Martigues and Etang de berre: What to see and do (Provence)

Explore Martigues, a former fishing town turned tourist hub on the Etang de berre in Provence, France. With top things to see and do, accommodation, and more.
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Located on the Mediterranean sea, the town of Martigues is famous for its canals earning the nickname “the Provençale Venice”. This seaside town is the point of passage between the Mediterranean and the Etang de Berre, and is thus filled with small canals and bridges that have been much inspired by their more famous counterpart.

Once a fishing village since the 6th century, it then became a part of the property of the Counts of Provence in the Middle ages. That era has now given way to a bustling tourist town with its pastel-colored buildings and traditional architecture, attracting many visitors from far and wide.

In addition there are the nature-lovers as the Martigues is perched on the Etang de Berre (“etang” means “shallow lake”). The Etang is known for its exceptional natural landscape made up of lagoons and wetlands and is remarkably rich in floral and faunal biodiversity.

View of the center of Martigues
View of the center of Martigues

And if biodiversity is not your thing, there are the nearby beaches of the Côte Bleue. Less crowded than the nearby beaches of the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), the Côte Bleue is much more of a hidden gem, although it still attracts plenty of locals and visitors alike.

So with that said, if you are planning a trip to Martigues, let’s have a look at the top things to see and do in the city, shall we? Allons-y!

Things to do in the area

1. Miroir aux Oiseaux

The most famous site in Martigues is the “Miroir aux oiseaux”. It is the point where the canal acts as a water mirror and reflects the landscape back onto the water.

Miroir aux Oiseaux
Miroir aux Oiseaux

Originally known as Quai Brescon, it was its beauty that inspired famed French writer Alexandre Dumas to call Martigues “the Venice of Provence”.

Many a painting has been inspired by the scene, including the painting titled “Maisons au bord de l’eau” by French artist André Derain which hangs in the famed St. Petersburg museum.

2. Le Quartier de l’Île

Martigues is made up of 3 main neighborhoods, the Quartier de l’Île in the center, and Jonquières and Ferrières nearby. It is in the Quartier de l’Île that you will find most of the canals. Dating back to 5 B.C., this was the site of an ancient village of a Celto-Ligurian tribe.

Small street in Martigues
Small street in Martigues

Along with the canals, you will see several art sculptures scattered among the colorful buildings and bridges. There are a few shops around, but most of the restaurants and cafés are in the Ferrières neighbourhood.

3. Église Sainte-Madeleine-de-l’Île

Just across from the Miroir aux Oiseaux is the largest church in Martigues, called Église Sainte-Madeleine-de-l’Île. It is a Catholic church dedicated to Saint Madeleine which has been classified as Historic Monuments since 1947.

Église Sainte-Madeleine-de-l’Île in Martigues

Built in the 17th century, it is decorated in a Baroque and Provençale style at a time when Martigues was a prosperous town at the forefront of commerce and trade.

4. Walk down to Ferrières beach

Just off of the front of the Quartier de l’Île is the closest beach in Martigues called Plage Ferrières. Within walking distance to the center of town, this popular beach attracts the crowds in the summer, but is relatively quiet during other parts of the year.

Ferrières beach
Ferrières beach

5. Explore the beaches of Côte Bleue

There are many beaches in this part of the Mediterranean coast, known as the Côte Bleue. Among the most popular near Martigues are:

  • Verdun beach (La Couronne) – sandy beach 300m long.
  • Sainte-Croix beach – sandy beach 100m long, one of the most popular beaches in Martigues.

Other nearby beaches include:

  • La Saulce beach – a very small beach that gets very busy in the summer
  • Laurons beach – quite small and made up of sand and gravel, however more secluded and quiet.
  • Bonnieu beach – has a naturist area

You will require a car to go to these beaches, as they are not within walking distance of the centre-ville of Martigues.

6. Musée Ziem

The Ziem museum is named after the French painter Felix Ziem who moved from his native Burgundy to Martigues. Ziem was a travelling painter, and everything he drew was preserved in sketchbooks. These sketchbooks, were donated to the town of Martigues in 1991.

Musée Ziem entrance

Along with Ziem’s collection, the Ziem Museum houses more than 8000 different types of paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and various objects. Entrance to the museum is free.

7. Fish market at Carro

About 10 miles (13km) from the center of Martigues, is the neighborhood of Carro. With a beach nearby, Carro is known for its famous fish market that is open every morning with fishermen selling the fresh catch of the day.

fish market in Carro

Try a local speciality from Provence called the bouillabaisse, which is a delicacy made from the leftover catch of the day. You can find the dish available in restaurants all over this part of the south of France.

8. Visit Marseille

The town of Martigues is only about 40 minutes away from the oldest city in France, Marseille. Known as the Phocean city, the city is famous for its love of its famed church, the Notre Dame de la Garde.

Notre dame de la garde Marseille
Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille

Marseille is also famous for its Vieux Port that has been attracting foreigners for centuries from all across the Mediterranean. There is plenty to see and do in the city, which is also one of the largest in France. You can read more about visiting Marseille here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to get to Martigues?

The easiest way to get to Martigues is to first get to Marseille. From Marseille, you can take a bus to Martigues in about 40 minutes or drive.

There is also an International Airport in Marseille, with direct flights from London, Amsterdam, and other major European capitals. TGV high-speed from Paris to Marseille takes about 3 hours, while it takes around 8 hours to drive.

How easy is it getting around?

The center of Martigues is very easy to walk around, however you may need a car to get to some of the beaches that are further away.

How many days should you spend?

Martigues can easily be explored in a day, however you may want to stay longer to explore the nearby beaches and the Camargue. If you are visiting in July, the town runs a week-long summer festival called the Martigues Summer Festiv’ Halle which you may want to attend.

Where should you stay?

I would recommend staying around the canal and the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) to stay within easy walking distance of all the sights:

Unfortunately, there are no 4 or 5 star hotels in the area, unless you go a bit further to nearby Arles.

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around Provence. A bientôt!

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