Should you find yourself with a gloriously sunny afternoon, and there are many of these in Marseille, catch bus #83 southbound from Quai des Belges and ride out to Vallon des Auffes, a charming, tiny harbor neighborhood tucked into a tiny rocky valley. The bus winds along the coast past ornate mansions adorned with pots of flowers, small balconied apartment buildings, and little neighborhood-style shops. To the right are dazzling views of the glittering blue Mediterranean and the barren tan rocks of the coastal islands. Sailboats tack back and forth in the stiff sea breeze, their sails nearly transparent in the brilliant sunlight. The bus ride is a worthwhile destination in itself.
Get off at the stop marked "Vallon des Auffes," and, rather counter-intuitively, cross the road to the inland side. You should find yourself standing on a bridge where Corniche John F. Kennedy crosses over the entrance to the harbor. You’ll look out and down into a tiny valley ("vallon") lined with little houses piled around an equally diminutive harbor. There are stairs down into Vallon des Auffes on either end of the bridge. Coming down to the harbor, you’ll find yourself virtually passing through people’s little courtyards, past their hanging laundry. It’s hard not to feel a little self-conscious as you pass within handshake distance of housewives chatting in their doorways.
"Auffiers" were craftsmen who made ropes and rigging. This little valley and harbor looks like it would be home to riggers; the boats moored shoulder to shoulder here are not pleasure craft but fishing boats and dinghies, and heaps of fishing nets and floats adorn the docks. Hard by the docks, there are little houses whose front doors are literally a half dozen steps from the water and a few shops dedicated to marine needs, plus a couple of seafood restaurants. This little harbor is a workingman’s shipyard, not a Sunday sailor’s marina, and the neighborhood is not the haunt of the well-to-do, but a miniature village of common folk. Only the somewhat upscale restaurants seem to be a concession to the appeal of this scenic little harbor to outsiders.
When you’re done enjoying Vallon des Auffes, climb back up to Corniche John F. Kennedy on the opposite end of the bridge from whichever one you came down from, just to get the benefit of the views from the other side. If you have time, consider strolling further south along the Corniche on the sea side of the road. About a quarter mile south of Vallon des Auffes, you will find some nice views of the sea and rocky shore, and if the weather is warm, there will likely be a number of folks out sunning and swimming. When you’ve had enough, just cross over the inland side of the road and find a stop for bus #63 back to Vieux Port.