanque in particular is home to a UCPA diving school: from here you can swim and dive together through pretty little coves in search of red coral, groupers, barracudas and morays. And when you're both exhausted from all that swimming and walking, relax on the sandy beach that embraces Callelongue, gazing out to sea as the sun sets over the cliffs...

Where to stay? Enjoy views over Vieux Port and the Frioul islands from this apartment in the Saint George's building. Sleeps up to three people, from £57p/n.

How to get there? Flights from London Stansted to Marseille with Ryanair are from £48p/p return.

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