Seaside Resort La Ciotat, the Cradle of Cinema

Seaside Resort La Ciotat is a small town where we had stayed a couple of days during our two-week trip to southern France. After days of driving around, especially after our excursion to four villages in Luberon in one day, we felt the need to slow down our tempo.

So, we opted for looking around La Ciotat, a place we did not consider touristic at all.  All we knew was that La Ciotat used to be one of the largest shipyards in France. And today, it is one of the least spoiled resorts along this stretch of the coast and most frequent by the locals. But our visit has altered our impression completely.

Every day we drove into the town from the A50 motorway to reach our hotel. The first thing we saw was a roundabout crowned with a large topiary train. Through a quick search, we found out it is in honour of the film L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (translated from French into English as “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station”).

In addition to its beach resort, La Ciotat boasts a long cinematic heritage and is proud of its film-making history. The pioneering Lumière Brothers made their first films here, and its Eden Théâtre claims to be the world’s oldest surviving public cinema. The highlights of La Ciotat are:

  • The Film folk Lumière Brothers
  • Old Port of the Seaside Resort La Ciotat
  • Old Town
  • Nature activities
Old Port of La Ciotat

The film folk Lumière Brothers

The film L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat

Auguste and Louis Lumière, sons of Antoine Lumière, who made fortune manufacturing plates for still photographs, developed their invention, Cinématographe, an all-in-one camera. It was a wooden box that could not only take images but also develop and project them onto a screen.

They made a 50-second silent film showing the entry of a train pulled by a steam locomotive into the gare de La Ciotat. The film consists of a single, unedited real-time view. It contains the first example of several prevalent cinematic techniques. At La Ciotat station, you can discover a picture of the film scene and a portrait of the Lumière brothers on the platform where they shot the film.

Palais Lumière

The Villa Lumière was the summer residence of the Lumière family. In the Grand Salon of this villa, the Lumière brothers showed their short films for the very first time. Today, the place is known as the Palais Lumière and is just a few hundred metres from the nearest beach.

Memorial to the Lumière Brothers

The grounds of Palais Lumière did extend right down to the seafront, but no longer today. From the estate, an attractive public road Allée Lumière goes all the way to the beach where you will see the memorial of the Lumière Brothers erected in 1958. Engraved on one side of the monument is the legend, “Le cinématographe fait connaître le monde” (“The cinematographer lets you get to know the world”).

We drove along the main road next to the Plage Lumière, a beach named after the Lumière Brothers, and parked our car in the centre near the old port.

Old Port of the Seaside Resort La Ciotat

Lined with bars and restaurants, the old port is a great place to start exploring. The shipyards are the maintenance and repair centre for luxury yachts. And their cranes dominant the skyline of the port.

Eden Theatre

Walked along the beachfront, we passed the 250-seat Eden Théâtre is on the right side of the boulevard. First inaugurated on 16 June 1889, it claims to be the World’s Oldest Cinema and is still in operation.

In addition to a dozen films made around La Ciotat, the Brothers also hired film crews to travel the world, making short films with their camera box. They showed their movies not only in Paris, in their magnificent palace, but also at the local Eden Theatre. The generations of the people in La Ciotat are proud of discovering the world and adventures in Eden Theatre’s chairs.

Musée Ciotaden

Standing at the edge of the Old Port near Quai Ganteaume, the Musée Ciotaden is in the former town hall. It has 15 rooms which host more than 1500 objects retracing the history of La Ciotat, including information on the invention of cinema and pétanque, as well as exhibits relating to the city’s maritime past. One room is devoted to the Lumière Brothers and the birth of cinema.

Notre Dame de l’Assomption

Along the Quai Ganteaume, we spotted the church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption built of pink limestone. High above the tower, this 17C church looks over the lively old port. It contains some contemporary frescos by the local artist Gilbert Ganteaume. We went further back to the port to get the view of the old port and Quai, including the church and the museum.  

Le Musée Ciotaden; Seaside Resort La Ciotat
Quai Ganteaume

Old Town

The church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption is in the old town area. Behind the church, the Place Sadi Carnot with its central fountain and a hundred-year-old magnolia tree is a pretty place in the neighbourhood. We came to this place at the perfect time for a drink before we continued further.

The pedestrianized old town is pleasant to wander through. The long Rue des Poilus is the main shopping street. Some grand old houses on the side streets witness La Ciotat’s heyday. If renovations of those houses take place, the old town would be even more attractive.

Narrow Alley in La Ciotat
Place Sadi Carnot, Seaside Resort La Ciotat

Nature activities

Back to our apartment in La Ciotat, we took a rest on our balcony. Our apartment has a direct view of the ocean and a distant view of a massive rock outcrop known as Le Bec d’Aigle, or the Eagle’s Beak at the other side of the old port. The red Calanque de Figuerolles around the Rock area has small pebble beaches. Hiking the Calanques and bathing at their beaches were perfect outdoor activities for the summer, which we did at the Calanques near Cassis.

The Route des Crêtes, which we drove through the other day, is just behind the rock, winding over the hills and along the coast towards Cassis. The route is one of the prettiest coastal drives along the French Riveria. The road is not long but has several viewpoints of the rocky landscapes. 

There are several beaches in the area. Most beaches are family-friendly. In the morning before the crowds arrived, on in the evening when the masses left, we chose one beach to refresh ourselves.    

Narrow alley in La Ciotat

Travel tips

Where to Stay

The seaside resort La Ciotat La Ciotat is popular among French tourists. Within walking distance to the centre, the following two places are good choices:

How to get there

Join a tour: The group tour from Cassis will explore several places, including such as La Ciotat and a guided  walking tour of Calanque of Port Miou.

By car: La Ciotat is around 34 km from Marseille along the A50.  Alternatively, you can take the spectacular route, the D559, across the Gineste pass and the plateau of Carpiagne via Cassis, and from there via the stunning Route des Crêtes, the D141.

If you plan to rent a car, please compare the offers on this Rental Cars platform. It compares the current rates on offer from all the major suppliers at your chosen location to ensure you get the best deal.

By train: There is a fast train service to La Ciotat from Marseille and Toulon. The journey time in each direction is about 30 minutes. However, the station is 4.5 km from the old port. Therefore, you need to take a local bus no.40 that connects the train station to the centre of town and the bus station.

By bus: The regional bus company Cartreize offers several routes to and from La Ciotat. Bus no. 69 connects Marseille and La Ciotat via Aubagne. Bus no.72 connects Aix-en-Provence and La Ciotat via Aubagne. Another company, La Marcouline, connects La Ciotat with Cassis and other nearby towns.

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