Have you heard of Marseillan France?
I have to admit that I’d never heard of Marseillan France. I’ve heard about the gritty and grandiose port city of Marseille, also in the South of France. However, Marseillan is nothing like what I imagined. There’s no over the top glitz or glamour like you’d associate with the South of France. Marseillan has a laid back vibe. Quiet, peaceful, incredibly charming.
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Nestled in the Languedoc-Roussillon coastal region of southern France, Marseillan probably isn’t on your radar. But, it should be. You can certainly escape the crowds here. East of Béziers and southwest of Montpellier, Marseillan France is not only on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea (well, technically it faces a large lagoon called the Étang de Thau), but it’s also at the southern entry point of the Canal du Midi.
I had the opportunity of starting my luxury barge cruise aboard the Athos in Marseillan. Once I boarded the barge and had a glass of wine with my fellow passengers, I decided to walk around and explore the village of Marseillan on my own. The next morning, we woke up in Marseillan and participated in a couple of activities.
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You can easily visit Marseillan in a day. However, you can choose to extend your holiday by going to the beach at Marseillan Plage, about 3km outside of Marseillan Ville. Whether you decide to book a hotel in Marseillan or visit from a canal cruise, you’re certain to be charmed and enchanted by this beautiful little town. Here are 5 reasons to visit Marseillan France.
The Marseillan Port is Beautiful
Marseillan port was originally founded by the Romans (the ancient road, Via Domitia was nearby) as a rest and recreation area. There are lots of small sailboats docked along the edge of the water, right in town. Walk from one end of the boardwalk to the other. You’ll reach a small lighthouse. Stare out to the deep blue waters and faraway coastlines. Definitely go for a stroll around the port region.
There are numerous restaurants and cafes by the water with idyllic little patios. Sit by the port with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee with the sun shining over you and a gentle breeze flowing through your hair. Sounds amazing, right? The prices here are much cheaper than other ritzy areas of the South of France. There aren’t nearly the amount of tourists here – it’s a mix of local residents and visitors from houseboats on the Canal du Midi.
It’s easy to make little discoveries around the Marseillan port, a protected heritage area. There’s an interesting work of public art, vine-covered buildings, the cutest small boats, and palm trees everywhere. I enjoyed watching people take their little dogs for walks along the waterfront or engaging in pleasant conversations. Everyone seemed very relaxed and at peace.
The Village is So Charming
I think my favorite aspect of visiting the Marseillan village was wandering around town. I walked up and down each street and narrow alleyway, admiring the colorful rows of houses. There are so many small gardens, even if it’s just a few planters lining a railing or flower pots on a balcony.
The middle of the village lies within the old town walls. This was a fortified village until the 18th century. There haven’t been any new buildings constructed in the Marseillan village since the 17th century. Some of the homes here date back to the 12th century. It really has remained mostly unchanged as centuries have passed, making it like walking through a living museum.
I wandered all over the Marseillan village, many times not encountering another soul. I was so surprised that there really weren’t any other people around as I admired this charming place. I’m so used to crowds of people whenever I travel, but Marseillan barely had any tourists, let alone a crowd of them.
La Maison Noilly Prat
The main attraction in Marseillan is La Maison Noilly Prat, a vermouth company. Noilly Prat Marseillan makes their vermouth using traditional methods dating back over 200 years. I definitely recommend taking a historic guided tour, which are available daily in French, English, and German. It’s incredible that their methods haven’t changed much since 1813.
We took a tour through the giant barrel cellar, Chai des Mistelles. This indoor cellar was built in the 1850s, containing gigantic wooden vats. They age Mistelles wines for up to 12 months in these huge barrels.
Next, we were led outdoors to a place called L’Enclos. We discovered hundreds of barrels sitting out in the sunshine. It’s quite amazing that these dry white wines are left to the elements to age for 12 months. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!
Eventually, we went to another room indoors where the dry white wines, mistelles, and a combination of 20 dried herbs and spices are blended and macerated to create Noilly Prat. The recipes are closely guarded secrets. However, there was a display of some of the spices that go into each variety of Noilly Prat (there are four in total).
Eventually, we tasted each variety of Noilly Prat. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of hard alcohol, but I can appreciate the interesting methods behind this one. After a small tasting, we went to the larger (and beautifully designed) tasting room for a Noilly Prat cocktail. There’s also an outdoor courtyard where you can enjoy your cocktail beneath an umbrella or out in the sunshine. It’s worth a trip to La Maison Noilly Prat, even if you aren’t in love with liquor. Its history is very intriguing and the property is stunning.
A Game of Pétanque
Have you heard of petanque? I didn’t know anything about this game before my Athos cruise. Thankfully, our tour guide, Mathieu, taught us how to play. Pétanque (boules) is similar to bocce, but played with metal balls on a gravel surface.
Essentially, you divide into two teams. One person throws the “piglet”, a smaller ball that becomes the target. Players try to throw their metal ball the closest to the piglet. Then, you can try to hit your opponents’ balls out of the way as a part of the strategy.
In the South of France and Marseillan, it’s common to gather your friends together to play a game of petanque. We played petanque while sipping glasses of rosé. It’s the perfect spring and summertime activity. While you might have to gather your own group together and bring your own set of boules, maybe you’ll make some friends in Marseillan who will challenge you to a game. Regardless, I hope you have the chance to play petanque. It’s a lot of fun!
Cruise the Canal du Midi
Marseillan France is at the southern entry point of the Canal du Midi. The Canal du Midi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fascinating history. This 360 km network of waterways links the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through locks, bridges, and tunnels. The Canal du Midi was constructed between 1667 and 1694.
If you have your own boat or you’re sailing on a barge cruise, you might stop at Marseillan for a day or two like I did. Once you set sail on the Canal du Midi, your relaxing vacation from Marseillan continues on the water. There’s nothing like drifting down the canal, admiring the gorgeous scenery. It’s a very slow and restorative way of life.
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So, have I convinced you to travel to Marseillan in the South of France? Definitely add this one to your South of France travel itinerary and plans! It might be a little off the radar, but often those can be the best places to visit.
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