Arguably France’s most characterful port, Marseille is a city constantly in motion. Sometimes quite literally: in early 2019, it was the third French city (after Paris and Lyon) to welcome a fleet of Lime electric scooters. Young Marseillais went crazy for them, and they’re also a nifty way for visitors to tour the sites. The once seedy hostess bars catering to sailors around the opera are fast being transformed into hipster cafés and eateries with evocative names like The Sweet Lady.
That’s not to say locals aren’t fond of tradition too, whether they’re heading up to Notre Dame de La Garde for the views or tucking into a timeless bouillabaisse at Chez Michel. Arthur Schopenhauer once said: ‘I’m convinced Marseille is France’s most beautiful city. It’s so different to any other’.
Here’s why he’s still right.
Our dream pad? Any one of the 331 apartment units designed by Le Corbusier for the Cité Radieuse, a UNESCO-protected Modernist icon. Get lost in La Friche Belle de Mai, a sprawling cultural complex including galleries, a skatepark and concert venues. The gigantic rooftop is a hit in the balmier months. Or wander Cours Julien for inspiration from the city’s legendary street artists.
L’apéro is sacred around these parts, so make the pilgrimage with the locals to La Relève, which pairs killer sundowners with panisse chips. La Dame Noir VII, a sophisticated lair for cocktail fiends, plays on the seven deadly sins. Beg or plead for a spot at La Caravelle, a speakeasy with jazz nights and super views of the Vieux-Port and the basilica.
Intuitive’s chirpy owner recently made the leap from Paris to Marseille; the friendly shop is brimming with cute non-essentials. Exuberant mini souk Jiji La Palme d’Or has spawned an equally authentic hammam. Atelier 159 is proof that despite its laid-back facade, Marseille offers some serious design shopping.
With its salade du jour named after Cy Twombly, Ginger Art & Coffee dares to be different. It also does a sinful brownie (named after Helen Levitt). The items on the daily menu at street-food stall Douceur Piquante are short and sweet: soup, chicken and fish. Luckily, all are stunning. Fancy a picnic with a difference? Stop by La Fabriquerie for everything from super fresh soba noodles or confit lamb couscous to an Earl Grey custard tart.
After a stint at Paris’ Semilla, chef Matthieu Roche has returned to his Southern roots by opening Ourea, an acclaimed Med-inspired eaterie with his partner Camille Fromont. Classic bouillabaisse address Chez Fon Fon is a hit even with cool kids like designer Simon Porte Jacquemus. After the OM and l’apéro, Marseille’s religion is pizza. Locals rave about Chez Sauveur, a cheap and cheerful joint that’s been using the same wood oven since 1943.
Image credits: © Daniel Harwardt via Shutterstock; © Daniel Harwardt via Shutterstock; © La Friche Belle de Mai; © La Caravelle; © Grégoire Bernardi; © Ginger Art & Coffee; © Chez Fon Fon