- Population: 4,506,151
- Pop.density (people per km2): 144
Three principal communes
Gregarious Marseille is France's second largest city and an important seaport, the largest in Europe after Rotterdam. It has a reputation for being dangerous but this is a wrong idea as walking around the bustling, vibrant streets is far from intimidating and it is a lot safer than most of the Western world's major cities. The Vieux-Port is surrounded by roads and from there you can start a steeply climb to Le Panier, the oldest part of the city. Under the German occupation this was a hot bed of resistance fighters, Jews and Communists, until the Germans came and gave the 20,000 inhabitants one day to evacuate before laying down dynamite and blowing the areas close to the port to smithereens. The North African area - where buckets of colourful spices, cloths and metalware are traded - is certainly worth a visit. It is hard to believe that the conglomeration extends to Aix-en-Provence, an extremely pretty and bourgeois town with a rich cultural life and plenty of squares with ancient fountains and outdoor cafés.
Nice is the capital of the Riviera and the fifth largest city in France. It has been one of Europe's most fashionable resorts since the 18th century when Russian and British aristocrats built their mansions here. Later, wealthy Victorians enjoyed its winter climate. Today it is enjoyed by many wealthy retired persons though also rounding up an important student community. The pretty old town with Italiannate facades has lots of pleasant eateries and shady outdoor places to sit and watch the tourists go by. Nice has beside a nice beach particularly pleasant to relax in the morning, when the place is still quiet and the sun not too warm.
Half destroyed in the last war, Toulon is dominated by the military and associated industries. The arsenal created by Louis XIV is today one of the major employers in south-east France. The port is home to the French Navy's Mediterranean fleet, although the shipbuilding yards are redundant. It has lively street markets and number of landmarks, museums and craft shops to discover. Like many ports, the town is full of lively drinking holes where you can find interesting people with plenty of stories propped against the bars.