Old World Charming: J’Adore Marseille

Vieux Port Marseille (the old port)
Vieux Port de Marseille (the old port)
Fishing nets
Fishing nets
Fish market
Fish market
View from the hotel balcony
View from the hotel balcony

Visiting Marseille on the French Riviera reminded me of why I fell in love with Mediterranean Europe many years ago: for its simple but delightful old world charm. Laundry hanging out to dry from lines on city balconies, modern businesses housed in crumbling old buildings, the smell of the fish market along the harbor, wandering narrow streets through cobblestone squares of relaxed outdoor cafés, yanking open the heavy metal door of the dingy subway car, and figuring out how to communicate everywhere without a common language. In short, it was a lovely place to spend our second anniversary.

James and I were tossed into the oldest and second largest city in France on one of its violent Mistral (“master”) winds. Known for driving away clouds and drying up rain to give this area its friendly blue skies, the wind is no joke for a flight. I’ve literally never seen so many people throw up on an airplane. Fortunately, after this treacherous entrance the rest of our long weekend was smooth sailing.

As you would imagine for a coastal city, Marseille is made up of a clearly international population as it has been throughout its history. A thriving port city since around 400 BC, it was originally founded by Phoenicians from Asia Minor (then Greece, now Turkey) who arrived there to encounter the people of Gaul (once of Northern Europe). In the Marseille History Museum, on whose site many historic artifacts were uncovered when a parking lot project for the shopping center began there, we learned about many interesting changes in the history of this city at the crossroads of the trading world.

Bouillabaisse painting
Bouillabaisse painting

In addition to many international cuisines, seafood is, of course, a specialty in this area. Bouillabaisse, being the most famous Marseille dish, is a seafood stew made with rockfish and, in its origins, anything else the fisherman was unable to sell at the market. We had an excellent version of this provincial dish-turned modern delicacy at a restaurant called Alcyone, in a dining room lined with glossy wooden bookcases. I have to say, true to my preconceptions, every meal we had on this trip was served with what can only be described as a flourish. Even in the most casual cafés, the correct presentation of artfully prepared food is held to a high standard.

Calanques
One of the Calanques
Dolphin sighting
Dolphin sighting

Amid the culture and general ambience of Marseille, the highlight of this trip for me was our visit to the Frioul Archipelago. We had first passed it during a boat tour of the beautiful Calanques, or rocky inlets (the French version of fjords). Our plans to take another small boat later to visit Château d’If, the castle fortress setting of Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo, turned out to be impossible due to wind. We were able, however, to visit the nearby Frioul islands with the idea that we would hike for an hour or so and then return to the port. Instead we spent the entire day there – hiking trails that wound up and down the hilly landscape and along the turquoise sea, surrounded by warm sun and windy sea air, taking pictures of seagulls and the ridiculous sun hat I bought on one of the islands, eating ice cream, and eventually having a late dinner (normal in France is at least 8 p.m.) outside of a seaside café before taking a boat back around 10. Au revoir Marseille et bon anniversaire à nous!

Château d’If
Château d’If
Frioul Islands
Frioul Archipelago
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More from Frioul
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Inside Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Inside Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Abbaye Saint VIctor
Abbaye Saint Victor
Inside the abbey
Inside the abbey
Cathedrale de la Major
Cathedrale de la Major
The funky Panier district
The funky Panier district
Panier street art in action
Panier street art in action

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Bandol vineyard
Bandol vineyard
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Another Provence vineyard
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50 Shades of Green Sauce

The number of people who don't know green sauce
The number of people who don’t know green sauce

Green sauce with the traditional hard-boiled eggs and potatoes. Green sauce on schnitzel. Green sauce on fish. Green sauce on French fries. Even green sauce sorbet and chocolates. These were a few of the treats offered at Frankfurt’s recent Green Sauce Festival.

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So what is green sauce exactly? (For, as one festival banner astutely noted, most of the world outside of its hometown Frankfurt is in the dark about “Grie Soβ” – so called in the local dialect, as opposed to the standard German “Grüne Soβe.”)

The 7 herbs
The 7 herbs

It’s actually quite tasty, contrary to how it may sound. Sour cream- and yogurt-based with chopped hard-boiled eggs, oil and vinegar. The greenish color comes from a mix of seven herbs, half of which I’ve never heard of before: borage, burnet, chervil, chives, garden cress, parsley and sorrel.

Traditional green sauce with eggs and potatoes
Traditional green sauce with eggs and potatoes (and Apfelwein)

As I mentioned, this creamy sauce is traditionally served with more hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, usually along with Frankfurt’s sour specialty drink: apple wine. But at this small street festival, bordered by food trucks and more traditional food and drink stands, Frankfurt went all out experimenting with other possibilities.

In addition, each Frankfurter has their own style of making the local dish. So a contest was held over the week the festival ran to determine whose green sauce is the best this year.

Green sauce sorbet
Green sauce sorbet

By the way, the green sauce sorbet tasted exactly like you would expect an herb-based ice to taste. Interestingly, the herby “green” taste was complemented by a sweeter layer of strawberry sorbet. The white chocolate truffles filled with green sauce cream were also a mix of herb and sweet flavors, and surprisingly delicious. Well worth a visit just for the creative experimentation with this local sauce.

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For more on Frankfurt cuisine: Frankfurt Tourism Site

And to make your own Grie Soß: Green Sauce Recipe