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Marseille, pure French Provedance

Dreaming of a holiday that mixes fun, culture and relaxation? Marseille, in the south of France, is for you. Its benign climate, situation and special light have been inspiration for celebrated artists, including Braque, Cézanne, Derain and Marquet. Founded by the Greeks, it is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the second oldest in France. (It is also the second most populated French city). Its rich history and great number of monuments, beauty spots and museums have put Marseille on the international tourism map.

Marseille is the third largest port in Europe (after Rotterdam and Antwerp). This constant flow of ships and passengers from across the world has lent it a cultural mix that is palpable in its people, neighbourhoods and architecture, making an all-together cosmopolitan city.

Five days is about the right amount of time to spend here. The best bet is to divide your itinerary into different areas. Public transport is very good; you can get around in the metro, by bus and by ferry. The best way to do this is with a Citty Pass; it's cheap and will also get you into museums and out to the islands.

Booking a well-situated hotel is key to navigating your way around this marvellous city. The Beauvau Marsella Viejo Puerto is perfect. It has stellar service and is located a few steps from the Vieux Port metro station – a major hub. You'll find masses of stalls selling oysters and whatever else you can think lining the streets that lead down to the port – at really great prices.

In the same area there are dozens of restaurants where you can eat exquisite fresh fish or a superb bouillabaisse. Here are two that are recommended:

Une Table au Sud: This restaurant has fantastic views over the port and offers modern, creative, mouth-watering cuisine. Standout dishes include a chestnut and sea urchin soup.

Le Miramar: They say it’s the best restaurant in the city to try bouillabaisse. Take that onboard and find out for yourself.

An easy stroll through the port leads you to the Fort Saint-Jean. Constructed during the reign of Louis XIV, it is also the location of the MuCEM; the first major museum dedicated to Mediterranean civilisations. Its wide focus spans anthropology, history, archaeology, art history and contemporary art. The museum is housed over three sites in different parts of Fort Saint- Jean, connected via a pleasant walkway through a Mediterranean garden.

Another pathway, starting from the Royal Gate, takes you to the neighbourhood of La Panier and the Saint-Laurent church. Despite its shady past, this neighbourhood is today a mix of traditional streets and squares with new design boutiques, restaurants and museums – all in all lending it a decidedly bohemian air. A must see.

Cours Julien is another interesting neighbourhood. A garden has taken over the centre of its main square that also hosts fashion boutiques, theatres and terrace cafes. Rues Bussy l'Indien, Pastoret and Vian stand out for their alternative vibe, with various clubs, cafes and more shops. Take note of the street art!

Marseilles geographical situation makes it a perfect base for outings in a boat. From Vieux Port you can take one of the urban ferries. One excursion you shouldn't let slip by is to Chateau d'If, where you can still see the hole that one of one of the prisoners dug in the cell wall. He was the inspiration for 'The Count of Montecristo', the classic novel by Alexander Dumas.

From here you can continue on to visit the Frioul Islands where you can spend the afternoon visiting various inlets, beaches and sandy creeks – the perfect way to end the day. It's a place of freedom and total relaxation.

Two must-sees are the Basilque Notre-Dame de la Garde and the Chateau Longchamp. The first is the city's architectonic emblem. Situated up on the hill, it affords marvellous 360º views, watching over sailors, fishermen and all the people of Marseille. Its Roman-Byzantine style is a perfect example of the large-scale buildings Napoleon III imposed in Marseille. To get there, take the bus from Vieux Port. The palace, dating from 1869, commemorates the canalization of the Durance River to Marseille. It also houses the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum as well as a botanical garden. Ad hoc street markets are all over the city, selling fruit, fish, and clothing and brick a brac. Dive in and rub shoulders with the locals – you are bound to find something unique to take back home!

Don't leave without discovering the famous Marsella soap. It history goes back to the 16th century. Find out more in one of the company's seven factories.

The city's tourist office is situated very close to Vieux Port. Pick up a City Pass here as well as plenty more info on what to do in Marseille.

So, what are you waiting for? Reserve a Vueling flight to this magnificent city here!

Text: Tensi Sánchez de www.actitudesmgz.com
Photography: Fernando Sanz

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