I HONESTLY THINK September 2014 - Page 71

horrendous concrete-block redesigns that some British cities fell victim to and the rebuilt area has retained all of its pre-war charm.

well deserved. The city’s proximity to Africa is clearly visible, with every other restaurant boasting food from far-off lands and different accents and languages spoken on every street. Even the local accent sounds pleasantly foreign; the “ings” and the “angs” of the Marseillais are affectionately mocked by northerners and always remind me of Italians when they speak French. The far-right Front Nationale may have a stronghold in the south of France but you wouldn’t guess it from looking at the multi-ethnic, multi-national population of Marseille. The art galleries are numerous and varied, from the small and amusingly named Backside Gallery of street art to the grand and recently renovated Musée des Beaux-Arts. Museum attendances have more than doubled since 2012, in part due to huge investment in the city’s cultural scene. The posters for gigs and club nights plastered around the city reflect its vibrant and varied nightlife. Music-wise, there is something for everyone, from rock to reggae to hip hop to house, and the Marseillais certainly know how to have a good time. The Bastille Day fireworks displays in Marseille are known throughout France and it is not unheard of for these celebrations to carry on for almost 36 solid hours. But perhaps the best symbol of Marseille’s attempted shift from crime to culture is Le Trolleybus, a large and popular club on Quai de Rive Neuve which plays every genre of music under the sun and used to be a 17th century weapons store.

If you need a break from the bustling city streets, Marseille has you covered there, too. A 20-minute, €1.50 bus ride will take you to the Calanques, a set of steep cliffs that litter the Mediterranean coast. The Marseillais Calanques are formed of limestone and dolomite; they shine white-grey and pale pink in the right lights and give the most superb views over what I maintain is the most perfect-looking sea in Europe.

Vieux-Port, Marseille

Picture credit: Clara Guest

These days freight enters the city through the distinctly less pretty Port de la Joliette and the Vieux-Port is a pedestrianised marina full of street performers, markets and, for some reason, a giant Ferris wheel. British architect Norman Foster has even contributed to the area, most notably a covered area with a huge mirrored ceiling which provided me and my friends with some unique and interesting selfie opportunities. During my time in Provence I spent many afternoons at the Vieux-Port, scoffing boulangerie pastries on the edge of the harbour with my legs dangling over the dark-blue water. The Vieux-Port is the great success story of Marseille. It is clean, spacious and affluent. Despite being a veritable tourist trap, it still has a Marseillais vibe and is fairly free of tacky souvenir shops and chain burger joints. Even those who decry Marseille as charmless and ugly will admit that the Vieux-Port is an appealing little place. It has even managed to lose its association with heroin smuggling

Location-wise, Marseille is difficult to beat. It’s positioned perfectly on the edge of the Alps, overlooking the Côte-d’Azur but without the high prices and tourist throngs of the French Riviera. About ten minutes uphill from the Vieux-Port is the Palais de Pharo, a magnificent but unused 19th century palace surrounded by stretches of lawn and a small children’s park. The building is now part of the Université Aix-Marseille and its beauty puts the much-reviled Aix-en-Provence campus, a run-down concrete monstrosity tucked out of sight in an otherwise picturesque town, to shame. From Pharo it is possible to see out over the entire city, from the refurbished docks to the neo-Byzantine Notre-Dame de la Garde, a stunning Catholic cathedral, which looks far older than 150 years. It’s difficult to focus on the somewhat run-down buildings when you’re looking out over such beautiful scenery

Marseille wasn’t just given the title of European City of Culture in 2013 to aid its ailing reputation. The title was

Calanque Sugiton, Marseille

Picture credit: Rowena Ball

There are several Calanque walks in and around Marseille, varying in difficulty from ones that only someone with a touch of mountain goat in their genes could manage to ones that even I found easy, and the most exercise I normally get is walking between the sofa and the fridge.

I’m not one to view the world through rose-coloured glasses. I am more than aware of the fact that Marseille is more than just marinas, street art and bouillabaisse. It’s easy to dismiss anecdotal evidence about dirty buildings and unsavoury characters but some allegations (like the ones about gang