Cruises From Marseille Print E-mail
Travel - Water

The MSC SplendidaMarseille is a superb starting point for a cruise holiday. It’s easily reached by air, road or high-speed rail. It's a fast, easy springboard to some of the loveliest spots in Provence. And of course there are many terrific tourist attractions in Marseille itself.

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There is a rising demand for Mediterranean cruises commencing in Marseille ("en tête de ligne", or "turnaround" cruises in industry jargon), as opposed to itineraries where the city is one stop in the middle of the route. In 2014 over 400 such cruises will operate.

This page surveys the current choice of international English-language cruise holidays departing from Marseille. We have not included companies such as Croisières de France aimed at a francophone market.

Cruise tourism in Marseille has expanded at an enormous pace over the past five years. The main season has expanded and now runs from mid-March to the end of November. Two cruise companies, MSC and Costa, even continue to offer Marseille departures throughout the winter.

It's expected that 1.15 million cruise passengers will have passed through Marseille by the end of 2013 (an increase of 30% on 2012), of whom around one-third started or ended their trip in the city. Click here to read our guide to travelling though Marseille's cruise ship terminals.

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The flurry of activity in the region throughout 2013 as part of the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture programme boosted tourism too. In particular the MuCEM has been a huge attraction for luxury cruise ships docking at the adjacent, new J4 Terminal (although this terminal can only accommodate smaller ships catering to top-of-the-rage tourism; most cruise ships dock at the Mole Léon Gourret, further out of the city).

It's all the more remarkable given that cruise tourism in Marseille has suffered several setbacks in recent years. A dockers' strike in autumn 2010 lasted many weeks and blocked all commercial and leisure shipping into the port, encouraging companies to divert their itineraries to Toulon.

In May 2013 dockers again turned out to picket the cruise terminals, claiming the right to handle passenger baggage (we have been assured that this issue will not recur in 2014).

Toulon has the additional advantage of being out of the path of the Mistral, the fierce north-west wind that can cause havoc with sailing conditions.

On the other hand, Toulon is a less interesting town than Marseille and a much less convenient base from which to explore the main attractions of Provence. Moreover, Marseille is tackling the Mistral problem with a project to extend the breakwater at the entrance to the cruise terminals, so that ships are protected from even fairly high winds. This should be completed by 2016.

A second blow to Mediterranean cruise tourism came when the Costa Concordia sank off the Italian coast in January 2012, forcing operators to offer heavy discounts in order to keep their numbers up. The bonus for cruise passengers is that there are now some very keen bargains to be had.

In fact the pricing is so sharp that, in 2014, one tour operator, the American company Royal Caribbean, is no longer offering cruises starting from Marseille. The reason: the price war has made it no longer commercially viable for them. For the consumer, on the other hand, this is on the whole encouraging news, in the short term.

Norwegian Epic has also discontinued its cruises starting from Marseille in 2014. However two other companies, Costa and MSC, are both offering more ships and itineraries, and other companies may be confirmed for 2014 over the next few months.

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Cruises Starting in Marseille in 2014

The cruises starting from Marseille are strikingly different in mood and flavour, and you’ll need to inspect the companies' programmes carefully to choose the one right for you.

The MSC fleet has a number of cruise ships and prices are amazingly competitive, especially for early and late season departures.

The MSC Splendida - one of the larger ships in its fleet - continues to sail from Marseille throughout the winter and its seven-night itinerary takes in Barcelona, Tunis, Palermo, Rome and Genoa. Weekly until February 2014.

From 15 March throughout the summer of 2014, the MSC Splendida (pictured top left) sails around the Mediterranean in the opposite direction: Genoa, Naples, Taormina (Sicily), Tunis, Barcelona, also for seven nights.

Two additional ships from the MSC fleet are offering itineraries starting from Marseille in the summer of 2014. The MSC Musica has seven-night cruises visiting Genoa, Rome, Palermo (Sicily) Tunis, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia.

The smallest of the three vessels, the MSC Lirica, has seven-night cruises along two slightly different routes, depending on the date: Tunis, Valetta (Malta), Trapani (Sicily), Rome and La Spezia or Palma de Mallorca, Valetta, Trapani, Rome and La Spezia. Website for MSC Cruises

A growing trend is for cruises of varying lengths that wiill appeal to young couples and families as well as seniors, instead of the traditional seven days.

Over the winter of 2013-1014 Costa Cruises has a nine-night New Year's cruise (including New Year's Eve) on the Costa Classica via Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Tunis, Valetta (Malta), Rome and Savona and a 15-nighter on the Costa Classica departing on 7 January and taking in Barcelona, Malaga, Casablanca, Madeira, various Canary Islands and Agadir.

In spring and autumn 2014 Costa also offers several short mini-cruises starting from Marseille.

Throughout 2014 the Costa Pacifica has seven-day cruises taking in Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Rome, La Spezia and Savona.

Costa SerenaThe Costa Serena, pictured, will also be a frequent visitor to Marseille throughout 2014. In early spring, the Serena sails for either six or seven nights round Savona, Naples, Palermo, Tunis and Barcelona.

In the mid-season, the Serena has seven-night itineraries around Savona, La Spezia, Rome, Naples and Barcelona. The Serena's midsummer route goes around Savona, Rome, Naples, Palma and Barcelona.

Also in spring and autumn, the Costa Mediterranea sails for seven nights, stopping at Palma, Tunis, Palermo, Naples and Savona, while the newly refurbished Costa neoRomantica (sic) offers 11-night cruises visiting Savona, Rome, Messina, Athens, Izmir, Crete and Valetta (Malta).

Note that, to keep costs down, Costa cruises tend to give passengers less time in the ports of call than other cruise operators, and on all the longer itineraries at least one day and night are spent at sea. Website for Costa Cruises

 

Nouvelles

Saint Barbara's Wheat in Provence at ChristmasChristmas in Provence starts on 4 December! Read about Saint Barbara's wheat and other local Christmas traditions.

 

Saint Victor Abbey Marseille by nightNow in its 47th year, the prestigious music festival at Marseille's historic, beautiful Saint Victor Abbey continues until 5 December. Last concert: Christmas carols.

 

Provence olive oilProvence's festivals celebrating the season's new olive oil are on in the Alpilles and Aix. 30 Nov-15 Dec.

 

Santa ClausChristmas shopping in Marseille this year features fireworks on the Old Port, giant santons on the Canebière, mulled wine and cakes in the Old Town - and artificial snow on the rue Sainte. From 6 Dec.

 

SkiingHeading to the ski slopes? Here's how to get there from Marseille or Aix by snow bus or snow train.

 

Christmas on the Cours Mirabeau, AixProvence's colourful Christmas markets are opening for business. Find the best fairs and festivals in Marseille, Aix, Avignon, Arles and elsewhere.

 

Descente des BergersCount the sheep (there'll be plenty of them around) at the Fête des Bergers, or Shepherds' Festival, in Istres, on the Blue Coast. Sheepdog trials, sheep processions, a banquet (with roast lamb?) 29 Nov-8 Dec.

 

Rose wine of ProvenceStar billing: Miraval, the rosé wine produced by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, has just been named one of the top 100 wines in the world.

 

MSC SplendidaWe report from this autumn's Top Cruise conference about the new cruise routes from Marseille in 2014 and the latest developments in the city's booming cruise tourism.

 

Avignon fringe theatre festivalThe summer 2014 dates have now been confirmed for the Avignon "In" and "Off" Theatre Festivals.

 

CalissonsPuzzling over Christmas gift ideas? Here are our top five Provence-themed presents, all available to buy by mail order.

 

Claude Gazier paintingClaude Gazier's moody paintings evoke the smokey atmosphere of vintage film stills. La Ciotat, until 7 Dec.

 

Victoire Belezy as Fanny in Daniel Auteuil's Pagnol trilogyThe first two parts of actor-director Daniel Auteuil's new version of Marcel Pagnol's classic Marius, Fanny, César trilogy, set on the Old Port of Marseile, are now playing in UK cinemas.

 

Marilyn by Andy WarholWarhol, Hopper, Bacon, Magritte, Picasso, Delvaux: diary dates for some of the big art shows lined up for Marseille in 2014.

 

Henri Lebasque Nude Asleep on a BedWomen of Provence, as seen by male painters and by themselves, are the subject of a new show at the Musée Regards de Provence, Marseille. Until 24 Feb 2014.

 

Ballet Preljocac in Aix en ProvenceTake a backstage tour of the Pavillon Noir in Aix en Provence (14 Dec) or watch Angelin Preljocaj and the Ballet Preljocaj in rehearsal (10 Dec). These events are free.

 

Image from the film about the artist Pierre-Auguste RenoirNow available on DVD: France's entry for the Oscars is Renoir, a film about the artist's life shot in the Var near Saint Tropez.

 

Ceramic by Le Corbusier Ceramics, sculptures, tapestries, paintings - and erotic sketches: Le Corbusier was not just a revolutionary architect, as this must-see show at the J1 Hangar, Marseille, reveals. Until 22 Dec.

 

Lucien Clergue's photograph of Le Testament dOrphee in Les Baux de Provence Jean Cocteau's Le Testament d'Orphée was filmed in the Valley of Hell near Les Baux de Provence. A show of photographs by Lucien Clergue, in Les Baux, chronicles the shooting. Until 31 Dec.

 

Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in Stephen Frears new filmThe disgraced Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong is the subject of a new film by the Oscar-nominated director Stephen Frears, now shooting in the French Alps.