When the lovely chaps from Eurostar announced summer travels direct from London to Marseille, I immediately thought “I’ll have some of that!”
The inaugural service via Lyon & Avignon was on 1st May 2015 and just a shade over three years later I took the plunge with Mrs Wilbur and our great friend Chris.
At 1,237 kilometres (769 miles) it’s the longest rail journey you can make from London to mainland Europe without a change, taking around 6 and a half hours to complete (from £68 one way).
The train out left at 07.19 necessitating a 5 am taxi. Ouch! There was something very alluring however travelling through the empty streets of Central London as it awoke from it’s slumbers.
No problem, armed with champers & sandwiches we were soon whisking our way through the French countryside southwards towards France’s number two city.
None of us had been there before, so we had that magical feeling of anticipation in travelling to witness something for the first time.
Lyon-Part-Dieu came and went, as did Avignon TGV, both evoking wonderful memories of the France tour Mrs Wilbur and I experienced in 2014.
The 390 minute journey flew by, reaching speeds of up to 300kmh. We were just draining the last drop of red from our glasses as we arrived in Marseille Saint Charles.
The ample station had that Friday afternoon feeling with dozens of people heading off somewhere for the weekend, just like us.
We happily alighted the impressive flight of cascading station-front steps (we were not so happy climbing back up them on the Tuesday morning mind!).
The staircase opened to the public in 1925, nearly 80 years after the station was completed, and is 155 metres long with 104 steps punctuated by seven flat terraces.
Sculptures add to its grand nature – a child and a lion; two ships’ prows with symbolic female figures signifying the routes to the East and Marseille’s own Greek origins; and six bronzes celebrating the riches of Provençal produce – grain, fruit, fish, wine, flowers and game.
At the bottom of the steps are two reclining, self-naked female figures representing the “decadent” colonies of Africa and Asia.
We were staying in the Cours Julien district, an eclectic area festooned in street art where the only grass in the vicinity was being smoked.
We arrived à pied in around 20 minutes to find our Airbnb. The four flights of steps after our up hill walk and alcoholic brunch were a bit of a drag, but we were rewarded with a stunning view across the rooftops of the Arabic Quarter, our eyes then traversing the Old Port, past the historic forts of Saint Nicolas & St Jean and out to the sparkling Med.
This was a view to behold and remember and I will certainly never forget the four atmospheric sunsets that we witnessed.
Tired after our travels, aperitifs on the terrace followed by a delicious steak at a local restaurant were nicely in order that evening. We would go exploring the next day…….