As soon as we stepped out of the train station at Cassis, the little port town a few kilometres East of Marseille, I declared that I was in love. The smell of heated pines, coupled with the accompaniment of persistently chirping cicadas was confirmation that we had entered a kind of Mediterranean paradise. That conclusion was further fortified as we made our way closer to the coast, and found plunging into a slightly opaque dazzlingly turquoise sea steeply cast mountains rippling with shades of terracotta and violet. But best of all was the harbour itself, a kind of St Tropez in miniature, with splendidly multi-coloured houses in every shade of pastel lining the waterfront, while before them, a veritable collective of fishing boats and yachts added luxury to the scene.
Living in Mallorca for close on 3 years means that this kind of glittering seaside scene is no stranger to me. Yet there is something about a port in the French Riviera that exudes a kind of innate elegance which is somewhat less tangible elsewhere in the Med. Maybe it’s the old men gathered drinking pernod and exchanging gossip in the tree-lined squares which neighbour the harbour. Or perhaps it’s the perfume of Marseille soap and lavender which manages to pervade and harmonise with the delicate scent emanating from the sea. Or maybe it is the cafes and bistros, whose location affords them the very freshest of seafood and extravagant shell fish, and of course the very best in chilled Provencal rose. I’m not sure I can truly put my finger on what it is that singles out these Riviera havens, but I know that Cassis is as insuperably handsome as it gets.
A few minutes was all we needed to located the best table alongside the waterside, a large plate of gigantic grilled prawns and several glasses of rose so cold that ice clung to the side of the gently perspiring wine glass. Somewhat heady on all that peach-coloured elixir, we wafted around the port like fallen bourganvilla petals dancing in a light summer’s breeze, utterly caught up in the aesthetic delights of the place. That momentum pushed us towards the emerald sea, and there in water frothed up by a robust Mediterranean current, we plunged into the ambient waters from where Cassis appeared all the more stunning.
Compared with the urban cacophony of Marseille, Cassis proved the ultimate Riviera balm; a true treasure of the French Mediterranean whose soft palette and pervasive elegance ensnared our senses and charmed our imagination, long after the Riviera train scooped us back into the smoggy fold of Marseille.
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.
Not everything in Marrakech is pink. Masterpieces are carved out of a rich ochre stone with such intricate geometric embellishment that the stone itself seems to resemble sparkling, resplendent gold. This is the side of Marrakech from Sultans past, when the excesses of power and wealth produced some of the masterpieces of the world’s historical architecture. The Daily Norm is no stranger to some of Islam’s most stunning architectural inventions, having indulged last summer in the jaw-droopingly extravagant craftsmanship of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. But in Marrakech, the journey continued, as ancient masterpieces unveiled themselves within narrow doorways in the crowded Souk, and from amongst the crumbling remains of former palaces. These are places both preceding and inspired by Granada’s famous gem, and no less beautiful in their masterful conception. Some are now in a very bad state indeed. The Badii Palace is a mere shadow of its former self. But across them all one common thread remains: the colour of ochre, butterscotch, Gold.
The Medersa Ben Youssef
The photos on this page are dedicated to three such buildings which we explored during our trip to Marrakech. The Medersa Ben Youssef is perhaps the most extensively and impressively decorated, especially when you consider that it was an Islamic College rather than a palace. Its walls literally weep with honeycomb-like carvings and elaborated horseshoe arches, while perfection in symmetry imbues the space with a finessed tranquility spoilt only by the tourist hoards which inevitably occupy the space.
The Saadian Tombs
Packed with tourists was likewise the trend exhibited by the Saadian Tombs, a complex of some 66 royal tombs which sounded like it was going to be substantial in the guidebook, but was actually little more than a single room preceded by a huge queue and whose entrance was forbidden. Rather tourists were granted a brief glimpse at the tomb room through a very narrow roped off doorway, and the brevity of their indulgence was kept carefully in check by a security guard who looked none too pleased by any such attempt to linger beyond a couple of photographs hastily composed. But it was worth the ill treatment: the tombs were stunning. I have never seen such a highly decorated space so compacted within a small area.
The Badii Palace
But perhaps our favourite of these golden palaces was the Badii Palace, which is funny really since it was also the least attractive in terms of decoration or embellishment. What took some 25 years to complete and was said to have been one of the most magnificent palaces ever constructed is today a mere skeleton of its former self, having had its riches brutally scrapped by a conquering sultan when he decided to move his centre of power elsewhere. Nonetheless there is a definite poetry in what remains, and an impressive sense of the scale of the original gauged from what is left behind. Best of all are the elegant storks who love to nest on the crumbling site, and probably made for the best photos of them all.
The Badii Storks
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.