Provence: Places to Explore

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Marseille

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Marseille may sometimes be given a wide berth by travelers in search of a Provençal idyll, but it's their loss. Miss it and you miss one of the more vibrant, exciting cities in France, which is why it was chosen as the European City of Culture 2013 (marseillecityofculture.eu), a title that no other French city will be able to enjoy for another ten years. Some 400 events are lined up, and street food will be found on every corner. Music, art exhibitions, and the reopening of the city's refurbished museums will dominate France's oldest city.

Even without such fanfare, with its Cubist jumbles of white stone rising up over a picture-book seaport, bathed in light of blinding clarity and crowned by larger-than-life neo-Byzantine churches, Marseille can dazzle—and literally, too, as the city sees 300 days of sunlight a year. Neighborhoods teem with multiethnic life, souklike African markets reek deliciously of spices and coffees, and the labyrinthine Vieille Ville is painted in broad strokes of saffron, cinnamon, and robin's-egg blue. Feisty and fond of broad gestures, Marseille is a dynamic city, as cosmopolitan now as when the Phoenicians first founded it, and with all the exoticism of the international shipping port it has been for 2,600 years. Vital to the Crusades in the Middle Ages and crucial to Louis XIV as a military port, Marseille flourished as France's market to the world—and still does today.

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