History reigns in Marseilles, France

Le Pont d'Avignon
Le Pont d'Avignon

If you're booking a European cruise, chances are that one of the countries you'll be looking forward to visiting the most is France. When your ship stops in the port of Marseilles on the Mediterranean Sea, be sure to take advantage of the city's numerous links to history and culture.

Paris is widely known as France's most famous city, but Marseilles is actually the oldest, and it's located close to some truly amazing historical sites. One of these that should absolutely not be missed is the city of Avignon. The cobblestone streets and charming atmosphere of this town make it worth a visit on its own, but if you're a history buff, you'll know that the true reason for visiting is to see the Palace of the Popes. During the church's Great Schism in the 1300s, several popes took up residence in Avignon while in exile, marking the first and only time in history that a pope lived outside the Vatican.

Other historical points of interest date back even further. Don't miss Le Pont du Gard, a magnificent aqueduct bridge. This structure, a remnant of the Roman Empire, is certainly among the most majestic you'll view on your journey, so it should come as no surprise that it's been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

True fans of history will know that the area around Marseilles used to be part of Provence, a region that was formally under control of the Greeks and Romans. This makes for a truly unique mix of architecture and styles in Aix-de-Provence, which was the former capital in the Middle Ages. There are more than 200 statues and monuments in the Aix-de-Provence's well-preserved "Old Town" district, so be sure to set aside some significant time here.

For a decidedly different look at this region, visit the town of Cassis. This fishing village is perfectly quaint and quiet, and located right near the stunning "Calanques," the French equivalent of Scandinavia's fjords.