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Why I chose Marseille over Paris for the Olympic Games

Simon Calder’s Travel

Forget Emily in Paris. I’ve always thought ‘Natalie in Nice’ would have a great ring to it. Or any stretch along the French Riviera, if I was given the opportunity for an international relocation. The sun-soaked coast studded with pinstriped parasols, croissants and coffee haunts has always had a glitz that’s quietly cooler than the sophistiquée arrondissements and renowned landmarks of Paris.

I know one could while away weeks in the French capital but for me, Paris has always felt most palatable as a one-time pit stop for a classic city break. France’s poster child, the city of love, is gearing up for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on 26 July – with that comes an overwhelming summer swarmed with tourists that I was making a conscious effort to avoid.

However, the Olympics’ return to Europe for the first time in more than a decade is hard to resist. Nostalgia had got the better of me and memories of my experience at London 2012 returned, such as watching Nigerian rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka compete in the men’s single sculls heats with just three months of training. I was prepared to face the sporting mobs of Paris.

So, I signed up for the ballot in January 2023 because I ‘saw it somewhere’ – a TikTok ad told me to – and enlisted all of my family members to do the same, feeling rather pessimistic about our chances for an Olympic do-over of the very rainy rowing session at Dorney Lake during in the UK capital 12 years ago.

Harbour views in Marseille (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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To my surprise, all four of my family members were successful in phase one of the draw but it only took logging into the first ballot slot for us to trip over a seriously high financial hurdle. Tickets to the big hitters in Paris – the opening ceremony, swimming and athletics – were either sold out or up to €690 a pop and, even with the age-old comfort of ‘cheaper than flying’ Eurostar travel, seemed scarily steep for the back row experience.

Those sports that weren’t, in the €85 to €160 range, were the subject of great debate between my sister and parents before being deemed “not worth the trip”. When my 24-hour timeslot to create a ‘Games Pack’ finally came around in March, I was resigned to the fact the trip would require a lottery win and simply skimmed the prices before…

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