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Marseille: 'A city with a unique soul'

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Marseille: 'A city with a unique soul'
According to Susan Fitoussi (pictured) everyone who visits Marseille has to walk along the Corniche du President Kennedy (right). Photo: Susan Fitoussi and Joel Takv/Wikimedia Commons
11:40 CET+01:00
To tell us more about the beguiling Mediterranean port of Marseille, the 2013 European Capital of Culture, The Local caught up with Susan Fitoussi - an artist and operational assistant who has lived in the city for almost 20 years.

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is Susan Fitoussi and I’m originally from Los Angeles, California.

So how did you end up in Marseille?

Well my husband was French, from Marseille in fact, so in 1987 I moved to Paris with him. We lived on the outskirts of the city for a while, before moving to Lot in the south of France, which is a beautiful place. It was only after my husband died that I made my way down to his hometown of Marseille, in 1994.

Where do you always take visitors in Marseille?

There are so many wonderful spots but I’d have to say that the first place to go is [the basilica] of Notre Dame de la Garde, to light a candle to ‘la bonne mère.’ It’s the traditional spiritual centre of the whole city, but aside from that, the walk up the hill to it is spectacular, as is the view from the church.

And after that?

You’d have to go for a stroll along the Corniche du President Kennedy, by the coast. Everyone who visits loves that walk – the sun, the sea air, its perfect.

I also normally take people down to Malmousque, which is a real labyrinth of a neighbourhood with some breath-taking views of the coast.

What about somewhere you keep all to yourself?

Aha! Well, it’s not a total secret or anything, but Le Panier is the old quarter in Marseille, and doesn’t always get a lot of attention from visitors. It’s got a particularly Mediterranean feel to it. Go to Le Panier and get lost, that’s my advice.

What about restaurants – anywhere special you like to go to?

Absolutely – starting in my neighbourhood, Les Catalans, there’s Cesar Pizza which is cheap and a real favourite of mine. If you want to try some Bouillabaisse, the classic Marseille fish soup, you should definitely go to Chez Michel on Rue des Catalans.

My absolute favourite, though, is La Cantinetta in the trendy area called Cours Julien. It’s a little bit pricey, and you usually have to reserve a table, but it’s the best place in Marseille to go for gorgeous, refined Italian food, and it’s got a fantastic courtyard and garden to relax in.

For anyone who’s new to France and doesn’t particularly care for the food, I’d recommend the Victor Café on Boulevard Charles Livon, which is well known for doing a great brunch.

How does Marseille compare to the rest of France?

It's funny, when I first moved here it reminded me a lot of Los Angeles. The sun, the sea, and all the cultural diversity, though obviously Marseille is a little smaller than LA. If I had only word to describe people here, I would say “loud.” Locals are a lot looser in Marseille than elsewhere in France, particularly compared to Parisians.

What advice would you give to another expat thinking of moving to Marseille?

First things first – learn French. Secondly, try to find someone who knows the culture well. When you’re looking into accommodation, or making any sort of financial transactions, I’ve learned it's really valuable to have someone on your side who can spot a scam, or a bad deal.

Apart from that, though, I would say now would be an especially good time to start living here. Marseille is the European City of Culture in 2013, so things are really looking up around here. For example, I’ve been registered on the ‘Couchsurfing’ site for about ten years, and in that time I’ve noticed a huge boom in young visitors and cultural tourism. What this also means is that locals are getting more used to foreigners, which makes Marseille even more welcoming.

Finally, Susan – do you plan to stay there?

Well, I love travel and change, and I’ve lived all over the world, but I’m pretty settled here. Maybe I might want to sample a year somewhere else in the world before deciding, but Marseille is very special to me. My neighbourhood is beautiful and I can walk or take public transport everywhere. But more than that, Marseille has what the French would call a unique  ‘âme’ or soul, and I love it.

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