Colorful, energetic, and slightly rough-and-tumble, Marseilles is undergoing an urban revival, helping this oldest and second largest city in France shake its seedy reputation. The home to the national anthem,
“The Marseillaise,” has new waterfront devel-opment and growing civic pride. One quarter of the diverse population is from North Africa, and an abundance of spice markets, hammams (bath houses), and hookah cafés recall Tunisia, Morocco, or Algeria. The Old Port, dominated by two 17th-century forts, includes dozens of cafés that serve fresh seafood and local special-ties such as pastis, a 90-proof anise-flavored cousin of absinthe. The lively fish market on the Quai des Belges sells the daily catch to restaurants serv-ing bouillabaisse, Marseilles’ signature seafood stew. Purists agree that it needs rascasse (scor-pion fish) and at least two other types of Mediterranean fish. The 1950s-style Miramar restaurant.
a city landmark overlooking the Old Port, prepares the most traditional version, while high-end L’Épuisette, on a tiny cove out-side the city center, serves a more modern inter-pretation. The hip Café des Épices, near the Old Port, and the Bistrot d’Édouard, with its updated Mediterranean menu, cater to a growing profes-sional class, helping to turn Marseilles into an emerging gastronomic destination.For centuries, artists have been drawn to the light in this part of France, particularly to the unspoiled beauty of nearby Cassis, one of the prettiest coastal towns in Provence and per-haps on the Riviera.
Surrounding vineyards produce a respected straw-white blanc de blanc; neighboring Bandol makes a rare orange rosé, its hue obtained from 8 months of aging. (Oddly, the black currant liqueur called cassis comes from Burgundy.) Cassis is most famous for Les Calanques: dramatic white limestone cliffs with finger-shaped fjords and tableaux of sailboats, pristine beaches, and aquamarine waters. Hike the cliffs
or take one of the twice-daily boat tours from the Cassis marina to visit several calanques, includ-ing the prettiest, the Calanque en Vau. The hotel Les Roches Blanches, a former private home built in 1887, with a panoramic dining room and an infinity pool, boasts a dramatic view of the port and Cap Canaille, the highest sea cliff in France.