City Guide

Four hours in Marseille 2014

31 May 2014 by Clement Huang


Rue de Petit Puits, Marseille, France
Le Panier, Marseille ©JennySouthan
Le Panier, Marseille ©JennySouthan

If you are staying at the new Intercontinental Marsielle – Hotel Dieu (visit for a review), it will be particularly easy to access Le Panier, the oldest district in the city. Dating back to the 17th century, it’s set back a short distance from the Vieux Port. Wander its quiet, narrow streets and floral squares, up shaded steps and past green-shuttered houses, and you will stumble across all manner of curiosities. Having gone through a process of gentrification over the past quarter of a century, the neighbourhood is now home to rustic cafés with pavement seating, artisan workshops and ateliers selling trendy antiques, handmade ceramics and Marseille’s La Cagole beer. You may also spot some unusual street art – from papier-mâché sculptures on Rue de Petit Puits, to peeling walls plastered with the pages of 1940s magazines.


MuCEM, Promenade Robert Laffont, Marseille, France
Villa Méditerranée, Marseille ©JennySouthan
Villa Méditerranée, Marseille ©JennySouthan

Exit the Panier district by Marseille cathedral, stopping to pop in if you have time, otherwise continuing down Boulevard du Littoral to where it meets J4 Esplanade, a huge seaside plaza. Here you will immediately spot Villa Méditerranée, with its 36-metre cantilevered event space hovering over a pool, and the nearby Rudy Ricciotti-designed MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, open daily 11am-6pm). Both were unveiled last summer as part of the city’s Capital of Culture celebrations. The gleaming glass exterior of the latter is partially encased in twisted black latticework, while inside are changing exhibitions of contemporary art. Stop for a coffee at the rooftop restaurant, and then cross the aerial gangway that connects to the historic Fort Saint-Jean.;


Ombrière, Quai de Rive Neuve, 13001 Marseille, France
Old port, Marseille ©JennySouthan
Old port, Marseille ©JennySouthan

Make your way out of the fort and on to the Quai du Port promenade that winds around the harbour. The Vieux Port, as it is known, was recently transformed by Foster and Partners, and now has a broad granite walkway that runs alongside the bobbing boats. At the far end is the Ombrière, a 1,000 sqm slice of polished steel held up by slim metal pillars to create a reflective canopy that protects pedestrians from sun and rain. If you are here between 8am and 1pm, you can watch jaunty fishermen selling crates of shellfish, grouper and wriggling eels to local chefs, who turn them into bouillabaisse.


Rowing Club Marseille, Boulevard Charles Livon, Marseille, France
Rowing Club roof terrace, Marseille ©JennySouthan
Rowing Club roof terrace, Marseille ©JennySouthan

Follow the curve of the waterside Quai de Rive Neuve up the hill, and turn right down a rough track beneath the hilltop Sofitel hotel to reach the Rowing Club. Ascend the concrete steps all the way to the top, where you will emerge on to an expansive rooftop terrace complete with Astroturf, colourful hand-painted decking, comic print furniture and sweeping views of the harbour. On Sundays there is a brunch buffet (€25/US$34) laid out on the floor below – help yourself to a generous plate of creamy French cheese and crusty baguette before taking a seat in the open air. (If it’s hot, you might want to borrow one of the quirky straw hats they have available.) The Rowing Club also offers tapas, barbecues, Provençal wine and à la carte dishes. Open daily (except Sun and Mon eves) 12pm-3pm, 6pm-12am. 34 Boulevard Charles Livon; tel +33 491 900 778


Notre-Dame de la Garde, Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, Marseille, France
Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille ©JennySouthan
Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille ©JennySouthan

If you are feeling energetic, hike 25 minutes up to the Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral, which stands high on a rocky limestone summit, making it the city’s most famous landmark. After scaling the meandering flight of steps to the top, you will be rewarded with a magnificent panorama – an endless expanse of orange rooftops, the Bay of Marseille glittering blue and the Frioul archipelago of islands. The Neo-Byzantine basilica has a 41-metre-tall square bell tower crowned with a gilded statue of the Madonna and child. Inside, you will be greeted by the warmth of a thousand flickering candles. The heavenly vaulted structure, adorned with intricate mosaics and murals, is held up by hefty red and white striped marble columns. Model sailboats hang from the ceiling, a nod to Marseille’s nautical heritage. Open daily from 7am to 7pm (winter) or 8pm (summer). Rue Fort du Sanctuaire


280 Boulevard Michelet, Marseille, France
City Radieuse, Marseille ©JennySouthan
City Radieuse, Marseille ©JennySouthan

Hop in a taxi to 280 Boulevard Michelet, about ten minutes away, where you will find a striking Brutalist housing block designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Dating back to the early 1950s, each of its 300 or so duplex features a private balcony. Last summer, the roof of the building, which was once an outdoor gym, was restored at a cost of e7 million by local industrial designer Ito Morabito and turned into a public art space. In addition to an indoor gallery, shop and artist studios, there is a paddling pool and a giant turquoise sculpture of Le Corbusier. Take the lift up to level nine, where you can enjoy 360-degree vistas. Open daily 9am-6pm; free entry. Tours at 2.30pm and 4.30pm for e10 (US$14) and include a look at one of the apartments. Alternatively, there is a hotel with vintage rooms from e78 (US$107) a night (,,

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