Ah Marseille…the oldest city in France, home of Bouillabaisse and where the Conte of Montecristo got his start. The French national anthem, La Marseilles, was named after soldiers from the city who first sang it. A hub of immigration for hundreds of years, this influx & mix of civilizations makes the city a unique gem. Founded around 600 BBC by Greeks it has been a trading post since. This influx of peoples has made the local culture unique and very tolerant. It is the World Water Capital, the city of soap (Louis XIV set the standards) and the largest port in France. This thriving, edgy city may be off the major tourist path but it has a lot to offer. Here are a few ideas.
A meal at AM par Alexander Mazzia is a must. Mazzia just won the American Express One to Watch award but people in the know have been watching him since he opened his restaurant in 2014. Michelin gave him 3 stars 6 years later. Only 22 covers this is a tough table to get. Try hard. You will be wowed by every bite of his “cuisine of emotion”. Expect unusual ingredients combined in an imaginative way.
Get out of the heat with a visit to the Palais Longchamp…not an actual palace but a monument to water which has always been in short supply in sunny Marseille. People were only allowed 1.3 liters of water a day back in 1834 when the town decided to build a canal to the river Durance. This huge monument and surrounding park were built to celebrate the arrival of the water. The old cages of the once zoo are amazing art in their own right. The annual jazz festival is held here…amazing!
Grand palaces litter France, but Marseille is home to a different kind of housing. After WWII the city hired famed architect, le Corbusier to come up with a solution. Take an architect’s tour of the Radiant City, his vertical village. There are 337 apartments. But also a hotel, stores, gym, pool and wide corridors for residents to meet and socialize. Not really an attraction, people have been living here since it was completed in 1952.However, one floor is open to the public and has never been renovated.
Stroll the Old Port where you can dock your luxury yacht or admire those that belong to others. The heart of the city for 2000 years, this area is filled with pretty much everything…crappy tourist shops, high end retailers, great restaurants, food trucks and spectacular views.
Marseilles lights up at night with a club scene more exciting than most larger cities. Le Moulin hosts international alt rock and punk acts and up and coming stars on its two stages. Dock de Sud features classic rock and dance music from around the globe. While le Trolleybus is three clubs in one with each floor of this 17th century building offering a different musical and cocktail experience.
Stay or at least drink at the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu Hotel…perched on a hill above the Old Port, the views are spectacular. The site began life in 1188 as a hospital for abandoned children and the sick. It was modernized and glamorized in 1753. Successive governments just kept making it better. The hospital closed its doors in 2006. 120 million Euros was invested in turning into one very magnificent hotel. Climb one of the two great staircases to the best bar in the city. Look for traces of its old life…there is a 12th century chapel, a bit of Roman mosaic and Latin graffiti scrolled by 18th century doctors.