6 Reasons Why Marseille Is The Ideal Easy Summer Escape

6 Reasons Why Marseille Is The Ideal Easy Summer Escape

Marseille, France’s second city, is the gateway to Provence and its endless lavender fields and vineyards. But the city itself offers picture-perfect beaches and a vibrant food scene. Tempted to book a trip? From hip hotels and must-visit shops to Instagrammable attractions, here’s why it ticks all our boxes…
Photography: benjamin bouvier

The food scene’s great…

A favourite of ultimate foodie Anthony Bourdain (make sure to watch his Marseille episode of Parts Unknown on Netflix before heading over), multicultural Marseille impresses with its huge variety of cuisines. Rule number one: ignore the bouillabaisse – these days this luxurious fish stew is mainly served to tourists at a premium. Instead, look to smaller independent eateries such as Chez Fanny in picturesque Panier, where Fanny herself sells the best steak sandwich we’ve ever tried. Not sure where to start? The Les Halles de la Major food hall in the Vieux-Port area offers everything from charcuterie and oysters to pastries and cheese. If you’re after special occasion dining, book a table at coastal three-Michelin-starred Le Petit Nice, which also has bedrooms. But our best advice? Make sure to grab a slice from one of the city’s many pizza trucks. You might not associate France with pizza, but the Marseillaise serve a traditional Armenian version which nods to the city’s north African heritage. Chez Sauveur in Noailles also serves superlative slices.

When it comes to drinks, there’s an abundance of affordable regional wine – think cracking bottles of rosé from Provence for €8 and carafes of local Côtes du Rhônes. As with most seafront cities, in Marseille there’s a huge apéritif culture. Here, cafés transform into late-night al fresco joints serving the local drink of choice – pastis, an anise-flavoured liqueur topped up with sparkling water. If you’re looking to make a night of it, head to hip Saint Victor for some of the best bars in town.

And so is the shopping…

Soap-making in Marseille dates back to the 14th century, but much of the stuff for sale at the city’s markets is now made elsewhere. That’s not the case at La Grande Savonnerie in St Julien, a small shop which specialises in genuine Marseillaise soap made with olive oil and no added perfume –perfect for souvenirs. For unusual homewares and original French labourer jackets, head to Maison Empereur in Noailles. An old-fashioned department store set across two buildings, this emporium sells everything from straw boaters to luxury bedding, traditional children’s toys and beautiful tableware. When it comes to fashion, head to American Vintage’s flagship store. The brand originates from Marseille, so expect a much larger selection of clothing – without the shipping fees.

benjamin bouvier


emilie malcorps

It’s by the sea…

Walking along the old port is a great way to spend an afternoon in Marseille. But if you want to do more than dip your toes in the waters, take the bus from Castellane in central Marseille to Calanques National Park, where you’ll find islands, caves and beaches just 30 minutes away. From the bus stop, it’s a 45-minute hike through a forest and down winding cliffs to the blue waters. Remember to pack a picnic as well as your swimsuit, as this is a natural wonder and there are no shops or restaurants. In the heat of summer, the waters are the perfect temperature for a cooling dip and the backdrop is stunning. For somewhere in the city itself, head to the much-busier Catalan Beach, which offers sand – rather than the rocks of Les Calanques –  plus two volleyball courts and plenty of places for post-swim refreshments.

It’s surprisingly affordable…

Along with the local wine, accommodation in Marseille is really affordable – especially compared to many other French cities. Located in the arty St Julien quarter is Mama Shelter, where minimalist double rooms start from £72 per night. Founded in Paris in 2008 by the Trigano family (co-founders of Club Med) Mama Shelter takes a modern approach to hotel stays, offering an abundance of shared living, meeting and social spaces, live music, photo and video booths and a lively restaurant, where food is overseen by renowned French chef Guy Savoy. Make sure to order the French macaroni. A fun cocktail bar is propped up by exceptionally friendly staff, there’s a great branded shop in case you’ve forgotten the essentials, and the team serves one of the most popular Sunday brunches in Marseille. Across town, other great options include the waterside Sofitel Vieux-Port and the design-conscious five-star Hotel C2 in Saint Victor.


Mama Marseille

It’s doable in a weekend…

The city might be the second largest in France, but most attractions are easy to get to by foot, bus or the simple, two-line Metro system. The moment you arrive, you’ll be struck by the imposing hilltop Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral which overlooks the city and coastline. This is the best thing to do once you’ve settled in as you’ll be able to get your bearings and soak up the sun-scorched surroundings. Trust us, it’s worth the trek. Down in the recently reconfigured Vieux-Port, you’ll find all the hallmarks of Marseille’s status as European Capital of Culture in 2013. Make sure to stop by MuCEM, a strikingly designed new museum complete with a roof terrace, communal gardens and a top restaurant from Gerard Passedat, the same chef behind Le Petit Nice. 

The south of France is well known for the striking architecture of modernist Le Corbusier, and Marseille is no different. In fact, his masterpiece – futuristic housing project La Cité Radieuse – is located near the Olympic stadium. At the top of the colourful concrete structure you’ll find MAMO, a modern art gallery with far-reaching views and a hotel beneath, complete with a wine bar and swimming pool. La Cité Radieuse is on the same bus route as Les Calanques, so we suggest stopping off on the way.

It’s easy to get to…

Marseille is perfectly placed for those times of the year when you might be short on holiday allowance. Just two hours from Gatwick, you can get return flights via easyJet from £42 and shuttle buses will get you from the airport to the city centre in just 30 minutes. It’s now possible to get the Eurostar to Marseille too, which takes 6.5 hours and provides a much more scenic journey than the orange airline. If you want to extend your stay, there are plenty of great day-trip options from central Marseille – Van Gogh’s residence in Arles, the charming, picture-perfect streets of Aix-en-Provence and art-filled Avignon are all easily accessible by bus.

Mama Marseille

Le Petite Nice

Le Petite Nice

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