There is a long long corniche (coastal road) called Corniche Président Kennedy. The bus #83 goes all the way from the old port to the very end of the corniche. We hopped on and off the bus and walked quite a bit, but I must say that part of the walk was not really that enjoyable, because that street sure does have quite some traffic. The views are great, though!!!
Feel like a stroll along the beach in the middle of a big city? Well, keep walking past the forts at the entrance to the Vieux Port, and eventually you'll emerge on the Corniche John F. Kennedy which takes you through some of Marseille's most exclusive neighbourhoods, past sandy beaches wedged between cliffs, hidden coves and Art deco hotels with views to die for, top seafood restaurants and luxurious villas, as well a number of striking monuments placed strategically at viewpoints.
First stop is the Plage des Catalans, so close to the port you can almost see cars boarding the ferries, and you can certainly see them sail perilously close. But the sand is clean, the sea clearer than you would expect, and the bodies playing beach volleyball beautiful.
Just offshore are the Iles du Frioul and the Chateau d'If, a castle perched on a rock just big enough to keep it from toppling into the sea. Ferries take sunbathers and tourists over to the islands throughout the summer, although to be honest there doesn't look to be much there...admittedly that's based on a quick peek through binoculars from the corniche and a browse of pics on google earth, so who knows, perhaps they hold hidden delights.
Just before the Corniche crosses the inlet of Vallon des Auffes, a grand monument stands on a rock jutting out into the sea. It commemorates those soldiers from the French colonies, mainly Algeria, who fought and died for the country during the world wars. I wanted to get close to take a better photo and find out a bit more, but like so many things in Marseille in 2012, it was fenced off pending a clean up. I made do with poking my camera through the fence, managing to snap the statue with the setting sun right behind it.
After that two viaducs were built (1863) above Vallon des Auffes and Fausse Monnaie the area around Corniche Kennedy became an attractive place to build villas and Castles (see Tip B16). Altough the Corniche was enlarged in 1960's, the panoramic view remains wonderful.
For the blue tour (mainly along the sea) we start from the Tourist Office, direction Old Port. We will discover the Pharo, small valleys and villas, and come back through Notre Dame de la Garde.
For once, I didn't walk it, instead I enjoyed the beautiful views that are seen from the walkway when travelling in the Little Tourist Train. Views are of the sea, from the Catalans cove to the Prado beaches, and of the Frioul islands and the Château d'If.
In 1848, it was decided to create a seaside thoroughfare in order to provide work for the numerous unemployed of the time. Today, the Corniche is 5 kilometres long, and can be driven along or walked along.
It was redeveloped at the end of the fifties and renamed Corniche J. F. Kennedy in 1963. In the 19th century, rich merchants had magnificent villas built here, some are still here. Standing on the Corniche is a huge propeller blade, a sculpture commemorating the people repatriated to France from North Africa.
The Corniche cuts inland for a short section, allowing a lucky few a bit more privacy to build the perfect seaside villa in an area called Malmousque. Malmousque was another fishing village, now an exclusive playground for the rich. Paths lead down between the houses to coves and sunbathing rocks, as well as another top seafood restaurant, but it was all a bit too exclusive for me...
For me, the most picturesque part of the Corniche has to be the Vallon des Auffes, a small fishing community that was until the 1940s almost completely cut off from the rest of the city, only accessible by sea or perilous coast path. Now, the corniche has been built over a bridge at the end of the bay, giving panoramic views over the rooftops and boats below. Walking down the winding steps to the bottom, you emerge in what is still a fishing community despite the encroaching urban sprawl on all sides. Men still mend their nets and paint their boats down here, but nowadays they're joined by tourists taking photos and locals who come to eat at a famous bouillabaisse restaurant.
The Corniche du President Kennedy can either be walked or driven. The road which was originally constructed during the mid 19th century was significantly enlarged from 1957 to 1968, It was at this time that the road was dedicated to President Kennedy who was assassinated in 1963,
Walking the road provides both a feel for this pretty area as well as many vistas looking in to the town and out to the water. Neighborhoods appear under bridges and there are great views of the islands just off of the Marseille coast. We took this walk on a Sunday afternoon In November. The weather was unseasonably warm with scattered clouds. The grade from downhill up the road is very slight and easy to walk. For those willing to take it to the end the pretty beaches of Gaston Defferre and Prado await. The entire trip can be done in around an hour an a half depending on how many stops you wish to make
A kilometre or so further on and you reach the nicest beach, a triangle of bleached white sand with crystal clear water that sits in a slight bay, backed by some of the prettiest villas on the corniche. This is Plage du Prophete, which doesn't look like it belongs to France's gritty second city and would be more in keeping somewhere more tropical. It was August, so the sea was a bit like a human soup, but the fact that people are happy to swim in seas so close to a major port says a lot about the cleanliness of the water.
Another monument and another viewpoint, this time it commemorates the French settlers (pieds noirs) who left Algeria after independence in 1962, and arrived by ship in Marseille. This section of the Corniche overhangs the sea as it clings to the cliffs, but despite first appearances, there is still plenty of access to the sea. Look out for the holes in the pavement with secret steps leading to quiet rocks for sunbathing or whatever activities people get up to when they think they're out of sight. Looking over the side of the corniche, there was no shortage of people diving off the rocks into the clear waters below.
Finally, the Corniche reaches Plage du Prado, a fairly ugly stretch of city beach backed by bars and restaurants as well as a big ferris wheel.
This street follows the coast of Marseille to the West. It is borded with the sumptuous houses and mansions of the upper merchant classes of the 19th century. To see absolutely!