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  • Writer's pictureEmmy Grayson

Midnight in Marseille: Writing a Romance Set in the Oldest City in France

Calandra watched the boats drifting across the waters of the Vieux-Port de Marseille from her spot at a little café with red-and-white-striped umbrellas. The scent of fresh-baked bread had guided her feet to this little haven as she killed time before her appointment.

The city was a welcome distraction from the luxury of Alejandro’s seaside villa.

Picture a Ferris wheel spinning merrily on a harbor wharf, the sea air gently rocking the carts. Close your eyes and hear the soft cry of a gull or the holler of a fisherman hawking his latest catch. The scent of fresh baked bread mingles with the taste of red wine on your tongue as you sit in a sun-warmed chair at a seaside café.

Welcome to Marseille.


Incorporating Marseille Into Book Two

When I first started writing Alejandro and Calandra’s story, I decided to hop fairly quickly from New York to Paris. Not only did I want to give Everleigh, the heroine of His Billion-Dollar Takeover Temptation, the chance to finally see Paris, but it’s where my husband and I traveled on our first international trip together.

However, with Alejandro’s business being in shipping and his dream of renovating one of his old freighters into a floating hotel, I had to set the majority of the story somewhere along the coast. Enter Marseille, the oldest city in France.


Did Love Found Marseille?

When I say the oldest city in France, I mean old, as in 2,500 years old! The harbor that now

holds Marseille’s port was settled in approximately 600 B.C. by the Greeks (Destination 360). There’s actually a charming legend about an explorer, Protis, who found the cove and was invited to dinner of a local Ligurian tribe. The dinner was being hosted to select a bridegroom for the chief’s daughter, Gyptis, who fell in love with Protis on first sight. After their marriage, they founded a settlement on a nearby hill and named it Massalia (Marseille City of Culture).


A Tumultuous History Leads to Prosperity

It changed hands multiple times over the centuries, from Greece and Rome to the Visigoths and the Counts of Provence. The city underwent several trying periods, including the Black Death in the 14th century, the Great Plague of Marseille in 1720 that resulted in over 100,000

deaths, an organized crime spree in the interwar period of the early 1900’s, and a horrific stretch in World War II that included aerial bombings, Nazi occupation and the capture of 4,000 Jews before the city was liberated in 1944 by primarily French forces (Marseille City of Culture).

However, today Marseille proudly wears the title of not only the oldest city in France but the second largest with over 800,000 residents. Sitting just off the waters of the Mediterranean, it’s an incredible destination filled with museums, historic sites, beaches, restaurants and a myriad of other attractions. I’m excited to share three with you today that I wove into Alejandro and Calandra’s story.


Vieux-Port de Marseille

Gulls cawed overhead. Languages from around the world flowing around them in a bewitching hymn of sounds and accents as shoppers and tourists bustled by. A breeze blew in from the harbor, light and cool to combat the growing heat of the morning. Details Calandra would have soaked up in her new quest to enjoy life a little more had her mutinous body not gone rigid the instant it registered Alejandro’s presence.”

The Old Port of Marseille is framed by Old Town, or Panier, on one side and the Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral on the other. Behind it lies La Canebière, an historic boulevard I’ll tackle next, and on the other, boats bobbing on the azure waters of the Mediterranean.

Surprisingly, the waters of the Old Port are only 20 feet deep, meaning that larger ships must use the port of Joliette. However, with literally thousands of berths at hand, fishing boats, yachts and other watercraft float in and out of the U-shaped port (Marvellous-Provence). Charters launch to ferry travelers to the island of Frioul or nearby Calanques, a national park I cover a little ways down.

The community built around this bustling harbor is by many accounts lively and fun. From a fish market in the morning and street performers at night to a Ferris wheel and numerous cafés, restaurants and shops, there’s always something for a curious tourist. TripAdvisor provides interesting insight into this destination. As with any large city, pickpockets like to meander through the crowds. Some travelers gushed about the vibrant life of Vieux-Port, while others found it overwhelming or seedy. Given how much my husband and I loved the colorful neighborhood of Montmartre in Paris and friends of ours couldn’t get out of there fast enough, it sounds like it’s a matter of personal preference as to whether you’d want to add this to your Marseille must-see list. But for those who love it, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


La Canebière

“Five minutes later, they strolled down one of the many charming alleys Marseille had to offer. A casual walk with at least three feet of distance between them. It didn’t stop every nerve ending in her body from sizzling.”

London has Abbey Road. San Francisco has Lombard Street. Singapore has Orchard Road.

And Marseille has La Canebière.

La Canebière opened in 1666, part of the royal decree of Louis XIV to grow the city of Marseille. If the word reminds you of another English word, your hunch is correct; Marseille Tourism shares that the name comes from the Provencal word canebe, or as we know it,

hemp. Hemp was a common ingredient in ropemaking. The name was a homage to the ropemakers of the area. However, while the boulevard was established over 400 years ago, the extension that linked it to Old Port and the stunning architecture that can be viewed today didn’t take place until the late 1700’s (Marseille-Tourisme).

Today, the boulevard boasts not only eateries and retail, but a myriad of other attractions. TripAdvisor user Notacanada shares that a street festival brings the area to life the last Sunday of every month, and an organic market, merry-go-round and a lending library tucked into a ceramic giraffe enhance the uniqueness of the neighborhood. Once again, TripAdvisor users were starkly divided on whether this was a yay or a nay. However, the boulevard underwent a renovation process in 2019 to make it greener and more pedestrian-friendly. As the world rebounds from COVID-19, I’m excited to see if the final tweaks bring La Canebière back to its former glory.


Calanques National Park

“I have a few details to confirm for the party, but if the storm passes, I thought about going to Calanques National Park this afternoon.” She inhaled deeply. “Would you like to join me?” He blinked. Time passed, each second stretching longer than the last. Another rumble of thunder rolled across the landscape, louder and more aggressive as the amber liquid in her teacup trembled.

Sadly, Calandra and Alejandro don’t make it to Calanques National Park in the final version of the book (although they do have a lovely walk on the beach later). But an earlier draft

included them sailing into one of the park’s coves, cliff-diving (Calandra was not pregnant in that version) and then engaging in some…ahem, post cliff-diving physical activities. Deciding to have Calandra be pregnant nixed that idea, but the natural beauty of this place was too incredible not to share. Calanques covers nearly 200 square

miles, but less than a fourth of that is land; the rest is water. The name comes from the narrow inlets framed by steep cliffs, also known as calanques. The park also boasts a famous island. Fans of Alexandre Dumas might recognize If Castle, the 16th century fortress featured by the writer in The Count of Monte Cristo (France Voyage). The waters are teaming with octopuses, groupers, urchins and other marine life. Fin whales were even spotted last year when lockdown led to a decrease in

marine traffic near the park (ABC News). On land, you might spot eagles, bats, the Mediterranean tree frog or even an Ocellated lizard, the largest lizard in Europe at 80 cm long, just over two and a half feet (Calanques National Park).

Visitors to the park can enjoy a variety of activities, from hiking and climbing on land to kayaking and scuba diving in the Mediterranean.


Add Proof of Their One Hot Night to Your TBR Pile

I’m so glad I had the chance to share this incredible city with you. The working title of this book was Midnight in Marseille, so it was fun to share a bit from the first draft. The second addition to The Infamous Cabrera Brothers trilogy will be available on Tuesday, September 28th online and at major retailers:

Missed out on Everleigh and Adrian’s love story, set amongst the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Spain? Pick up your copy today with:



I came across so many wonderful articles and photos for this post. Learn more about each topic by clicking on the accompanying links or the photos to reach the websites and photographers who captured the amazing imagery.


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