Marseilles strikes me as the ideal location for a photographic workshop. With a huge variety of subjects, impressive weather stats and easy access, but having not yet suffered the fate of Iceland as the obligatory go to destination for the serious tog, it strikes a perfect balance for anyone in search of easy novelty.
Avignon and the nearby villages of the Luberon are pretty too. The calanques are drop dead gorgeous (and out-of-bounds all summer because of extremely high forest fire risks).
Yes, Provence is a haven for photographers. None of these places, however, qualify as un-destination. Not in the same way as Aigues-Mortes, which Philippe and I already explored in this context, for example.
For those new to the thread, a quick flashback : un-destination is a concept initiated by co-author Philippe, which hinges on 3 main principles :
In a way, and in spite of being world-famous, Aix-en-Provence could almost qualify because it is quite difficult to photograph. Almost.
The Etang de Berre, however, is smack in the zone.
If you’ve ever flown into Marseilles, it’s quite likely you’ll have peered down from the window at the salt pans, refineries and super tankers that would make most sensible people run away. And, indeed, some areas are really smelly and probably abundantly polluted.
… even at the height of the busy summer period, the étang is blissfully quiet and free of mass tourism, overshadowed as it is by its more illustrious must-see neighbours. Which is great news for those who venture out in search of a less pretty but more authentic Southern-France vibe.
Here, Pétanque is not a celebrity recreation for show but a living, breathing essential uniting up to 4 generations of loud friends under a scorching sun. Lovely stone village walls echo the burbling sound of century-old fountains rather than the radios of ice-cream shops. And beaches are havens for families and fishermen.
So here’s a brief tour of a few interesting sites representing a variety of subjects and habitats, located around the Etang.
The map show Martigues, the largest point of interest in the area and worthy of some great photography itself, but mostly a nice place for some local culture, out-of-the-way and surprisingly good museums and very decent food.
It (the map) also points to Miramas, for those needing a helping hand to convince families of how indispensable this trip is. The outlet village in Miramas was recently opened to the public and looks like a Disneyland section devoted to dreamland Provence. You’ll shop famous brands at heavy discounts, eat and visit exhibitions. It’s all well orchestrated and a hoot for shoppers and kids.
But the red camera icons are what this post is about.
They point to an arbitrary selection of interesting points to visit for purely photographic reasons. I’ll just write a few lines about each and the photographs below (plus a couple above) give you some indication of what to expect.
Niolon and Carro are two villages on the Côte Bleu (blue coast) West of Marseilles. Nowhere near as famous as the calanques, they don’t offer the same postcard approach but provide much more varied subject matter. Niolon is a tiny village with very good low-key restaurants and a great coastal walk to nearby villages (see pic above). Carro is a bigger settlement but still unknown to mass tourism and having no intention to change anything about that. See below, and pétanque shot, above.
Cornillon-Confoux is a hidden gem. Every bit as beautiful as Gordes or Le Castelet, without the crowds, snobs or inflated prices, it is a hilltop village made of stone. That’s all I’ll say. See street view, above and panorama, below.
Les Pennes-Mirabeau sits on the outskirts of Marseilles and probably sleeps many who work there. It is also (at the moment) a living testament to the devastation of forest fires in the region. Built along a ridge, it offers narrow streets where people actually live and a couple of windmills. A real village vibe rather than the doll house feeling you get in many of the more famous locations in the Luberon, for instance.
Ventabren is the final stop on this list. Like Cornillon-Confoux, it is a perched village but its hilltop is slightly more lazy and the village is slightly less visually impeccable. Still very much worth a stop though. Plus, it boasts not one but two impressive bridges. An aqueduct (below) used to bring water into nearby Aix en Provence and a second, more modern one used to support the Paris – Marseille TGV line.
None of the places mentioned above would appear in major tourist guides or photo TOP 100 must shoot before you die lists. Good. As a day trip, they provide a lot of variety and a real panorama of the local culture. Their beauty is that you can take them all in on a long summer’s day or over two crisp chilly winter days. They come alive in torrential sunlight and dramatic contrast. No need to wait for a golden hour to get the best out of them. They’re just a personal selection, a starting point for the exploration of this area that can seem drab for a few miles and lead to a wonderful discovery minutes later.
You’ll have noticed I did nothing to attract Google’s attention on this post. No flashy titles, no nothing that SEO gurus would salivate about. And I’m asking you not to share this post, except if you trust the person you’re sharing with and her true interest in photographing the area. The people living in these places still enjoy the rarest of joys, freedom from public knowledge and attention. Considering the mainly US readership of this blog, I’m guessing this article will interest at most a few hundred people and will motivate a small handful to act over the coming years. I hope the handful love what they see, and let’s keep it that way 🙂
The beauty of un-destination is that there is so much of it. We’ll be publishing more and more as we go along. Contributions on your side are most welcome too 🙂 What’s your favourite hidden spot ? Care to share a few words and pics ?
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