Marseille, a hub of culture, history and picturesque little quarters à la Marcel Pagnol… With its prestigious monuments and incomparable lifestyle, this ancient city, founded by the Greeks, has conquered the hearts of visitors from the world over come to savour Marseille’s sunny café terraces, pétanque and pastis!
Back to the beginnings
Pétanque, a game that’s over a century old…
A genuine local institution, boules, or pétanque, was born in La Ciotat, to the East of Marseille, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. You can learn all about it at the Musée Ciotadien. Originally called “la longue”, players in teams of three used to stand on one foot when throwing the ball. But the ageing Mr. Hugues, an old friend of the game’s inventor, had trouble with his balance… Ernest Pitiot suggested he keep both feet planted firmly on the ground within a circle marked out a few metres from the jack – and the rest is history. The first competition was held in 1910 officialising the new “feet anchored” (“pieds tanqués”) rules and Pétanque, or Boules, was born!
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13 points to win
The Pétanque World Championships
The Pétanque World Championships takes place in July, bringing together 15,000 aficionados from 90 French departments and 160,000 spectators from all over the globe ! Held in the alleys of the mythical Parc Borély in Marseille, a stone’s throw from the Med, the contest promises an authentic, friendly and buzzing atmosphere, redolent with typical Marseillais sunshine and joie de vivre. The Marcel Pagnol Pétanque Prize rewards committees and overseas federations for their efforts in promoting this iconic South of France game throughout the year. The Pétanque World Championships are more than just a competition – the meeting celebrates the very essence of Marseille lifestyle!
Our best addresses if you want to train up!
There’s no such thing as a born “shooter” or “pointer” – you have to learn how to become one! On Place de la Major, next to the famous cathedral of the same name, you can up your game while soaking in the views over the Bay of Marseille, a stone’s throw from the Panier quarter. If you’re in the Pointe Rouge area at night, you can enjoy a game after sunset on a lit court set facing the Med. If you’re looking for the best atmosphere, Cours Julien is definitely the place to be: novices and seasoned players alike gather here to share a joke and enjoy a game on Place Carli, cradled by the lilting accent of the South. Last but not least, you’ll find two shaded courts under the city’s Notre-Dame Basilica (nicknamed “La Bonne Mère”), perfect for a refreshing game at one of the city’s most-cherished locations.
Shoot, point, cheers!
In Marseille, even the balls are blue…
The Musée de la Boule is fittingly-located in Marseille’s iconic Panier quarter. Since 2015, you can visit this temple of pétanque free of charge and roam the little shop in search of a souvenir to take back home: the famous blue triplette set or a little jack for example, depending on how much space you have in your bags! The sellers here are passionate about the game, so don’t hesitate to ask them about their beloved tradition. If you raise your eyes, you’ll even see a whole ceiling of jacks. But watch your step: there’s a little boules court right inside the shop!
“Petit jaune” and “pastaga”… Pastis is an art
The guest of honour of every southern aperitif, the “petit jaune” – as the Marseille locals like to call it – is a resolute must. Paul Ricard first launched his aniseed aperitif drink in the 1920s. It was an immediate success. When the Forties dawned, pastis was the life and soul of every party and France’s most popular drink! Head to the Maison du Pastis, on Marseille’s Vieux-Port (Old Port), where you will find out that there’s not 1 but 95 different sorts of pastis and absinth. Serving pastis the right way is an art and at the Maison du Pastis, you’ll learn exactly how to master it. Grab a balloon glass, pour in 2 cl of pastis then 10 cl of chilled water and some ice cubes and savour, in moderation of course… Cheers!