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John McCarthy once said “If I owned Marseille and Hell, I’d rent out Marseille and live in Hell” which to be fair isn’t too kind to old Marseille; it has to be one of the most underrated places in France!
I had never thought of visiting Marseille before however through the powers of social media (Instagram to be exact), Intercontinental Hotels posted a photo of the view of the Vieux Port from their new hotel earlier this year and I booked straight away.
Obviously we stayed at the newly opened Intercontinental Marseille Hotel Dieu which is a beautiful historic building that has become a tourist attraction in Marseille since the hotel opened; it was the old hospital so a number of ex hospital staff and locals alike are visiting.
The rooms themselves are a little too dark for my liking however if you do get a Port view room (well worth the extra expense) the view is to die for as you look over the Vieux Port and the Notre Dame de la Garde and it’s a view you will never tire of. I have a number of photos to prove it!
The Terrace rooms give you the opportunity to order room service and they will come in and set up a table for you on your terrace (as below).
My favourite view of the Hotel was at night, it’s just spectacular and this photo doesn’t do it justice.
The Le Capian Bar is a nice area to take a cheeky cocktail (they have a great selection of Champagne cocktails for the girls) and to take in the views from the terrace.
The hotel has a Spa by Clarins and G went for a deep tissue massage before we left and said it was definitely deep tissue! The treatments are pricey (but you expect this at a hotel plus a Clarins spa). The swimming pool is free to use for the guests however unfortunately you need to pay to use the hamman and steam rooms at a fee of €20 a day. All the toiletries in the rooms are Clarins.
2013 is Marseille’s year as it is the joint European Capital of Culture with Kosice in Slovakia, while most cities just throw on a few exhibitions and displays, Marseille took the opportunity to clean up the Old Town area and it was money well spent. Almost every weekend there is a new exhibition or show to watch so you won’t get bored while visiting.
Unfortunately like the real elephants, the elephant above has also lost its tusks!
I do like kooky art exhibitions (however detest the Tate Modern, yes I said it!) and we decided to visit the Musee Regards de Provence which had a couple of very interesting displays and a dead Mickey Mouse!
And I thought I had big feet, my Topshop ballet flats are still going strong! The second pair of these shoes are safely tucked in the back of the shoe room until required.
The Musee Regards de Provence is located in the Le Panier area of Marseille which was my favourite part of town, with its narrow little streets with pastel coloured buildings, clothes floating in the breeze, cute little flowers hanging off the window shutters; basically all I needed was a man playing an accordion wearing a breton stripe top and I would have died happy!
One trip I was really looking forward too when visiting Marseille was a boat trip to the Calanques National Park however due to the Mistral wind (it’s the famous Provence wind) we couldn’t take any boat trips to the Calanques as they were cancelled; which I was gutted about. Our concierge recommended Croisieres Marseille Calanques for the boat trip and the start point is at the Vieux Port.
However we did take a trip on the Petit Train up to the Notre Dame de la Garde which sits overlooking Marseille offering one of the best vantage points of the city as it sits on the highest point in Marseille. The train takes you along the Coastal road, then winds up through the narrow streets of Marseille; for €8 pp it’s not a bad deal especially on a warm day as I wouldn’t fancy the walk up. You get complete 360 degree views of this great city.
The interior of the Notre Dame de la Garde is just stunning and the mosaic decoration is breathtaking especially since a lot of work has been done to restore the Basilica. The Basilica is considered to be the guardian of Marseille.
We went in the early afternoon and the area was packed with tour groups from the Cruise Ships that were in harbour, so if you want to avoid the crowds then go late in the afternoon when it’s less packed.
My tip on what to wear when visiting the Notre Dame would be to avoid a 1950′s summer dress as the Mistral Wind will have you flashing half of Marseille and almost every tourist currently on a Mediterranean Cruise! I can multi task like any lady however trying to hold down a dress, a hat and take photos, something had to give and unfortunately it was my dress!
One afternoon we strolled to Palais Longchamp where you will find a number of Museums however for me the best part was taking a stroll through the park and watching the families enjoy a Sunday afternoon in the sunshine. I was very taken with the pink dolphins in the water feature; these made me giggle.
The Vieux Port draws all the tourists as it’s where the boat trips leave for the Calanques and it’s where the fish, flower and craft markets are held each day in Marseille. The Old Port is gorgeous and a boy’s dream as they spend hours looking at all the boats.
I’m one of those girls that find it important to support the local economy when on holiday so I am happy to take one for the team and do a bit of retail therapy. The shopping in Marseille is pretty impressive with a number of designer shops, high street brands and a few boutiques thrown in. Never fret girls, there is a Galleries Lafayette to flash your credit card in!
Marseille is in Provence and it’s famous for soap and perfume which make great little presents to take home with you. If you are looking for the best then visit L’Eau De Cassis which was established in 1851 – the interior is just gorgeous and the scents are divine; my next visit I will be purchasing a new perfume!
G is English and he likes a cup of tea and we stumbled on a cute place for a cuppa called “Cup of Tea” which was a short skip and a hop from our hotel in the Le Panier area. They offer a great selection of tea or if the mood takes you then there is wine.
Obviously as I’m gluten free and love cake; I did eat a few Meringues and Macaroons while in Marseille and then felt guilty and used the gym at the hotel (okay I only used the gym once and ate cake more than once!).
If you are looking for a day trip from Marseille we found that there was not many options however the Tourist Office did provide details of a company they recommended called Provence Connection Tours who offer tours to Monaco, Cannes, Aix-en-Provence and Cassis.
When we visit Marseille the next time I will be doing this wine tour with Provence Wine Tours and fingers crossed the Calanques boat trip.
How to get from Marseille airport to Marseille
There is the Navette Shuttle bus that runs from the airport every 10-15 minutes and takes you to the Gare St Charles Train Station in Marseille. Turn right as you leave the MP1 or MP2 terminals and follow the signs to the bus station – you will see a row of kiosks selling tickets – purchase the ticket at the kiosk at the far end prior to boarding the bus. Journey time takes around 30 mins but depends on the traffic. We caught the bus to the Train Station and then jumped in a taxi to the hotel. The bus has free wifi on board!
Have you visited Marseille, what did you think?
write by Tadhg