Let’s be frank: Marseille has one heck of a reputation. Particularly in Europe, words such as drugs, gang shootings, crime and even immigration plague the city’s name. To be more specific, Marseille is France’s second biggest city and the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region (aka the French Riviera). She sits on the Mediterranean coast with the famous Notre-Dame de la Garde Catholic basilica overlooking the city from her highest natural elevation.
Despite such an amazing location, after spending a full day in Marseille I have to admit that the city is a bit rough around the edges and nowhere near as pretty as Paris or neighboring Aix-en-Provence. The streets are dirty, the buildings are falling apart and there’s graffiti everywhere. But after looking beyond these first impressions, Marseille is a city with character and even a bit of quirk. This became evident once we came across a Sunday market where we had the opportunity to interact with locals selling beautiful paintings of the city, traditional Marseille soap, lavender, nougat and many more. They don’t just want you to pay and go – they want to talk, share the city’s history with you and recommend other places to go and things to see. They are simply happy, relaxed and even curious about you and where you come from.
Some of the locals’ recommendations would certainly be to walk everywhere – to the old port preferably. Marseille’s famous Vieux-Port (Old Port of Marseille) is a natural harbour and kind of like Marseille’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. It is a favourite spot for both locals and tourists to eat, drink, argue, fall in love, people watch, cycle and just enjoy life. The wide promenades are filled with cafés, bars and restaurants, as well as beautiful beaches just a walk down from the port.
Indeed, Marseille is the place where, once you get over the initial fear about personal safety, you realise that there’s so much real life going on here that you could spend a lifetime observing it without ever getting bored.