(TRIP REPORT) French coast in between two flights!

Here is a new trip report of our partner, Marino Kurilj, this time from his short layover in Marseille on the way to Portugal.

Ryanair flights are not only very cheap mostly but also the price stays the same in case you book one-way flight. That fact we decided to use to the fullest when my sister and I decided to fly to Porto and return from Lisbon. What that has to do with France you may ask? Unfortunately, there were no (low-budget) flights from Croatia directly to Portugal but that did not stop us. Since all the budget flights were around 20 – 30 € we decided to make our own connections and layovers. Outbound we decided to stop in Marseille and on return Frankfurt was better fit. While making your own connections can be tricky (more on which in the next trip report and Frankfurt adventure), there's also benefits such as booking the 2nd flight the day after and having an extra day to explore the city you find yourself in. That's exactly what we did.


Flights and airport experience

The first flight was the morning one departing at 9.20 a.m. from the well-familiar airport to us – Zadar Airport (the only Ryanair hub in Croatia at the time being). We spent the night prior the flight in Zadar and in a no time we were on our way to France! Though the flight was in the morning and we were pretty sleepy, the views kept us awake. Take-off from Zadar Airport is always interesting for every AVgeek since this airport is the only one in Croatia equipped with two active runaways (one civil and the other one military) making the military planes, air tractors and fire fighting aircrafts a pretty common sight there. Seconds upon our ascend we got to enjoy the panoramic view of the beautiful Croatian islands such as Kornati, Ugljan, Pašman and among the many other – the iconic Galešnjak, the heart shaped island.

The flight was calm, pleasant and short (one hour and 45 minutes). Landing did not fall behind in views either since we were landing above the entire French Riviera with views of Monaco, Nice, Toulon… And of course – that truly turquoise sea! Landing was followed by well known procedure. Well-organized shuttle bus directly to the city centre. Half hour drive with departures every 15 minutes and cost of 15 € for a return ticket is more than a good deal comparing the taxi prices. The shuttle bus ride ends in the heart of Marseille – on the main bus and railway station Gare St. Charles from where the view opens up on the entire city that blew our expectations for its title of a port city.


Since we took a return ticket, the same way we got back to the Marseille Provence Airport the following day to continue our adventure. Our, this time late-night flight to Porto was delayed and the airport staff wasn’t as kind since I don’t think they liked the amount of small bottles, creams and samples we had from our L’Occitane factory visit earlier that day, but more on that further below. After repacking the luggage and waiting for our flight that was flying in late from Eindhoven, we finally got onto our airplane and were on our way to Portugal. Since the flight was late and with additional delays, it was around 11 p.m. when we took off with this night flight over Spain and Pyrenees.

Interestingly, that night we got to enter a new day twice since Portugal is one hour behind us (and France) and with the flight time a bit over an hour and half, upon landing our clocks went back just before the midnight. New Year would be a really interesting experience onboard this flight! Night lights of the city of Porto were shining so bright right beneath us while we were landing and that sight was one of the prettiest ones I’ve seen in my 40 landings so far. Bem-Vindo written on the floor of the airport was our first contact with Portuguese, both language and land.


More on that part of the trip and experience of changing the already booked flights and Ryanair feedback even before the pandemic since trip was during the last spring while we could still travel with no restrictions but also the important advice for self-made connecting flights on airports as big as Frankfurt – all in the next Trip Report! Now let me tell you how to plan a good-quality visit in just 36 hrs.


Visiting Marseille and Provence in 36 hours

DAY 1: I have to say that Marseille is so much more than just very important Mediterranean port and a port city. It’s a true French city with a soul – from the first contact on the main railway station featuring the views of the small hills which the city lays on to the small streets full of the cutest shops (expensive ones as well but as students those we just admired from the distance). The port is really big, as it suits a city with this reputation but exactly that fact we used in our favor so that we could visit the famous coast in just a few hours that we had left of this day. We hopped on a boat tour towards the famous northern part of the coast – French Riviera. Right outside the city the coast starts looking a lot like fjords. Those are the famous Calanques – long, narrow and steep cliffs in center of which there’s often a sand beach. It’s quite an interesting sight and it’s a restricted area that you can visit by land or sea but this way we managed to visit for just 3 hrs and around 25 €. Once we were back ashore, dinner was the only thing we had time left for. A simple task you’d think, however we found ourselves in a trouble since it was Monday. The thing is that Monday is the day when a lot of shops and restaurants in this part of the country are closed because for touristy reasons they decided to move the ‘rest day’ from Sunday and the weekend to Monday. We weren’t aware of this before so that made our search for a restaurant nearby a bit harder. Luckily there was one (literally one) opened nearby and at that time I didn’t have to look for gluten-free options yet so that made the search easier. Our first (and only) night in France ended with seafood soup alongside the St. Tropez rose.

DAY 2: The fact that we found ourselves in the heart of Provence, we decided to use to the fullest and even though we had the flight to catch that evening, we decided to use our second day to visit the central factory of L’Occitane some 90 km from the city. Lavender fields weren’t an option to visit since end of May wasn’t the blooming season but this factory I highly recommend as a perfect alternative. Most beautiful smells will follow you from the start of the tour until the very end, you’ll see how the new products are being tested and get to test some, you’ll see the process of growing the plants they use, supplying, packaging and storing but also the chance to visit their gift shop with some special prices and I have to say, the prettiest gift shop I’ve ever seen! The only downside is budget transportation option – public transportation that caused us some troubles since we had to catch the regional bus Marseille – Manosque and then a small local bus that seemed to operate one-way only. Buses aren’t as punctual and if you do decide on something like this, make sure you have enough time left until your flight for some unexpected situations along the way such as ours with this bus.

Few phone calls later to the local tourist office and with the help of google translate we found out the line was circular explaining single direction only. In case you decide to take a taxi instead with the factory and airport being in the same direction perhaps it wouldn’t cost that much, however our luggage and shuttle bus both waited for us at the main railway station in Marseille so we had to go back there first.

The accommodation we booked on Airbnb and managed to get the room with a sea view, directly on the beach in the house of one friendly lady that spoke only French but we managed to communicate bilingually. The price of that one night was around 40 € (for the 2 of us) what was a lot cheaper of what we’d get for hotel rooms or on booking – this accommodation I highly recommend for a full authentic French experience and if I ever come back I’m booking again!

TOP 5 MUST-SEE:

  • Calanques National Park – by land or sea (boat tours from the main port),

  • One of the sand beaches in the city (e.g. Plage des Catalans where our accommodation was located at),

  • Gare St. Charles – main bus and railway station located on one of the hills,

  • Walk around the main port with sailing at least to the small island right across the city with the castle on it – Château d'If,

  • L'Occitane factory (and lavender fields right next to it, if visiting in blooming season).

More advices and fun facts about this trip but also my other destinations you can find on my Instagram profile @preparefortakeofff.

Stay tuned for the next part of the trip! Until then travel safe and wish you a pleasant flight!


Marino Kurilj