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Côte Bleue, Bouches du Rhône

43°24'19"N 5°2'51"E
Published: January 2010
last updated: March 2011
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++++The visit

Quartier d'Isle Once the second most important economic centre of Provence, Martigues has preserved few tourist attractions. The city has much grown from its medieval alliance of three bourgs, so the old town is nowadays surrounded by large industrial suburbs. Martigues divided by the channel of Caronte between the Mediterranean Sea and a salt-water pond l’Etang de Berre (earlier Sea of Martigues).

The City:

To see the old town, cross directly to the island in the middle of the channel, where you’ll find the district dating back to XIII century. The architecture of the Island District (Le quartier de l’Isle) has won Martigues the title of “provencal Venice”. Take a walk through the narrow streets, taking a note of the XIII century Castle (unfortunately, closed to public), visit baroque-style church of Madeleine (l’Eglise de Madeleine) built in XVII century, which has one of the most famous organs of Provence and some town houses, built in classical style. The real jewel of the island is a small port of pleasance, called by the artists Mirroir aux Oiseaux (Birds’ Mirror). Mirroir aux Oiseaux (official name – le quai Brenscon) will open you a wonderful view of Jonquières. This is the oldest medieval district of Martigues, where, unfortunately, only few monuments were preserved. You’ll be able to visit there, for instance, church St. Geniès (l’église Saint Geniès), built in XVII century for the Order of Malta. Absolutely visit chapelle d’Annonciade, whose interior in baroque style is registered as a historical monument of France.

The Beach:

If you are planning a beach vacation, the fishing villages, incorporated to the town (Carro and La Couronne) offer kilometers of seashore with no less than seven natural sand beaches. La Couronne

South from Martigues a pretty village La Couronne has one of the biggest local sand beaches. The lovers of seaside walks can follow along the limestone coast to the lighthouse of la Couronne and enjoy its ever-changing view. Further east on the smaller beach of Sainte Croix the water is a little colder and the waves are stronger. The beach is named after the chapel Sainte Croix (worth a visit) that still oversees the bay.
On the west from La Couronne, fishers’ village Carro has a windy sand beach, especially loved by kite-surfers. West from Carro, just on the south of the city district Lavèra, you’ll find other beaches: Laurons and Bonnieux, hosting also a nudist area. These villages, as well as the city of Martigues offer all kinds of accommodation, however, we remind you to reserve early for the summer vacation.


There is archeological evidence that the territory of Martigues was occupied from Neolithic era (some artifacts date back to 3000-2000 B.C.). However, we still know little about this long period, as well as subsequent Celtic, Greek and Roman occupation of the Martigues area. The occupation starts from the coastal zones (the oldest remnants are found in the seaside villages Tamaris, l’Arquet and la Couronne) and quickly reaches the heights, where the first fortified burgs are built.

The first settlements on the island of Martigues appeared in 475 BC. In the end of II century B.C. Martigues is occupied by romans, who dig the first channel between l’Etang de Berre and the sea. In the late antique and early medieval periods Martigues was often the main rival of the growing and prosperous port Messalia (Marseille). In XII-XIII centuries three important political figures: the count of Provence, the viscount of Marseille and the archbishop of Arles seek to gain complete authority over Martigues. Thus Martigues develops as three separate burgs on the two sides of l’Etang de Berre and l’etang de Caronte: Ferrières on the northern side, Jonquières on the southern side and l’Isle between two rives. These three burgs present nonetheless harmonic architectural ensemble and are protected by the same ramparts.

In XVI century king Henri II and then Charles IX seek to unite Martigues. In 1580 Martigues receives the status of principality (except three burgs it includes nearby towns of Istres, Saint Chamas, Berre, Carry, etc.). 1581 sees signature of the treaty of the fusion of three burgs – thus the city of Martigues is born. The events of XVII-XVIII centuries hit hard Martigues: Marseille is designated as the main port of France, undermining the position of its rival; population suffers from the plague, unusually cold winters and poor harvests. Living poorly from agriculture and fishing, Martigues sees economic revival only in XX century with construction of the crude-oil refineries and other industrial sites. Unfortunately, it has heavy impact on the ecosystem of l’étang de Berre.

++++Practical information

To access Martigues by car: from Marseille (east) take A55, from Arles/Nîmes (west) take N113 (Fos-sur-Mer), then N568 (Port-de-Bouc), from there change to A55.

Although Martigues is situated only 21 km from the airport Marseille-Provence (if you rent a car, take A55), there is no direct shuttle between the city and airport – the solution will be to make connection in Salon-de-Provence, Marseille or Miramas.

By train: Martigues is situated on the regional line (TER de Côte Bleue), which connects it with seaside villages. Closest TGV train stations are Aix-en-Provence (direct shuttle) and Marseille.

Martigues and its sattelites offer great variety of accomodations and water activities that may be significantly cheaper than the offers on Côte Azure.

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