The short version of a long story looks something like this: I was about to hit the big 40 when I decided to bail out. I quit the dead-end job, sold the house, the car and all my ‘stuff’ and traded it all for a backpack and a one-way ticket to nowhere in particular. Sounds like a familiar cliché, right, but in my case I promise it’s all true!
Why did this happen?
I fell in love with a French man (in Australia) who’d told me if I didn’t go with him to France, I’d end up missing him so much I’d swim there within 3 weeks. Don’t need to tell you his proposition sounded entirely egotistical, ludicrous and deliciously arrogant, which of course, is why it worked. So, based on the fact that I’m a terrible swimmer (can’t do the crawl, never could work out when to breathe), and a hopeless romantic, I caved in and booked a cheap plane ticked (all within 3 weeks). Midlife crisis? Yep. Regrets? None.
I had been to France a couple of times before, but it never really crossed my mind to live there on a permanent basis. No particular reason. I suppose it just didn’t seem feasible. And I guess for most people, France gives the impression of being a romantic country one visits briefly and dreams about ever after.
To be honest, before I decided to call the place home (in 2007), I hadn’t even heard of Marseille, much less thought about it. Marseille had the kind of reputation one didn’t want to take home to one’s mother. Not exactly the city on top of a tourist’s wish list. Rather, it was the type of place one passed through quickly (preferably without using a public toilet) and moved on.
But times have changed.
Perfectly placed (between St Tropez and the Languedoc Region), France’s second-largest city sits on the edge of the deep blue Mediterranean. Her twilight magic frames a stunning old harbor, tucked away beach bays and close-by islands reminiscent of Greece. That being the case, it’s not hard to see why she has inspired writers, artists and painters like Cezanne for centuries.
Recently, the city was selected to be the European Capital of Culture in 2013. And with plans to raise Marseille to become one of Europe’s top 20 cities, once dowdy docks and seedy buildings are getting a much-deserved makeover. Old warehouses are metamorphosing into artistic spaces and new wave cultural centers, thereby transforming Marseille into one of the hippest Mediterranean-style cities in the south of France. (Not in the traditional Provençal sense – she’s got more of a Latin-Mediterranean feel). At heart, her bad sense of dress and ‘rough around the edges’ reputation are quickly fading, as her re-generation is well under way.
Needless to say, the previously untamed Marseille is now one of the best areas to invest in. Cheap property prices and a low cost of living (compared to Paris and Nice) mean living/ retiring here makes sense. Less than $100 000 (USD) will buy you a small, fixer-upper apartment in the center of town. Or a stone-built house nearby. Recently I looked at a village house in the gorgeous Var region (60 minutes from Marseille, 35 minutes from Aix en Provence) with a terrace garden and garage for $89 000.
But we’re only scratching the surface…
Budget airlines, high speed TGV, cruise liners and ferry docks mean Marseille is more than well connected, so you’ll never be far from anywhere. Life here is relaxed. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, the climate is warm and sunny all-year round.
What’s more, there’s the eclectic mix of architecture. The city’s colorful heritage. The blend of North African and European cultures and offbeat, dynamic fusion of world music and cuisine – all of which combine to create an urban heartbeat unique to Marseille.
If anything I just mentioned resonates, expect to fall in love.
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