As Capital of Culture for 2013, the city of Marseille and its surrounding coastline promised to be an exciting destination for a group of twelve Fifth Form girls following their GCSE exams, accompanied by Mrs Copeland and Mrs Howells. On Sunday 7 July the bleary-eyed group met at school for a 2.30am departure to the airport. After successfully navigating French public transport (with the occasional hitch – it was a Sunday after all!) we found ourselves at our base for the trip: a lovely seaside town called La Ciotat. After an afternoon spent recovering from the sleepless night on Saturday, we toured around the old port and the town centre. The girls successfully reactivated their dormant French, which had been switched off post-exams, and they soon were enjoying the challenges of deciphering French menus and tasting delicious local dishes.
The next day was action-packed, with a trip by bus and train to the dynamic city of Marseille. Here the girls discovered the renovated port area, which was the centre for the cultural events and displays on offer. Street art dominated, so the girls were able to combine an interest in the arts, with a clear interest in window shopping and café culture! Huge statues based on Dali’s surreal art, Moroccan arches and variations on the theme of animal statues with differing decorative twists, were amongst the sculptures on display. The old fort was crammed with other objects of interest, and from here the looming presence of the brand new architectural monoliths - the stunning MuCEM and the Villa Mediterannee – dominated the skyline at the water’s edge. Our trip to the MuCEM, exploring the diverse civilisations and cultures of the meditteranean region, took us on a journey through the weird, wonderful and thought-provoking within contemporary art, with a focus on the representation of gender. Tuesday saw us taking a trip via tourist train up the precipitous hills above Marseille to the breath-taking Notre Dame Basilica, with panoramic views across the city and the sea. Shopping in the streets of the old town also uncovered more artistic treats, as the girls encountered a sculpture that doubled as a free book-lending service and a huge reflective canopy under which they were photographed by a company advertising chocolate! Evenings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday spent at the harbourside in La Ciotat allowed for a different choice of restaurant each time and a chance to explore the craft market on the quay.
Wednesday morning was greeted with some relief and excitement, as there was no early train into Marseille to catch and instead the day was spent in a more leisurely fashion exploring the beautiful coastline around La Ciotat. An inspiration for generations of artists, we visited the Calanques by boat (a beautiful national park of limestone cliffs plunging into the sea) and the local beaches.
On Thursday we departed from Marseille airport, narrowly avoiding a baggage strike and were back home at Cokethorpe by 3.00pm, having had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Mrs Copeland and Mrs Howells sincerely hope that the girls will feel inspired to revisit the area and explore the cultural and artistic life of the Cote D’Azur in future years, and look forward to creating a display of the visual experiences that we had.