Marseille, at 2,600 years, is France's oldest city. It's also one of France's most exciting cities. It has the excitement that old port cities have, that comes from being open to myriad cultural influences, and those show to this day in Marseille, particularly in the Algerian bazaars.
The city is as famous for being a melting pot as it is for its bouillabaisse, and like this hearty fish stew, Marseille bubbles with strong flavours. It's a gritty city, a slightly seedy one, an edgy one, but a fully exhilarating place, with cultural treasures to be found everywhere. There's something for everyone here, from dozens of museums (with the major Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization set to open in 2013) and theatres for culture vultures to numerous beaches for sun worshippers - the sun shines on Marseille for more than 300 days a year.
The Old Port, which in ancient days thronged with sailors and prostitutes, is less rickety these days, a wonderfully atmospheric place to wander around, bustling with fishing boats and sleek yachts, and numerous waterfront cafés and terraced restaurants from which to watch the constantly changing spectacle. Almost as atmospheric is Le Panier, a historical quarter crammed with ochre buildings, and small shops lining sloping streets. It's a good place to stock up on pastis, that most Provençal drink.
When city life feels too bustling, there are the calanques to explore, by boat, or on long walks. Either way they are spectacular - a series of striking, soaring white limestone rocks scored through with deep valleys. At the end of it all, and at the top of it all, take a trip to the Basilica Lady of the Guard, a Romano-Byzantine riot of murals, mosaics and marble. Set on Marseille's highest hill, it provides a great vantage point for looking over this multi-faceted city with its apricot, ochre and terracotta hues glowing in that particularly Provençal light that intensifies all colours.