When I first got my school assignments for this year, I immediately started endless searching on Leboncoin for apartments. Could I afford the city? Could I afford the apartments? More importantly…will it be cute and will there be a boulangerie nearby??
If I had began by actually finding these cities on a map – which I did very shortly after – I would have seen that neither are actually close to anything. Les Pennes Mirabeau and Vitrolles both sit on the edge of Marseille, about half an hour to an hour from Aix by bus. I had frantically began my house hunters international in Vitrolles only to find that nothing was available. Even the French people I started emailing with questions had never heard of either city.
Long story short, I ended up in Aix and Vitrolles and Les Pennes became mere bus stops and walks for me. I got to see more of Les Pennes over Christmas when I stayed there, but la magie de Vitrolles remained a mystery.
My friend Leah also works there and we both wanted to know what was beyond the gare routière, what the vieux village could offer, and what five people on TripAdvisor saw at Le Rocher (unfortunately, not Ferrero or Yves). And, for my last day of work in the city, it seemed fitting to get to know it just a little before leaving.
Vitrolles was first mentioned in writing in 994 at an abbey in Marseille. For a long time, it was a small village dating back to the Roman empire, protecting the coast from invaders. Up until the 1950s, the city’s population was steadily decreasing, but an influx of immigrants in Marseille meant many were relocated to the area along the Étang de Berre – Vitrolles included. Now, much of the city is more industrial, but there are still little pockets of medieval history – what Leah and I were looking for. In addition to colorful neighborhoods, Vitrolles boasts many charming street names : Rue de la Bise, Promenade des Oliviers, Place du Souvenir Français. At the top of the Rocher, there is La Tour Sarassine, a medieval prison, and Notre Dame de la Vie, the city’s former church. Both are considered historical monuments within France.
As it turns out, for us Vitrolles could be seen in about an hour and a half. We went up to the top of Le Rocher, peeked inside the medieval prison and church, and walked through La Cité Rose, the neighborhood where all the houses are pink and the shutters are purple. At 5:30 on a Tuesday evening everything was closed except an alimentation, so I am so happy I don’t live there, but it was adorable quand même – and much better than a bus stop.♦