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France’s second city blossoms as demand for luxury property soars

Once regarded as one of the less salubrious cities of France and famous for its crime and seafaring past, Marseille used to suffer from a reputation for being a roguish and dangerous place.

Now the city centre is in the process of revitalisation. There are gleaming new boutiques, an entry in the chic Louis Vuitton City Guide series, and a Michelin three-star restaurant, Le Petit Nice, whose third star was awarded this year.

And with it demand for luxury properties is soaring. 'Marseille has changed. It has a new, more seductive identity and many people now want to come and live here,' said Isabelle Viatte, who opened a Marseille office last autumn for Emile Garcin, one of the French real estate firms that deal exclusively in top of the line properties.

'The demand for exceptional properties between €2 million and €5 million is so strong that I can't find enough luxury homes with sea views, gardens or terraces to satisfy it,' she said.

The keen interest probably has a lot to do with, what in marketing terms would be called a remarkable turnaround. Instead of being regarded as a haven for undesirables from the North African coast, it is seen as cosmopolitan. Its old architecture combined with startling new developments is described as eclectic and its notably tricky population now seen as independent and free spirited.

Its famous fish dishes like bouillabaisse are a must have in top restaurants, it has a sunny Mediterranean climate and one of the most ambitious new developments in the world – EuroMediterrannée – which hopes to rival Sydney and New York when the project is completed in 2012.

It will feature new hotels, a convention center, a Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, an entertainment centre, a shopping and leisure complex, a mix of luxury apartments and public housing and a 145-meter, or 475-foot, tower. Much of this is being designed by such architectural stars as Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid and Massimiliano Fuksas.