Marseille is a metropolis of contradictions. Gruff but well mannered. Scorching but cool. Gritty but glam.

In every single place you look in France’s second metropolis – a title it wears evenly, and one which few individuals appear to know applies to it anyway – there are jarring juxtapositions.

Across the nook from Loustic, a espresso bar that’s as cool because the cascara-infused lemonade I order, sits a seedy trying strip joint. 

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We plunge from the ethereal, cave-like expanse of 19th-century Maison Empereur – France’s oldest pharmacy, now a purveyor of each form of upscale homeware you might probably want – straight into the crowded, souk-like streets of the Noailles district, assaulted by the clamour and the color and the pungent odor of spices. 

And seconds down the street from the place tense locals watch as armed police collect grimly with goal, our information stops to level out a derelict constructing that may quickly open as a bougie four-star resort. 

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“That’s Marseille,” she shrugs.

Town’s elegant sprawl is a few hours west alongside the coast from Cannes, which is presently welcoming the good and the great of the film business for its annual movie pageant – however Marseille is a world away from the latter’s celeb-burnished glitz.

For a begin, the place wears its inequality on its sleeve. Head as much as the 19th-century Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde, set on town’s highest pure level at 149m, and the 360-degree views inform a narrative backed up by our information.

From Notre Dame de la Garde you’ll be able to see the entire metropolis (Getty Photographs/iStockphoto)

“There’s a giant north/south divide by way of wealth,” she says.

“You possibly can see the poverty to the north – there are many high-rise residences – and to the south there’s much more house. Greater homes, swimming swimming pools, room to breathe.”

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No apologies, no excuses – locals are refreshingly candid about Marseille’s points. However although lots of the metropolis’s districts are present process a “bo-bo” revolution (bourgeois-boheme, the French equal of gentrification), the brand new fashionable outposts appear to take a seat comfortably beside their much less Insta-friendly counterparts. There isn’t the sense that anybody needs to commerce in Marseille’s range for a cookie-cutter hipster city; in any case, town’s soul is in its messy melange.

Nowhere is the variety clearer than in Marseille’s meals. Town is celebrating its eats further laborious in 2019, a chosen 12 months of gastronomy, and the providing displays residents’ eclectic cultural heritage. North African snacks, pastries and flatbreads jostle with fats olives and entire fish in Marché des Capucins, the chaotic every day market. Conventional French bouillabaisse abounds, with among the best served at Chez Fonfon, the place plates groaning with fish are dunked into bowls of wealthy stew alongside croutons smeared with the area’s famed rouille (thick, saffron-infused mayonnaise). Michelin-starred fodder will be discovered on the identical outdated harbour sq. as Burger King: unfazed by its much less “bo-bo” neighbour, Une Desk, au Sud dishes out the chef’s signature garlicky aioli scooped atop black focaccia and scattered with a rainbow of summer season greens. 

Marseille aioli with a twist at Une Desk, au Sud (Helen Coffey)

Panisse – chunky chickpea chips which might be Marseille’s reply to avenue meals – make the proper apero accompaniment to pastis – the love-it-or-hate-it liquorice and aniseed flavoured liqueur. We duck into a store promoting artisanal bottles of the stuff to be met with one other stunning contradiction: the proprietor informs us in brisk French that she’s far too busy to speak, and moments later is compulsively pushing samples into our fingers and explaining the concoction’s historical past regardless of herself. 

The contradictions proceed within the Panier district, the place cash from Marseille’s stint as European Capital of Tradition in 2013 has reworked the seafront by the Breton-striped Cathedrale La Main. The actual stunner is the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCem), designed by native architect Rudy Ricciotti to be a knock-out public haunt in addition to an exhibition house. We wander up the gently sloped ramp that follows the outer limits of the glass dice, the solar dappling our footsteps by way of an intricate concrete-iron latticework that encases the constructing. The random interlocking shapes evoke the waves of the ocean that encompass us – MuCem is smack bang on the water. Look down and you may see that zingy Mediterranean blue glowing again at you.

MuCem’s pathway is trendy but ethereal (Helen Coffey)

Slowly, effortlessly, trendy is changed by one thing else totally as the trail disappears off a shaded roof terrace and turns into a winding walled path with glimpses of an outdated courtyard under. The scents of fennel and curry plant hit me as we go a herb backyard, cozy trying public loungers hidden among the many inexperienced. It’s a veritable Eden – but flip your head and there’s an unpleasant twin carriageway. Actually, Marseille may simply be the definition of jolie-laide: beautiful-ugly.

The epitome of this may be present in Cité Radieuse, the Unesco-listed brutalist icon designed by Le Corbusier within the 1940s. Pops of color across the home windows sing in opposition to the construction’s industrial gray concrete; rickety outdated lifts with the sharp tang of urine rumble as much as the highest ground the place a startlingly futuristic roof terrace affords up panoramic views of metropolis and sea that go away me dizzy. 

Corbusier’s masterpiece is considered one of Marseille’s best-known buildings (Helen Coffey)

If it have been anyplace else, they’d have monetised this place to the hilt, I feel – delivery out influencers to snap themselves in opposition to the distinctive structure and charging by way of the nostril for a keep within the three-star resort that now takes up a lot of the constructing. As a substitute, it’s marked by a French nonchalance that sees rooms price an inexpensive £152 an evening and that doesn’t appear to care should you come or not. Take a selfie, don’t. C’est bof.

A part of Marseille’s enchantment lies in how simple it’s to swap its distinctive model of grit-glam for simply plain glam, too. Hop on a bus from the primary station and in 30 minutes you’re in Aix-en-Provence, an nearly fanciful model of French prettiness combining cobbled streets, pastel shutters, curling French balconies and a shocking variety of energetic bars due to its giant pupil inhabitants. 

One of many artworks at Chateau La Coste (Helen Coffey)

That is wine nation, and there are vineyards aplenty during which to swill the area’s well-known pale-salmon rosés underneath the recent spring solar. We plump for Chateau La Coste, the place our tasting is preceded by a wander across the grounds to identify among the property’s 26 modern artworks by the likes of Frank Gehry, Tracey Emin and Renzo Piano. Artwork, nature, booze, meals – it blends the whole lot I like about French holidaying.

But it surely’s again in Marseille the place I discover myself swooning the toughest. On this metropolis outlined by its proximity to water, I’m decided to make the leap. On Plage du Prado, a artifical seaside to the south of town centre, I ignore the mistral winds whipping round me and head straight into the otherworldly blue. It’s bracing however heat sufficient for a Brit, and I individuals watch fortunately as I drift, seeing households, canine walkers, younger individuals assembly after work, all of them rubbing alongside on this shared house. A classy, middle-aged French girl is wrapped in thick layers and scarves in opposition to the wind; a gaggle of women are stripped right down to itsy bitsy bikinis to absorb the solar. 

Extra contradictions. Extra juxtapositions. Extra causes to fall in love with France’s unsung second metropolis.

Plage du Prado is a artifical seaside (Helen Coffey)

Journey necessities

Getting there

Eurostar runs an everyday summer season service from London St Pancras to Marseille in underneath six and a half hours from £49 a technique.

Staying there

Les Bords de Mer, a member of Small Luxurious Resorts of the World, reopened this 12 months proper on the seafront. Each room has an ocean view, stripped-back, beach-chic design and entry to a rooftop plunge pool and terrace. Doubles from £165, room solely. slh.com