Before 2013, when Marseille won the right to call itself the European Capital of Culture, it was seen as the seedy French cousin; a place for drugs, gang shootings and extreme poverty. While Marseille still boasts some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the whole of France, it has had a huge influx of cash, directed by the firm hands of conservative French mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin. In a few short years, the city has cleaned up its act.
Marseille has always had an amazing coastline, cute fishing villages on its outskirts, the blue coast to its north and the Calanques national park to its south (large creeks carved into the rock). It’s traditionally always been overlooked for the classy Côte d’Azur and most people used to head to St Tropez or Cannes. The city’s investment and strong political will have now created a town that people want to visit too. Marseille has a new world-class museum (MUCEM), great restaurants and hotels (that are fast learning English, if they didn’t know it already) and some quirky neighbourhoods (like the hip Cours Julien or classy La Joliette).
A three-hour, high-speed rail link now brings Parisians in their droves, looking for sunny weekend breaks. When newly elected President Macron told his Cabinet to holiday inside France this year, the whole country wondered where he had gone for his. It was only when a local spotted Mrs Macron in Marseille that the story was out. He was later seen jogging along the coast in an OM football jersey with his name on the back (Olympique Marseille are the beloved local team).
In 2013, Marseille had just two million annual visitors. In 2015, the New York Times named Marseille as the number two city to visit and the National Geographic declared it had the 5th prettiest coastline. Last year, Marseille had five million annual visitors. The tourist business is booming but now is the time to come. Prices are still the same, the city is still reasonably unaware of its cool new status and it’s not yet overrun. Visit while you can.