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Why?
France's second most populous city has a rich and ancient history dating back to its origins as the strategic Greek port of Massalia. It retains an otherness and aloofness from the rest of mainland France and despite enduring sieges, depravation, scandal, Nazi occupation and troubled race relations it remains romantic, mysterious and welcoming. With extensive renovations prior to its year as the European Capital of Culture in 2013, a fantastic climate, world heritage coastline and diverse arts and food scene there is much to enjoy.

 

Notre Dame de la Garde

Notre Dame de la Garde

 

How?
There are regular BA flights from Heathrow but Eurostar and the TGV make for a more leisurely alternative for the less time-pressed traveller.

When?
With a mild micro-climate and an average 300 days of sunshine each year there is never a bad time to visit although, as with the rest of the Côte d'Azur, spring and autumn offer the most clement weather and lower visitor numbers.

Background Reading:
'Marseille' (An Innercity Cultural Guide) by David Crackanthorpe [Signal Books].
'The Marseilles Trilogy' by Jean-Claude Izzo [Europa editions].
The Rough Guide to Provence. [Rough Guides].

Get Around:
On foot or by tram. Like Sheffield or San Francisco there is no escaping Marseilles' hilly topography.

 

Fort Saint Jean & Le Vieux Port

Fort Saint Jean & Le Vieux Port

 

Stay:
In 'La Résidence de Vieux Port' a mid-century modern boutique gem with friendly staff, reasonable room rates and peerless views of the old port and Notre Dame de la Garde.

Eat:
Spankingly fresh fruits de mer or the best pizza to be found this side of Naples.

 

Fruits de Mer (Les Oursins)

Fruits de Mer (Les Oursins)

 

Drink:
The local wines of Bandol and Cassis or, failing that, pastis.

Avoid:
Tourist traps proffering bouillabaisse.
The main drag of 'La Canebière' – modelled on the 'Champs-Élyées but lacking its metropolitan glamour.

 

Cocktail Hour in Le Panier

Cocktail Hour in Le Panier

 

Don't Miss:
The secluded coves of Les Calanques.
Le Corbusier's twelve storey brutalist masterpiece the 'Unité d'Habitation' set in the southern suburbs.
Promenading, pizza and pastis in Le Panier.
Norman Foster's striking port-side Ombrière pavilion on the quayside of the Vieux Port.
Rudy Ricciotti's 'MuCEM' museum linked to the medieval fort Saint-Jean by a striking aerial walkway.

 

Unité d'habitation - Le Corbusier

Unité d'habitation - Le Corbusier

 

Take home:
Olive oil, soap and, hopefully, a sun tan.