Marseille, France’s second largest city, has the distinction of being Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2013. Throughout the year, events are being planned in the city (and in the surrounding Provence region) to showcase the great diversity of Europe’s history and culture. With its long and sometimes turbulent history – the city can trace its roots back to the Roman times – as well as its cosmopolitan fabric, Marseille is the perfect city to experience the fascinating cultures of the Mediterranean. The city also boasts a terrific range of restaurants (don’t miss the famous bouillabaisse), picturesque neighbourhoods such as Le Panier and miles of gorgeous beaches, making it a great destination for a dose of culture, gastronomy and sand! Furthermore, with its excellent road and rail connectivity with other cities in the region, Marseille is well-positioned as a base to visit other European Culture events in Provence.
In Marseille itself, brand new structures have been built, ushering in somewhat of a renaissance in this city on the shores of the bright blue Mediterranean Sea. A slew of exhibitions, concerts, festivals, film screenings as well as participative projects have been planned so there will be lots to see and do in and around the city throughout the year.
European Capital of Culture in Marseille
Many of the activities will be centred around the Vieux Port, Marseille’s historic harbour. The harbour itself has received a thorough makeover by the world-renowned architect, Norman Foster, and features several amazing new buildings. My tip would be to start your European Capital of Culture orientation at the very cool Pavilion-M. You’ll find the complete cultural programme here and you can also sign up for guided tours and register for a City Pass.
A short walk along the Vieux Port brings you to the historic Fort Saint Jean, and behind it, two new futuristic buildings: the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) and the Villa Méditerranée (an audacious building that looks like it could topple over at any moment!). Together with Fort Saint Jean, to which it is linked by a bridge, the MuCEM is set to be the most popular attraction during the year with an impressive line-up of exhibitions, festivals and concerts.
The Villa Méditerranée will focus on cultural and artistic exchanges between the various Mediterranean countries, with events including exhibitions, concerts and film screenings.
Continue past the Villa Méditerranée and you’ll stumble upon a curious whitewashed building. This is another new cultural venue: the Musée Regards de Provence. Housed in the city’s old sewage treatment plant, the museum showcases paintings, photos and sculptures by artists for whom Marseille, the Provence and the surrounding Mediterranean were a source of inspiration.
A quick stroll past the Cathedral will bring you to yet another new cultural venue, the J1. The J1 is an old ferry terminal which has now been converted into an exhibition centre.
The J1 will host an exhibition highlighting and life and works of the famous architect Le Corbusier. If you’re a fan of his work, you could also visit one of his creations, the intriguing Cité Radieuse apartment building in the outskirts of Marseille. The rooftop of this building has also recently been opened as a contemporary art space called MAMO (Marseille Modulor).
Major exhibitions and events
Here’s a quick list of some of the major exhibitions and events that will be held in Marseille and in the Provence region as part of the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture festivities:
- “Rodin, la Lumière de l’Antique” (Rodin, the Light of Antiquity) in Arles
- “Picasso Céramiste et la Méditerranée” (Picasso, Ceramics and the Mediterranean) in Aubagne
- Christian Lacroix (CIRVA Collection) at the breathtaking Montmajour Abbey in Arles
- Grand Atelier du Midi: “De Cézanne à Matisse” (From Cézanne to Matisse) in Aix-en-Provence and “De Van Gogh à Bonnard” (From Van Gogh to Bonnard) in Marseille.
- Le Corbusier at the J1 in Marseille
- “Pavillon M” in Marseille
- GR® 2013 – a 360km walking trail takes hikers on an incredible journey through Provence, including audio walks, viewpoint picnics, festivals and open-air art.
- TransHumance – another mega project that involves bringing together walkers, herdsmen and horse riders. Set out on foot or on horseback and take part in creating this collective work of art for a day or three weeks – an authentic and totally unique experience. At nightfall, the caravanserai invite riders, hikers and all to enjoy cultural and artistic presentations, as well as culinary treats and encounters with an eclectic mix of shepherds, poets, astrophysicists and scientists.
- Carrières de Lumière in Les Baux-de-Provence – this exhibition of the works of some of the world’s best-known painters such as Monet, Renoir and Chagall takes place in an old quarry in the form of a stunning sound and light show.
- Les Rencontres Arles Photographie (Arles International Photo Festival)
- Le Festival d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence (Opera Festival)
- Art, Architect and Wine at Château La Coste near Aix-en-Provence
For the complete list of activities, please visit Marseille-Provence 2013.
Experience Marseille-Provence like a local
A great way to truly experience Marseille as well as Provence is to stay in a holiday rental. This allows you to quickly get acquainted with the locals – the property owners – who, in most cases, are more than happy to share their insights and secrets of the city. I’ve found the locals I stayed with to be extremely hospitable and generous with tips and advice. HouseTrip offers a great variety of holiday rentals in Marseille and in Provence. Here are several apartments I stayed at or visited in Marseille and which I can definitely recommend:
This gorgeous apartment with amazing city and sea views is spacious, well-furnished and centrally-located (in Le Panier). Your host (and Marseille Greeter), Eva, is a gem and if she has time, she’ll take you for a walk around some of her favourite spots in the city.
This Vieux Loft apartment is great for families or a group of friends. The interior is very cool – includes a suspended bed! – and the dining/bar area downstairs is massive! The loft is a stone’s throw away from the Vieux Port.
This compact apartment in the heart of Marseille is perfect for a couple or solo travellers. Your host, Yg, is an artist who will gladly share her insights of Marseille with you.
One more tip: book a tour with the Marseille-Provence Greeters. This is a network of locals who love to show visitors their city. They will take you on great walks around the city, tailored to your interests, be it art, architecture or food. I highly recommend them.
Note: this post was brought to you in partnership with HouseTrip.