Citylens Marseille THE city gave France its national anthem, but most citizens claim they are Marseillais first and foremost, in a unique urban hub that could not be any more different to Paris. While the French capital pushed tower blocks to its outskirts, Marseille’s most famous building is La Cité Radieuse, a 12-storey edifice – created by the design polymath Le Corbusier – where apartments sit alongside shops, a school and sporting facilities. It seemed crazy, when completed in 1952, yet it has become one of the city’s more exclusive addresses.
Citydays Marseille From grand old sights to brand new, chic ones, France’s second city has it all MARSEILLE is France’s second largest city, so take in its scale from lofty BASILIQUE NOTRE DAME DE LA GARDE. This ornate church is stunning inside – see the votives left to thank the Virgin for saving loved ones, including a helmet scythed by a bullet. But the real attraction is its views. The city writhes in a basin between rugged mountains on three sides and the shimmering Adriatic on the other.
The hike up to the church is a sweaty one, but one of those tacky tourist trains is on hand to take you there from the VIEUX PORT. This safe harbour has been Marseille’s lifeblood for centuries, and is still very much the hub today. Come here early for the FISH MARKET, then grab a coffee in one of the waterfront cafés to take in Marseille’s sultry Mediterranean pulse.
Just up the hill from the Vieux Port is the remarkable ABBAYE ST VICTOR. The austere façade does little to hint at the glories inside its crypt, with layers of the city’s past unfolding at every turn. If you are thirsty, find out why Provence’s wines give those from the Loire and Burgundy a run for their money at nearby LES CAVES DE L’ABBAYE.
Time now to swing around to the other side of the port to LE PANIER, the old quarter of Marseille. The Nazis did their best to wipe the area off the map, but this sturdy, cosmopolitan little quarter is made of strong stuff and retains a unique atmosphere, with faded old shop façades, cute village-like squares and arts boutiques.
Mercifully, Le Panier’s most impressive building survived the war. CENTRE DE LA VIEILLE CHARITÉ is a grand old hospital, topped off with a gorgeous baroque church. The complex is also home to a couple of museums that explore the city’s links with the rest of the Mediterranean and Africa. The relaxed LE CHARITÉ CAFÉ inside the main courtyard is ideal for a cooling drink or a light lunch with a €10 plat du jour.
Marseille is a metropolis, where the ancient and the ultra modern endlessly collide. For cool 20th century architecture, check out Le Corbusier’s CITÉ RADIEUSE UNITÉ D’HABITATION – an incredible single-slab housing village, with a shopping street halfway up the building. Find it on the southern edge of the city, west of Boulevard Michelet.
To get to the heart of the city’s latest project, hop on a tram from the main street, LA CANEBIÈRE – itself a favourite with shoppers – and alight at Place de la Joliette. Here France’s largest docks are being transformed into a massive business and leisure district, EUROMEDITERRANEE. If you want to fit in with the vibe of nouveau Marseille then stay on for a meal at LE DOCK DE SUEZ, whose name harks back to Marseille’s golden age.