Cephalopods in Southern France

Written by Lillian

October 10, 2022

Day 1:

I arrived in Marseille in the afternoon after a very lengthy train ride from Paris. I definitely recommend taking a train that is a straight shot to Marseille, to avoid unnecessary travel time. Once we got there, we headed to the city of Cassis to start our hike in Calanques National Park: an oceanside reserve with hiking trails that connect the many different coves which cut into the limestone mountains. It was simply gorgeous. As the trails passed by each cove, we found a trail that made its way to the small beaches. We swam in the Mediterranean and spotted an octopus clinging on the rocky walls. I never would have thought I would see one in real life, especially in France. It was the first cephalopod of the weekend!

The views during the hike- it was breathtaking.

Day 2:

Early the next morning, I got on a train headed to Nice. After spending the next two hours gawking at the Calanques mountains, we arrived at the Nice train station. We headed directly to the Mediterranean Sea, stopping to window shop at the stores that won our attention. Soon, we spotted the sea. The beach was covered with dark grey stones and smelled strongly of fish and salt. Snorkelers and waders dotted the ocean. We made our way into the Old City by this time looking to relieve our hunger. We stumbled upon a small restaurant near the Cathedrale Sainte Reparate. After being recommended it by a local, I tried the cuttlefish ink risotto with squid. The risotto was black and almost had no flavor except the faint trace of a salty umami flavor. That paired with the soft texture of the risotto and the chewiness of the squid made for an interesting combination. According to the local we met, it was a Nice delicacy! 

We spent the next couple of hours exploring the many different little thrift shops and bakeries that hid within the tight alleys. We stopped for ice cream at the world famous Fenocchio’s: an ice cream store known for its distinct, wide ranging flavors such as Avocado, Tomato Basil, and Coca Cola. I had to try the Olive flavor which tasted… exactly like olives. I mean what was I expecting? It was jarring at first because I would never consider olives as a suitable dessert, but I slowly got used to the milk + olive flavor combination after every lick. I highly recommend. 

We started up the steep incline to Castle Hill: a mountain with the remains of the Castle of Nice, a man-made waterfall, and a church with a cemetery. More famously, it allows visitors a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Nice. The rain that was predicted for the day started to come in, and we quickly made our way over to the MAMAC (Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain) which was free with our international student identifications. I saw yet another Octopus, this time in the form of a wooden playground, and the modern art museum had an exhibition on the layers of squid from a biological and art perspective. 

The view of Nice, my ink risotto, the playground octopus, and my delicious olive ice cream- what a day!

Day 3:

On the last day in the French Riviera, we explored Marseille. We dodged seafood sellers, street performers with untuned instruments and an off kilter tempo, and stands advertising cruises and boat tours in favor of heading to the Mucem: an old fort. Ducking under the short archways and tunnels and climbing up the dizzying spiral staircases, we explored the history of the fort. Attached to the fort was a gantry way to the museum which had exhibits on the Mediterranean diet and the history of the groups that influenced modern day Marseille.  

We returned to the port after exhausting the museum. Since Marseille has influences from all over the Mediterranean- Italian, Greek, and North African, we decided to explore one of these roots and stopped by a Tunisian restaurant. I tried the North African Merguez sausages which were served on a bed of rice and French fries! The portion sizes were huge! Afterwards, we drifted through La Panier— Marseille’s old district— and assessed street art and small art vendors that filled the streets.

Finally, we walked up the even steeper route to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Unfortunately, the inside of the church was closed to visitors, but the outside terrace and the crypts underneath were open. This mountain top church also had a panoramic view of the city that stretched from the Calanques in the East to the islands in the South. We ended our final day going bakery hopping for pastries and desserts.

The three cities in the French Riviera that I was able to explore— Cassis, Nice, and Marseille— were all very different from one another. Cassis clung to the side of a mountain, the roads winded up and down the steep hills. Nice, which was definitely the most touristy of the three, stood out with its old city. The crowded streets bustled with activity and beautiful colors. Marseille was definitely the most untouched city from tourists between the three; the city is larger and more empty which made us more alert when walking down the streets and stopping for food. However, it was more cultural out of three three. The many different cultures blended on the streets of Marseille, and local artists were more prevalent. Overall, the French Riviera was absolutely gorgeous, and I loved exploring the diverse Mediterranean culture that surrounds the region. And according to the local we met in Nice, “there’s only one thing you must do in Nice— come back.”