Located on the Mediterrean Sea in the South of France, lies a city bursting with colour and passion. Marseille isn’t the first name on everyone’s lips when it comes to their next vacation in France but once visited, you’ll realise that the name has been unfairly tainted in folklore and deserves a chance.
With a population of just over 860,000 (metropolitan area of 1,831,000), Marseille is France’s third biggest city behind Paris and Lyon, renowned for its research industry and commercial port (over 45,000 jobs are linked to it), good weather and of course, Olympique de Marseille.
Over 4.1 million people visit this hub annually and I become another statistic in 2017 as I embarked on my first trip to the ‘Phocean City’. Having watched the political crime drama Marseille on Netflix the previous year, I was inspired to visit the sprawling city, combining a weekend city tour with a visit to Marseille’s legendary Stade Velodrome for a match against Toulouse.
This is a city obsessed with football, being a one-club city proud of its working-class origins and European success to boast over their rivals (the only French team to have won the Champions League). Marseille citizens consider themselves Marseillaise first, French second.
As their media journalist Paul Basse puts it,, Marseille is a city of outsiders. It’s all about street art, hip hop and underground culture. That feeling is captured and magnified in the club and its supporters. There’s very much an ‘us against the system’ mentality in the city and it’s a unique dynamic that works.
When arriving at St Charlies station, you’re draw down the slope to the Old Port of Marseille, which you can walk the whole way around, passing expensive yachts, street merchants and fancy restaurants. It felt a far cry from gritty, poor and dangerous labels associated with this historic city.
As I did a u-shaped walk around the port, I noticed the Basilque Notre-Dame de la Garde, probably the most photographed shot of Marseille on anyone’s postcard or Instagram feed. A steep walk up the hill was well worth it as we had breath-taking views of not only the city from a 360 angle but that of the Marseille’s stadium in the distance. Beyond the ground’s roof, you could make out the less than desirable parts of this port city where its unfortunate reputation comes from.
Towards the east of the city, on the way to the ground, you’re met with a splendid coastline featuring a sandy beach (a far cry from the stone ‘beach’ of Portsmouth I was so accustomed to at uni). Should you find yourself with hours to spare before kickoff on matchday, take a short Uber ride to the Plage du Prado (weather permitting) and you won’t be disappointed.
Views from the top of the Basilque Notre-Dame de la Garde. Notice the 11-a-side pitch below, a match was taking place at the time. Continue reading
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