Whenever someone asks where I live and I say “La Ciotat,” they usually say “is that even French? It doesn’t sound like it.”
Sometimes even the French don’t believe me.
I don’t get upset when no one knows what I’m taking about – I just say Marseille and then they go “ohhhh, okay.” Plus, I’ve spent so much time in Marseille it’s not far from the truth.
La Ciotat, like most places in France, has a lot of history. Granted, there’s no grand basilica or a medieval military fortress (though you can go to Marseille for that), but La Ciotat has character. It was the setting of one of the first ever motion pictures in a short titled, very accordingly, L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat or Train Arriving to La Ciotat Station, in 1895. It also boasts having the oldest working cinema, L’Eden, that I passed by on a daily basis.
The pronunciation is strange too. La Ciotat sounds like La See-oh-ta. Like most letters (when it comes to the French pronunciation), the t on the end is silent. Listening to my family butcher it is hysterical. I know you’ve told me like twelve times, but where do you live? La Kitat? Ciote? Caitot? It doesn’t sound French!
I know, I know.
If you ever, by any fleeting chance, find yourself in La Ciotat, here are some things to do.
Bronzez à la plage
Get your tan (bronze) on at the beach.
La Ciotat has many beaches to choose from, all of them overlooking the gorgeous turquoise water of the Mediterranean. There are many places to rent gear for water sports, from paddle boarding to scuba diving. Or, if you’re like me, just grab a towel and go take a nap. The water’s always chilly but the sun is warm. There’s a bakery across the street from Plage Lumière that sells bread baked with Roquefort cheese and the L’Indianna has amazing Nutella crepes.
Marchez au centre-ville
Walk around downtown.
The streets are small and winding. There’s a few antique stores, butcher shops, and Arabian markets. Venders place carts filled with postcards, apples, and colorful scarves in the alleyways. It’s quaint, southern, and very French.
Prenez un espresso á un petit café
Have an espresso at a small cafe.
The favorite past time of the French. Coffee, coffee, coffee. However, if you order a coffee, they’ll just give you an espresso.
La Ciotat has many cafes, my favorite being Des Cotes Café, which is behind the church in a hidden courtyard. The ladies who own it are always super nice and they have more options than just espresso, orange Fanta, and le pastis.
Visitez les calanques à pieds (ou par bateau)
See the calanques by foot (or by boat).
I’ve lived here for the better half of a year, have seen them everyday from a distance, but I have never actually visited the calanques, or the giant rocky hills along the sea, in La Ciotat. I did go to the ones in Marseille and Cassis – funny enough, they were just easier to access at the time.
It’s a bit far, but you can always walk. The boats will probably start running from the marina downtown sometime in May.
Mangez sur l’eau
Eat on the water.
The main road downtown is nothing but restaurants and bars. I’ve been to a few, not all, to try some of the regional dishes like les moules frites (literally just mussels with a giant side a fries). It’s a great place to sit on a sunny day. And people watch. Oh, do the French love to people watch.
Trouvez les magasins touristiques
Discover the tourist shops that have everything from postcards to lavender soap.
There’s not as many as there are in nearby towns such as Cassis or Aix-en-Provence. Since it’s so small and overshadowed by other touristic towns along the water, many of the tourists who come to La Ciotat are in fact French, though a lot of people would hear my accent and switch to really confusing English. English tourists in La Ciotat aren’t uncommon, but most people skip it on the way to Nice.
There’s a museum that’s never open and a church I couldn’t ever seem to visit. Frenchies puffing their cigarettes watch everyone pass by from open bars and cafes along the marina. Families with small children or retired couples walk the boardwalk in the afternoon sun. There’s really no one between the ages of 20 to 35 who lives there willingly – everyone else just heads to Marseille.
Truthfully, I scrapped the bottom of the barrel trying to think of other interesting places – that’s pretty much all I have been doing for the past few months. Doesn’t sound too bad, huh? It’s a very, very laid-back town.
But, since I’ve been here in the off season, my selection has been limited. The beaches have been stormy and the restaurants closed. Downtown hasn’t been busy and the calanques and nearby islands were off limits unless you happened to own a boat. However, this town seems to roll with the sun. Downtown shops are waking up, the flowers are blooming, and the beaches have been cleaned. I can imagine it being very crowded during the summer.
If you have one or two days or just happen to be passing through the south of France, La Ciotat is a wonderful stop. The ocean is two (or three) different shades of blue and the beaches are softer than Nice. It’s a lovely town to visit, but living here hasn’t been a salty, carefree breeze all the time; however, I’m very grateful I got to know this little town. I meshed well with my school and have met lifetime friends from all over the world. And you know what that means . . . more traveling!!
Though, I still don’t really know what the bull covered in American actors and actresses is supposed to be.
Until next time,