Last Updated : 12/07/09
ell, I can't say I'm surprised. We visited Marseille with no preconceptions about finding scores of scoops and I'm pleased to say that all those fruitless hours I spent in front of the internet searching for beer bars, brewpubs, bottle shops - anything, really - were wisely spent and nothing really stood out. The two prospective brewpubs turned out to not exist; The Brasserie of Marseille, down the coast at Résidence Escale Borely, was nowhere to be seen in this little out-of-town seaside cluster of eating places, whilst the new Cagole brewpub in the Panier district doesn't yet exist although the site has sprouted a sign hinting that it may possibly do so in the future. So, if you're still interested, read on and discover nothing...
his trip wasn't primarily focussed on acquiring scoops, as anyone who knows about the French micro scene will have guessed, but was a weekend away from the dull English autumn in the hope of catching some final sunshine before we forgot what the big yellow thing in the sky looked like for another six months. Oh yes, and there was the small matter of a new tram system to scoop too...
Luckily for us – or so it seemed at the time – two budget carriers flew from Brum to Marseille and so, with all the benefits of competition and choice of flight times this brings, I booked us out with BMIBaby for the eyebrow-raising price of £32 each but, counteracting this, our flight back was to be with Ryanair for the much more sociable £1.24 all-in! This is the lowest fare I've ever paid to fly, never having managed to catch any of their totally free offers, so I was feeling rather pleased with myself as departure time approached.
I always do a quick check of the fares a week or so before we fly, just to see what ludicrous level they may have reached, so was slightly concerned to see that there were no flights on BMIBaby's website to Marseille – at all! A quick call to their admittedly helpful call centre confirmed that all flights had been re-routed to Nice and we “should have been emailed to that effect”... erm, no we hadn't been! Our options were now to cancel the whole trip (no chance!) or to work around the situation; after all, tossers at work are always blathering on about “challenges not problems” and so, adopting this ethic, I'd soon made sure that we could catch a train from Nice to Marseille for a reasonable price which meant the trip was once again green lights all the way.
To tell the truth we were both secretly pleased at this outcome as, the last time we'd been to Nice, the tram system there had been under construction with the whole city a building site and Sue had been ill so we were looking forwards to seeing it in one piece and, obviously, scoring the trams too! A revised trip plan was soon in place which meant that we had six hours in Nice to scoop the single tram route and have a look around before taking a train down the coast to Marseille where the trip would continue as normal; sorted!
Sunday 12th October 2008.
Right time, wrong place.
As we were flying from Birmingham the relatively early departure of 07:15 wasn't the usual cue to wake up at 02:00 and drive miles along rain-lashed trunk routes but rather entailed a leisurely trundle up the M42 to our usual car park. Happily, BMIBaby had recently joined the 21st century and started online check-in so there was no mad rush to be there too early; it seems strange now that, only a year ago, in order to get a decent seat you had to be at the airport early, work out by divination which check-in desk would be used for your flight (or find a hand baggage only desk!) get a boarding pass with a number less than 30 and then beat the Ryot/easyscrum to the plane and finally bag the best seats left! Funny how quickly we forget...
After loitering around Brum's windowless consumerist lounge for a while we were called to the gate whereupon a bus took us miles across the tarmac to our plane, sat out at the periphery of the airport, and we departed on-time. The approach was impressive as we crossed the Mediterranean coast at Toulon before following the coast at a respectable distance out to sea before landing at Nice; I remembered that the airport was a fair way out into the water from our previous trip, but it was still a touch disconcerting to be hurtling along a few metres from the sea before the runway suddenly appeared below us and we touched down!
We were soon in possession of our €4 day passes (from the ticket office by the bus stops at the left-hand end of the small terminal) and on the first bus into the centre. Despite the time being a mere 10:00 the temperature was already fairly high and we basked in the unfamiliar heat as the bus trundled along the Promenade des Anglais which was thronged with joggers, skateboarders, skaters, runners, cyclists and all manner of other people enjoying the autumn sunshine. We alighted at Vielle Ville and took the first tram along the entire route, seeing how much nicer Nice was with a completed tram line and freshly spruced-up centre, before going for a leisurely wander along the main street up to the rail station stopping off for a much-needed espresso along the way. Of note in the café was the fridge stocked with – for France – a pretty adventurous range of beers including Pietra, Chimay and a few other vaguely drinkable brews although nothing tempted me enough to pay the ludicrous prices asked.
The colour of money.
Trying not to think about the night a few years back when I had a wander round the city and found Nice's only brewpub closed, we reached the station and attempted to buy our tickets to Marseille. I say attempted as none of the machines we tried wanted to accept our visa cards and so Sue joined a long, shuffling queue at the ticket office whilst I tried one last machine, a different type than the others, in a vague attempt that it would like my card. Just in case you're wondering why we didn't just pay with cash, most SNCF machines don't accept notes, only cards, but for some reason not ours...!
This final machine reluctantly accepted my card and so off we went to our train which was already sat in the platform. The journey took a couple of hours and, for the first part at least, was scenic as we clattered along the coast in a Dawlish-esque manner before a range of hills blotted the sea from view. Arriving at Marseille' ultra-modern station our first priority was to acquire our travel passes for the rest of our stay which we managed to purchase from the ticket office at the metro station, although the ticket we got, the “Carte 3 Jours” at €10, for some reason wasn't advertised on the price list although I knew it existed, having seen it on the website, so through a mixture of French and English I managed to convey to the ticket clerk what we wanted.
Lacking a street map we decided to take the metro one stop to the city centre and thence onto our hotel, the Ibis Mediterranean, a brand-new building at the northern limits of the centre. The city’s new trams were also strange to look at having a large forward-leaning windscreen and we got the feeling that the designers had put “design flair” over practical good looks; they really are the ugliest trams I've ever seen! We bought some wine, cheese and bread for later from a supermarket along with some gorgeous lemon tarts at a little patisserie before taking tramline 2 to the end stop, Gantes, which seemed to be where the city ended and the suburbs began and the area was being developed in a rather blocky, concretey and vaguely lego-like way.
An evening wine scooping.
We were soon checked into our gleaming hotel – it had only been open a month or so and fortuitously I'd got it at a bargain price – before heading out to explore the city. With evening coming in there wasn't a lot of sightseeing to be done before we decided to check out the only decent wine scooping prospect I'd managed to find, La Part des Anges, which just might have the odd beer or two as well as, according to the website, a large list of wines by the glass which tickled my scooping gene no end; okay, so I don't scoop wine (although I do occasionally write them down!), but tasting locally-produced wine is almost always a good thing anywhere you go and the South of France is one of the best places to do it where, in lieu of any decent beer, proper regional wine is the way forward drink-wise.
I knew that the city had it's own beer, La Cagole, although their website had been very vague about whether they actually brewed or not and even a picture of what looked like their brewpub hadn't convinced me that it physically existed and, to compound the dodginess, there were several addresses for the place and even the usually reliable Ratebeer had an entry obviously written by someone who hadn't been there! So, deciding to check out this and the other potential brewpub the following day, we headed for the bar to see what was occurring there.
We passed the enormous harbour, complete with textbook bobbing boats and dodgy geezers hanging around, before locating the bar exactly where I'd hoped it would be which is always a relief! Inside were shelves stacked with bottles including a few beers and, although there were no scoops, I certainly hadn't expected to see Náchod's huge 24° Tmavý from the Czech Republic in the south of France! Behind the wine shop was the promised bar which had a comfy, relaxed feel as if only those people who really knew where to go were in there rather than hordes of tourists who'd wandered upon the place by accident so we took a small table on a raised area and waited for the waiter to appear with the gen.
I asked for a wine list whereupon he motioned towards the bar; peering in the direction of his gesture, I saw blackboards behind the bar listing all the wines available, both by the glass and bottle, and the list seemed to include plenty of local stuff although where we were sitting didn’t really help as the writing was fairly small! I shan’t bore you with details of the wines (to tell the truth, I can’t remember what we had) but suffice it to say we supped a couple of rounds which included some local wine and all was good. By this point, however, we were feeling the strain of many hours without sleep and so, deciding to return the next evening for a few more scoops, off we went to the nearest tramstop via the harbourside which seemed far more interesting at night than it had done a few hours previous; boats bobbed, lines clinked on masts, seagulls swooped and called whilst water swooshed and glugged as we passed by. Predictably we missed a tram by mere seconds so I put the ten minutes until the next one to good use in photographing some attractive buildings around the tramstop before we were whisked back to our hotel for some much needed sleep.
Monday 13th October 2008.
Blow-outs 1 and 2.
After a morning spent scooping the tram network in daylight and wandering around some interesting areas of the city it was time to check out the two possible brewpubs I had information about, although I wasn’t particularly hopeful of either if truth be told; one was allegedly right in the Altstadt (sorry, reverted to German there as it’s easier to spell than Vielle Ville!) whilst the other was supposedly out of the centre to the south of the city in an enclave of shops and restaurants.
We decided to check out the city centre one first and so made our way via the superb little bakery we’d visited the previous day which makes the most sublime lemon tartlets I’ve ever tasted. The pub’s address, Montée des Accoules, was an improbably steep hill in the tourist area which diminished my already low expectations of finding a brewpub but, trying to override my cynicism and believe that the photo on the website was real and not some mock-up, we trudged up the hill only to find, predictably, a boarded-off area with a small sign proclaiming that the brewpub would be opening “soon”… yeah, right, looking at the state of the site nothing was going to open here for a good while yet! Next…
Feeling like this was portentous of things to come at the second alleged brewpub we took bus 83 along the scenic coast road which, as the ones on crappy Bond films do, actually jutted out into the sea propped on concrete legs at certain points which gave some great views over the coastline. Fortuitously I’d printed a map of the stop we required but we decided to alight early and walk along the beach for a while as some ignorant beige tourists had pushed on ahead of us and stolen the two best seats on the bus; cheers then!
We alighted two stops early and popped into a supermarket to acquire some water and snacks for later on, but something else caught my eye in the shape of a shelf full of the “local” brew, La Cagole, and even better it was their summer beer: this was a huge winner! Merrily grabbing a bottle of this apparently massive local scoop (oh, the innocence of ignorance!) for later consumption, we headed off along the sand towards a huddle of tacky buildings just around the next corner where, so the gen promised, we’d find the Brasserie de Marseille brewpub although I didn’t have much hope we’d find anything apart from Kronenbourg… there’s my pessimism again!
Yet again, proving to me once more that intense cynicism is the best way in order to approach life to avoid constant disappointment, we scoured the assorted bistros, brasseries, restaurants, cafés and ice cream parlours but failed to find anything which was, or even might have been, a brewpub or brewery. I cast a sceptical glance over as many menus as I could find but this only served to confirm that Heineken and 1664 was the order of the day out here in touristland and so it was back onto bus 83 for the impressively scenic ride into the centre.
Note : Lee Barrass visited Marseille a year before us and found the Cagole brewpub in this complex of bars although it had recently ceased brewing due to the death of the brewer and he was told there were "no plans to restart". So, where this leaves the oldtown site is open to question... We didn't see the bar where Lee did so maybe it's since closed and/or moved? A site confirming it is/was there is here...
The deficit of desperation.
The rest of the day was spent around the old town and harbour area chilling out for once; the lack of scoopable beer is a very unusual thing on our trips, although we did manage to find a shop on the harbourside that sold La Cagole beer which the owner informed us was “our beer, the best in the world” – yeah mate, sure it is, I remember an old bloke on Sardinia telling me just that and he was talking out of his arse, too – so we made the most of this deficit of desperation to simply wander! Our wanderlust sated, it was back to La Part des Anges for some more wine scooping although this time, having learnt our lesson about sitting too far from the blackboards, we took seats at the bar itself and so spent an enjoyable couple of hours chatting to the sociable barman whilst sipping quite a few glasses of wines although we failed in our quest to try Nice’s wine, Bellet, owing to it’s alarming price!
We also received bowls of cheese with our drinks which helped them along nicely although it proved to us that cheese and beer is a far better match than cheese and wine! Tempted though we were to indulge in something more substantial to eat, we refrained as there was plenty of bread and cheese waiting back in our room along with a bottle of local wine which we’d picked up the previous day and so, being boringly restrained in our middle age, we restricted ourselves to a final round of wines from Corsica – the dry Moscatel being particularly good – and it was only then, with a belly full of fine wine, that I remembered the bottles of Náchod Double Tmavý… cheers then, this monster was rare enough in Czech but here it was in a wine bar in the south of France and I’d blown my chance of drinking it by over-indulgence in the fruit of the vine! Ah well, we were off to Czech itself in five weeks, I consoled myself…
So, having thoroughly enjoyed our time in what had been a cracking little bar, we skidded back over the cobbles noticing for the first time the remnants of trolleybus wires from the city’s recently disbanded system – cheers then yet again! – and made our way along the harbourside and then up to the tramstop where, for once, our luck was in and we arrived just in time for a tram rather than the usual scenario of seeing one tantalisingly waiting at the platform before sailing off contemptuously as we jog breathlessly up to the door.
Back in the room we suffered some terrible TV whilst I scooped my two bottles of La Cagole beer. On closer examination of the labels I discovered that neither actually stated where they were brewed which served to increase my dubiousness that the stuff was made locally; surely if it was they they’d have more pride in it and actually say so? Having tasted them I was convinced that they weren’t micro-brewed with La Cagole being a decent malty lager with little hop character and a full grainy sweetness whilst Special Cagnard biere de l’été was a low-strength (2.8%!) worty and unfermented tasting fluid, full of malt sugars, and even though the finish did have some slight dryness I’d not say it was particularly pleasant to drink. We also opened a bottle of Fischer Adelscott which I’d bought out of sheer curiosity to see if it was as bad as I remembered it and, amazingly, it was even worse with a taste of burnt rubber and smouldering polypropylene dissolved in sugar and a cloying artificial additive-laden finish… suffice it to say most went down the sink!
Tuesday 14th October 2008.
It’s France, so the airport bus is well expensive.
Our final day dawned bright and sunny so we took the opportunity to wander around the city yet again declaring how much nicer it looked in the sunshine. A good café (Torréfaction Noailles) was located which seemed to roast it’s own coffee so this was duly scooped and declared “dreadful”, so dreadful we had a second espresso a bit later as a caffeine kick before the bus to the airport. As we were flying back from Marseille we had the whole morning to explore the backstreets of the city which had, as I’d heard, a very multicultural feel to them and felt more like Marrakech in places than the south of France!
We had a final spin on the bizarre trams before walking to the train station and ascending the massive stone staircase which fronted it and gave excellent views down into the old town which entertained us as we regained our breath before locating the bus stop (at the far end of the station from the steps) and reluctantly paying for the overpriced tickets to the airport. At this point I feel I should engage rant mode; why is it that in France airports have such crap connections into nearby towns? In Germany most flughafen have a frequent S-Bahn connection into town for very little money, but in France you’re lucky if a donkey and cart appears once a week to ferry punters into the city for 50 turnips… or, to put it less allegorically, why is it that the bus services from French airports into town are so expensive, infrequent and downright crap?
Admittedly the coach to Marseille airport is reasonably frequent, but €8.50 each isn’t exactly cheap, now, is it? With no option other than this bus, however, we chinged out and boarded for the half-hour run along grey concrete motorways to the airport where we found that the low-fares terminal, named MR2, was basically a tin shed stuck on the end of the proper terminals to, presumably, prevent Ing-er-Lish chavs bringing down the tone of the main airport. Our flight back was early in departure as well as being relaxingly empty and, as we touched down at Birmingham 30 minutes early, the bizarre trumpet fanfare blared over the PA… “You’re on another Riotscare on-time arrival…” Well, as we’d paid £1.24 each all-in for the return flight, our cheapest flight ever, I suppose we could forgive them this self indulgence…
Marseille isn’t a beer destination; there you go, no need to read any further. The “local” beer, La Cagole, is imported from Nymburk in the Czech Republic although it is apparently a unique brew not a rebadge. The promised Cagole brewpub at Montée des Accoules may be some time in appearing – if it materialises at all – and The Brasserie of Marseille, down the coast at Résidence Escale Borely, was nowhere to be seen in this little out-of-town seaside cluster of eating places. Apart from that, it’s Heineken and 1664 all the way… enjoy.
So, any other reasons to go? Well, apart from the dearth of beer, the area is well known for it's sun and sand (it was over 20°C when we were there) although it's quite expensive, even for France. Both cities have brand-new tram systems if that's your thing and day passes on the local transport systems are very cheap at €4.50 (or €10 for 3 days) in Marseille or a bargain €4 day ticket in Nice (including the airport bus, too). The local wine is also pretty good; my favourite French wines aren't the famous Bordeaux or Burgundies but the lesser-known but, in my opinion, far more interesting appellations of Madiran, Cassis, Iroleguy and the other little DO's around the area; a good place to try some of them is at the bar mentioned above!
Nearby Cannes used to have a brewpub although I’ve heard this has now ceased production, meaning the craft beer scene on the Riviera is about as poor as it’s possible to be with only the new brewpub in Monaco from the Italian border (with the brewpub in Nice having closed) through Marseille until the two breweries in Montpellier; as I said, it’s not a beer destination, although some of the local wine is well worth a go! As an option, if you like aniseed and fancy a new beginning, there’s always pastis scooping to consider; and personally I’d begin with Pastis Fanny…yes, there really is one called that! "La Maison de Pastis" at 108 Quai du Port looks to be the best place to indulge in some Pastis scooping.
Getting there and getting around there.
Marseille airport is a fair way (30km) from the city, linked by a surprisingly frequent but unsurprisingly expensive coach to the main rail station. Flights operated by Ryanair touch down from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bournemouth and Stansted (but no longer Birmingham) whilst easyJet fly from Bristol and Gatwick. Marseille is on the TGV network and, so I’ve read, the trip down the new main line through central France is quick, not too expensive and very scenic so when the cheap airlines are forced out of business in order to stop proles from cluttering up rich people’s airspace we may try this way of reaching southern Europe; maybe by that time there will be some brewpubs around!
Marseille has, like many other French cities, a sparkling new tram system (complete with the world’s ugliest trams!) which currently has two lines and may get a third although there’s currently debate about that. There’s also a decent bus service plus a proper underground metro system which gives the city a good transport network and, even better, there are day passes available from the metro ticket offices and ticket machines for €4.50 plus, if you’re in town longer, there exists a 3-day version (Carte journée 3 Jours) for a most reasonable €10 although this doesn’t seem to be advertised (but we got one by asking!). Services are run by RTM (site in French only).
Beer and Bar recommendations.
La Cagole beer is available in many of the small tourist shops around the city including one on Rue Panier and one to the North side of the Vieux Port on Quai du Port - look for the bright yellow six-pack cases and boxes! I've read a quote that the standard beer is a unique brew from Postřižiny of Nymburk which, having tasted it, may be true, but despite not being a truly local beer it's not bad and worth a go. They claim to be opening a brewpub in le Panier at 4 Montée des Accoules although it will be some time before this happens as there's no work done at this address at all, simply a yellow sign announcing that this will be where the brewpub is situated. The address on the website is 59 Rue du Vallon de Montebello but we couldn't be arsed to trek out there, plus the bottle labels quote another address... confused? You bet we were! As ever, reports please... As I mentioned earlier, Lee Barrass saw the original brewpub at 148 Avenue Pierre Mendès France but we either missed it completely or it's now gone. They told him they had no plans to brew again, so any reports on the old-town site are very welcome!
There is also, reportedly, a company called "Les Brasseurs de Marseille Provence" which sounds like it's a contract beer from Pietra in Corsica! We didn't see it but, if you do, it's called La Trieze. Marseille has a huge Heineken factory on the outskirts which may or may not produce a whole range of insipid dross for local consumption, but I didn't care enough to try and work out what any of it was.
The only bar we visited, but wholly recommend, was...
La Part des Anges, 33, Rue Sainte. Open from 09:00 until 02:00 daily.
Head south away from the Vieux Port along Cours Jean Ballard (from the corner where the Chateau d'If ferries leave from) and Rue Sainte is the third on the left with the bar just a few metres along on the right-hand side.
In reality a wine shop and wine bar, but they do have some decent imported beers including, on our visit, a selection from the Czech Náchod brewery including their mega-rare 24° Baltic Porter, one of the rarest beers in Czech! Nothing local or even French beer-wise on sale worth a go, but the wine list is amazing; go through the small shop to the bar where you can sit and stare at the huge list of wines on sale with around 50 available by the glass for very reasonable prices: try the local Cassis whites. The food is high-end bistro style although not that badly priced and looked pretty decent too; this place comes highly recommended for a wine scooping evening!
If you like aniseed then Pastis scooping might be your thing. The stuff is everywhere - including my favourite, Pastis Fanny - but for a truly amazing range of just about all those available get yourself along to "La Maison de Pastis" at 108 Quai du Port.
Beer of the trip.
Considering we only had three beers, two of which were brewed in Czech and the other one of the worst beers I've ever had, I’ll not bother choosing the best one as we had nothing local whatsoever… ironically, there’s a huge Heineken plant on the outskirts which would vaguely comply with being a local brew but, obviously, we didn’t bother having any… We did see the bizarre sight of Náchod Double Dark on sale at La Part des Anges although we’d already had a load of wine by that juncture so decided that a 10% beer might not have followed it too well…
© Gazza 12/07/09 v1.2