Marseille, France, travel guide and things to do: Nine highlights

THE ONE VIEW

Paris isn't the only French city with an alluring Notre-Dame. Capped by a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, Notre-Dame de la Garde tops Marseille's highest hill and is fondly known as La Bonne-Mere (The Good Mother). Locals - especially sailors and fishermen - have traditionally made the steep trek up to pray for safe voyage and good fortune. The striped basilica's mosaic-blessed interior is impressively opulent, but it's the exterior terraces that really lift the spirits, offering 360-degree views of Marseille's riveting Mediterranean-hugging location.

See notredamedelagarde.com

THE ONE LUXURY HOTEL

You'll glimpse La Bonne-Mere from all over this pulsating port city, including from several of the 194 rooms and suites at Hotel Dieu. Once a hostel for religious pilgrims, then a hospital, this palatial 18th-century landmark has had the five-star treatment by InterContinental, with stylish marine-themed contemporary decor set against restored original stone walls, archways and wrought-iron banisters. Conveniently perched in central Marseille, the hotel has a Clarins spa with indoor swimming pool, a sleek cocktail bar, an all-day Provencal brasserie with a lovely, spacious terrace, and Michelin-starred restaurant, the Alcyone. Rooms from €220 ($342).

See marseille.intercontinental.com

THE ONE GALLERY

Created from the ashes of a former tobacco factory by Saint-Charles station, La Friche provides an absorbing window into Marseille's multicultural mix and creative buzz. This eclectic cultural complex spans 45,000 square metres and boasts artists' studios, theatre and exhibition galleries, basketball and skate-boarding zones, cool bars and eateries, graffiti-splattered walls and a grand rooftop for concerts, parties and open-air cinema.

See lafriche.org

THE ONE SECRET GARDEN

Tucked behind Palais du Pharo, a clifftop palace commissioned by Napoleon III for Empress Eugenie, Parc Emile Duclaux is good for a picnic and a lie-down. Its sloping, sculpture-speckled lawn looks out to sea, while you can peek down over the trees towards the Vieux-Port, a picturesque, vessel-strewn harbour where Marseille's Phocaean Greek founders berthed around BC600. They were the first of many outsiders to shape this melting-pot city, with ancient Romans, Visigoths, Aragonese and Jewish communities later joined by Corsicans, Armenians, west Africans and immigrants from France's former Maghreb (North African) colonies.

See palaisdupharo.marseille.fr

THE ONE NEIGHBOURHOOD

A filming location in The French Connection (1971), which portrayed Marseille as a grubby heroin smuggling hub, Le Panier is an atmospheric knot of narrow, hilly apartment-lined alleys, shaded squares and stairways festooned in colourful murals. Exploring this ancient yet rapidly gentrifying district, a riot of aromas catch your nose: from Marseille-hewn soaps and herby pastis to freshly-baked boulangerie treats and grilled merguez - a spicy sausage staple in Maghrebi cuisine. The neighbourhood has a diverse selection of boutiques, bars and bistros, including Au Coeur du Panier, a rustic-chic haunt (at 18 Rue du Panier) that serves Provencal wines with French-Mediterranean dishes.

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See marseille-tourisme.com/en/

THE ONE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

For a bouillabaisse - a classic fish stew synonymous with Marseille - or inventive dishes such as octopus carpaccio with seaweed and combawa oil, and monkfish marinated in sumac, falafel, yoghurt and spices, Le Peron is a refined choice, positioned on the rocks off the Corniche, Marseille's serpentine seafront promenade. Dining here, you can spy boats zipping out to Chateau d'If, a fortress-prison island where the hero in Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.

See restaurant-peron.com

THE ONE MUSEUM

Marseille, France - June 21, 2015: Building of Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations tra26-marseilles
Photo credit: iStock
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Photo: iStock

Unveiled during Marseille's spell as the 2013 European Capital of Culture, MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) was fashioned by local Algerian-born architect Rudy Ricciotti and illuminates the region's enthralling history and culture. Expect time-worn artefacts, multimedia displays, family-friendly activities and temporary exhibitions like the Grand Meze (until 2024), which delves into the fabled Mediterranean diet. You can take a footbridge from the museum to Fort Saint-Jean, a 17th-century waterfront stronghold built for Louis XIV.

See mucem.org/en

THE ONE COFFEE SPOT

Marseille's specialty coffee scene is bubbling nicely thanks to Deep, a cafe and micro-roastery conjuring some of France's punchiest flat whites and cold brews. Sit and sip in the snug, plant-peppered interior, or take a pew outside on Rue Glandeves, a quiet side street around the corner from the Vieux-Port, where a lively morning fish market pops up near L'Ombriere, a dazzling reflective 21st-century steel pavilion by Sir Norman Foster.

See deep.coffee/en

THE ONE STADIUM

Matt Damon shot scenes for his new Marseille-based movie, Stillwater, at Stade Velodrome, and apparently became a fan of OM (Olympique de Marseille) in the process. Although recently overshadowed by big rivals Paris Saint-Germain, Lille and Monaco in the domestic Ligue 1, Marseille remains the only French football club to win the European Champions League (in 1993). Watch the team in action - and embrace the fanatical support - between August and May at the architecturally-striking 67,000-capacity arena.

See om.fr/en

ONE MORE THING

Marseille is a gateway to the wider, wondrous Provencal countryside, but don't miss Les Calanques National Park, where sheer limestone cliffs rise from a necklace of scuba-worthy, turquoise-toned creeks and coves on the city's southern limits. Take a boat to these so-called "Mediterranean fiords" from the Vieux-Port or drive or bus it to the park and tread pine-scented paths down to secluded beaches. Boats and buses also link the city centre with Les Goudes, a tiny Calanques-side fishing village where locals congregate for sunset and l'apero (as the French call their aperitif).

See provence-alpes-cotedazur.com

Steve McKenna was a guest of InterContinental Marseille - Hotel Dieu.

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