It wasn't long ago that Marseilles was considered to be pretty rough, with a reputation as salty as the air its inhabitants breathed. This was mainly due to the large area of disused docks that had become run down and wretched, taking the surrounding districts with it.
But the mix of North African and European culture has given the city a tough character that won't stay down - after all, the hot-headed footballer Zinedine Zidane is Marseilles's favourite son. And then there's that perfect situation - bang on the Mediterranean, an hour from St Tropez and sandwiched between the beauties of Languedoc and Provence.
Thanks to a programme of rejuvenation and a thriving cultural scene, Marseilles is now the hottest destination in France. A total of €3bn (£2bn) has been invested and the entire transport system is getting an overhaul. A new tramline is underway, the TGV rail link brings you from Paris in three hours and the airport, which already takes budget flights from the UK, has opened a new terminal.
Even the once-dowdy docks are getting a makeover. Attractive 19th-century buildings are being renovated, and old warehouses torn down and replaced by new offices, cultural centres and waterfront accommodation. With its beaches, pretty old harbour and spanking new architecture, people are already starting to mutter that Marseilles could be "the new Barcelona".
Property prices, however, are still way below the stratospheric levels of the Catalan capital. "In the past five years prices here have doubled," says local agent Bernard Comptat, "but Marseilles was undervalued compared to other cities in France." Apartments in what Comptat describes as "up-coming" areas are selling for around £110,000; nearer the sea, in a new development, he puts prices between £137,000 and £170,000. "That's not bad for a big city."
Penny Zoldan of French specialist Latitudes is also a big fan. "Marseilles is great," she says. "I feel it's one of the best areas to invest in and hold on to for when everything is finished in five years." Zoldan says city-centre property is currently fetching around £200,000 butfor those with around £140,000 to spend, she recommends new quarter La Joliette. "Marseilles is following in the footsteps of regenerated towns such as Bordeaux and Montpellier," she says. "But it is in a better location, right on the water."
And it isn't just the city you're buying into - it's a southern European lifestyle in which you can be on the beach in minutes and at the Alps in two hours. Buying a property seems a small price to pay for all that Marseilles has to offer.
Latitudes, 020-8951 5155; www.latitudes.co.ukReuse content