Often compared to New York City, Marseille is known as the Mediterranean’s melting pot. When taking a cruise to Europe, you’ll have the chance to cruise to Marseille and visit France’s second largest city located in the Provence region.
Marseille has undergone a renaissance over the years, transforming itself into a world-class destination. With high-end retailers, think funky boutiques mixed with old-world stores and street markets, you’ll find plenty of charm and perhaps some gifts as you traverse the cobblestones of Marseille.
From local marvels to classic delicacies, here is our list of 15 must-haves to bring home with you.
1. Anything Nautical
As Marseille is both a huge port and a coastal city, you’ll find nautical-themed items everywhere.
You’ll find clothing, gear, and model ships, as well as prints, posters and even antique maps that you can take home and frame.
2. Savon de Marseille
Beautiful bars of soap made in Marseille are everywhere. There’s even a museum you can visit that shows you how it’s made. Marseille has been known as the long-time spot where master soap makers converge to create soaps.
Using native olive oils and other plant-based ingredients of the Mediterranean, these artisans craft some of the most delicate soaps in the world.
Today, a handful of crafters continue to make this soap, known locally as Savon de Marseille, using traditional methods.
Though it’s one of the most commonly available things to buy in Marseille, it’s also one of the most appreciated when given as a gift back home.
European chocolates are divine, especially in Marseille where you’ll find L’Espérentines. This special chocolate was introduced in 1999 as a way to celebrate the city’s 2,600th anniversary.
This chocolate is a work of art, packaged in the shape of an olive leaf with almond, orange and mint filling. Remember to make sure that any food you bring back on the ship is packaged and sealed to comply with regulations.
In Provence, the holidays are celebrated with displays of santons, also known as “little saints.” Santons are tiny, hand-painted figurines, many with smiles on their faces to display their grace.
Each santon is a labor of love, according to locals, and made from regional Provencal clay from either Marseille or Aubagne.
Stroll the Old Port of Marseille and pick up a bottle of anise-flavored spirit, Pastis. This refreshing aperitif is produced from the star anise, a spice grown in China.
It’s quite sweet, yet the distinctive taste can be found in many dishes in Provence.
Remember that you can buy only one duty-free liter per adult, which will be held for you by your Carnival cruise staff until the end of your voyage.
6. A Pétanque Boules Set
Add a little fun to your backyard party with a Pétanque set. Pétanque is a Provencal outdoor game where teams throw “boules” or metallic spheres the size of a baseball.
The game starts with one of the teams throwing a wooden ball out into an open space and the goal of the game is for the teams to throw their metal balls as close as they can to the wooden ball. The team with the most balls close to the wooden ball wins!
Pétanque boules sets last forever and they’re known in Marseille as one of the most leisurely games to play, even if you’re not an athlete.
You’ll also find Parisian style couture in Marseille. Look for boutiques where top designer names are sold.
In addition to clothing, you’ll also find designer accessories, such as handbags and shoes, so you don’t need to go to Paris to look like a Parisian back home.
One of Marseille’s specialties are shell-shaped, sponge cakes called madeleines. These vanilla-flavored little cakes are extremely popular in France, so make sure you try to buy the freshest that you can.
Make sure that any food you bring back on the ship is packaged and sealed.
Marseille celebrates all things nautical, even with its traditional boat-shaped biscuits called navettes. The signature flavor of navettes comes from the addition of orange water.
Though they are popular during Christmas, they are available year round. Also, make sure that any food you bring back on the ship is packaged and sealed to comply with regulations.
Open-air markets in Marseille offer a wide selection of exotic and aromatic spices, much of it a direct result of its large African community. You’ll find spices sold in barrels, with much to go around. Teas are also available for purchase.
If you have the chance to visit the Lavender Museum on a shore excursion, you’ll find any number of lavender beauty products in the gift shop to bring home.
The Lavender Museum is located in picturesque Coustellet, where there are miles of seasonally lush lavender fields.
Typically, lavender fields bloom fully during mid-June to mid-July.
12. French Ochre Pigments
The unexpected tiny town of Roussillon, just a motor coach ride away from the port of Marseille, has soil that is enveloped in an orangey ochre tint that’s a photographer’s dream. The clay earth color is a result of the ochre deposits the town was built upon.
No doubt, you’ll come away with a souvenir of ochre-pigmented shoes or clothing, if you visit the quarry during a shore excursion. But, if you’re an artist or want to bring artist souvenirs from Marseilles, consider visiting an arts and crafts shop or art gallery where you can find authentic, rich ochre pigments to use in your own work.
13. Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of Marseille’s best-selling souvenirs. Thousands of years ago when the Greeks discovered Marseille, they brought olive trees to the region. Look for beautifully boxed olive oils to bring back to use in your kitchen or give to loved one as gifts.
One of the best things to buy in Marseille is fabric. Provence’s colorful fabrics are known throughout the world for their sun-drenched colors. The fabrics are some of the prettiest and most affordable souvenirs to bring home.
Traditional prints, known locally as “les indiennes” (a small, colorful pattern imported from India to France in the 17th century), are designed using vivid colors to depict sunflowers, lavender, vines, olive branches, lemons and other forms of nature’s bounty.
If you’re a sewer, upholsterer, quilter or crafter, you won’t be able to pass these beautiful fabrics up.
When in France, buy wine. If you take an excursion to Avignon, you’ll be able to visit one of Marseille’s local wineries in Châteauneuf, and tour age-old vineyards. Don’t leave without buying a bottle as a memento of this most unique experience.
Remember that Carnival allows only one, duty-free liter of alcohol per adult, which will be held for you by your Carnival cruise staff until the end of your voyage.
Shops in Marseille are generally closed on Sunday, and many may also close for an hour or more during the week at lunchtime. Shore excursions in Marseille have free time built in for plenty of shopping.
In addition to departing from Barcelona and visiting Marseille, you’ll have the unique opportunity to visit famed ports in Italy, plus Kotor or Dubrovnik.
Carnival cruises are designed to take care of all the details, leaving you free to take in the ancient and sophisticated beauty of European ports such as Marseille.