With temperatures set to reach record highs in Europe throughout fall, tourists are once again flocking to the continent’s Southern coast for a late beach getaway.
After all, now is the perfect time not only for swimming and sunbathing, as temperatures are still warm, but also for sightseeing.
Europe has no shortage of incredible destinations to pick from, as the cradle of Western civilization and the proud home of several world-renowned landmarks, but it’s the most fascinating spot that usually gets overlooked, as tourism concentrates in only a handful of cities.
This season, it’s time you give the most obvious pick a miss and head instead to this underrated Mediterranean city renowned for its vast cultural wealth and azure coast:
Who’d Have Known France’s Oldest City Has So Much To Offer?
The oldest city in France, as well as its second-largest, Marseille sits on the Mediterranean coast, 481.2 miles from Paris.
Though the capital requires no introduction, its Southern counterpart is often bypassed by tourists altogether, who are too enamored with Paris’ neatly arranged Haussman-built arrondissements and the shimmery Eiffel Tower to explore France beyond its boundaries.
As you are about to learn, Marseille is just as incredible a city break, offering visitors a different facet of France and experience altogether compared to the glamorous capital.
With nearly a million inhabitants, it is a major European city and Mediterranean port with a History dating back millennia.
Founded by the Greeks as early as 600 BC on the Gulf of Lion, where the Rhône River meets the ocean, it is the earliest known major settlement in modern-day French territory.
Due to its ancient nature, it has centuries upon centuries of accumulated heritage, from Greco-Roman ruins to medieval structures.
A True Cosmopolitan City
The most historical part of Marseille is the Old Port, namely the heart of the city, where a majority of the historically relevant buildings are centered, and the birthplace of the famous Marseille soap, first manufactured in the area in the Late Middle Ages.
The most interesting aspect about Marseille, however, is its multicultural character. As it sits on the Mediterranean coast, directly facing Africa, it has been heavily influenced by foreign cultures, particularly the Maghreb, in North Africa.
A sizable percentage of the locals hail originally from the neighboring continent, which means Marseille is constituted by a large Muslim population, and it also has the third largest Jewish community in all of Europe, following London and Paris.
In a sense, it is a true cosmopolitan city, perhaps one of Europe’s most diverse, where different religious groups and people from all walks of life live together.
A Classic Mediterranean Skyline
The iconic Marseillaise skyline is made up of the Old Port, with narrow streets lined by ocher or vibrant-colored houses, in stark contrast with Paris’ more somber colors, leading up to the imposing Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica, a combined Neo-Byzantine and Romanesque effort.
As the city itself is situated in a natural embayment, it is surrounded by stunning nature, including the Calanques National Park, home to the landmark Calanque de Sormiou, the biggest in the range.
Calanques are narrow crystal-clear water inlets flanked by tall limestone precipices commonly found in the province and a natural wonder of the Mediterranean basin.
Marseille can be rather quirky, too, with its rebellious art scene and vibrant nightlife, best experienced in the Bohemian Panier district, the oldest in town, dating back to the Greek period, and the bar-packed Cours Julien.
Marseille Is Still Warm To Visit
In the fall, temperatures remain relatively high in the upper sixties, and though it is not as scorching hot as in summer, it is still pleasant enough for a stroll in the center without feeling overpowered by the heat and even for swimming on one of the city’s paradisaical beaches.
The best ones in and around Marseille include Plage des Catalans (or Beach of the Catalans), a long sandy stretch hugged by the shallow, crystalline, warm waters of the Mediterranean, the Plages du Prado, unfolding 3.1 miles South of Plages des Catalans, and the nearby naturist hotspot of Huveaune.
If it’s some exclusivity you’re after, the beautiful Degaby Island, just off the mainland, is owned by the five-star Hotel C2, with beaches that are only accessible to guests.
An overnight at Degaby will set you back by a mere $280.70 this season now that prices have gone down in France.
Of course, there is much cheaper accommodation to be found in the city, all depending on preference and budget.
On Booking.com, you will find rooms at the three-star Holiday Inn Express Marseille Saint Charles, a short 0.3-mile walk from the center, for only $126 per night, and even cheaper shared accommodation in youth hostels, such as The People, from $42.
Overall, consumer prices are 8% lower in Marseille than Paris.
Marseille Has Become Much Safer To Visit
In recent decades, it has developed a reputation for being unsafe, attributed to crime and ghettoization trends, especially in the wake of the European refugee crises and soaring unemployment rates, but that’s not to say Marseille is to be avoided at all costs.
Any major city has its challenges, and one as big as Marseille is bound to be affected by a higher proportion of crime than other smaller municipalities in the French hinterland.
With that being said, when compared to similar-sized cities outside the country, it could be argued it is very safe.
As reported by The Local, nearly all American cities of the same population size have reported higher murder rates recently. During only three months in 2022, Baltimore recorded 66 homicides, double the amount reported by Marseille authorities for the entire year.
Granted, Marseille is not safer than the incredibly peaceful Helsinki in Finland, or the quaint Ljubljana in the small Central European nation of Slovenia, but for a metropolis of its size on an international stage, it has acceptable rates of crime.
Overall, the whole of France is considered a Level 2 destination, which means Americans should exercise greater caution when visiting due to the threat of terrorism and higher risk of pickpocketing. Recently, France was named the worst European country for the latter.
When walking around Marseille, particularly touristy zones, keeping your personal belongings on you and being attentive in a crowd suffices.
There are currently no scheduled nonstop passenger flights from the U.S. to Marseille, with the nearest coastal airport in France to host them being in Nice, 2h40 away with the SCNF train.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com