Marseille is 2013 European Capital of Culture, reason in itself to go. The city is also a great destination to go to for a short break because you can skip culture any moment and take a dip into the crystal blue sea (always carry a swimsuit). It’s a wild city, where parking on the pavement is authorised and having fake boobs is cool. They even have Velibe bike hire system. Just a 15-minutes walk north of Vieux Port, the beating heart of the city, countless construction cranes still protrude into the sky, marking the area of the largest city construction project in Europe: Euromediterranee, where most events of MP2013 are taking place.
MP2013 stands for Marseille Provence, meaning that not only Marseille but more than 97 cities and villages from SoF (South of France) will be aiming to impress with a range of spectacular exhibitions and events throughout 2013. We have tried and loved MP2013.
Here is our Two Day Marseille Itinerary to see the best of the city.
DAY 1: The Sea Trail, 2nd and 3rd arrondissement
11AM start with La Friche de Belle de Mai, probably the best venue of MP2013. It’s a former tobacco factory turned alternative media center. Visit the exhibition « This is not Music » (until June 9th) – and don’t miss the new Panorama tower on the roof terrace. The rooftop hosts 750 people and offers a panoramic view over the docks so you see where you’re heading to next. Gigs have included Woodkid, Wu Tang Clan and Pete Doherty.
Have lunch at the Restaurant les Grandes Tables on the 1st floor. The industrial look goes well with the Med food. Menu changes daily.
41 Rue Jobin, 13003 Marseille
Then back to le vieux port – the old harbour has been transformed into a traffic free zone and hosts a 1000m2 mirror sun canopy square designed by British architect Norman Foster. The light changes every hour of the day. Start there.
Walk along the port to the town hall and Pavillon M, hosting a mainstream, free exhibition on Marseille (construction and best sights), it’s worth a quick look, also visit the photo exhibition on port cities in the containers. Behind the containers there is a funny house called Maison Diamanté, home of MP2013, grab up-to-date information there.
J4 – Walk past St Jean Tower and Pharo Fort to discover two brand new buildings MuCEM and CeReM. The concrete lace cube is the National Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti. It will house a national collection dedicated to the culture of the Mediterranean. Opens in June.
It’s neighbor, CeReM (Centre Régional de la Méditéranée) was designed by Stefano Boeri to host the permanent exhibition Parcours des Méditerranées (Mediterranean trails), where visitors can “see and live” the experience of the Mediterranean. Always ask if there is English translation before you get your tickets.
Take a look at La Major Cathedral opposite. Many people assume that Notre Dame de la Garde is the cathedral of Marseille (the one on the top of the hill). Not so: in fact, it’s Sainte Marie Majeure, this enormous structure dramatically positioned right next to the former commercial port. Built in snazzy green and white stone stripes and a mix of Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic styles, reflecting Marseille‘s grandiose prosperity. It is quite cavern-like inside, so perhaps its not for the sunniest of days.
FRAC (Regional Contemporary Art Fund): a great home for contemporary art collections by Kengo Kuma. This project brings FRAC PACA’s activities and a 900-piece collection under one roof – and waou what a roof – a contemporary structure made of 1500 pixels.
20 boulevard de Dunkerque, Marseille 13002
The Port Area
J1: A huge hangar situated between the J4 esplanade and the Joliette district. This vast 6000m2 structure house a 2500m2 exhibition area, a seafront factory, a children’s area, a bookshop and a restaurant with great views on port and sea. Unfortunately it will be closed from June to October because of the lack of air conditioning! The second exhibition (October 11th to January 12 will feature Le Corbusier and brutalism).
Boulevard du Littoral, 2ème.
If you want to see more contemporary architecture continue walking on the port to:
+ Le Silo: a landmark granary that’s been transformed into a theatre and gig venue (2000 seats).
+ The glass ship by architect Zaha Hadid. HQ of CMA CGM (the world’s third biggest maritime company) – not open to the public but can be seen from afar.
PASTIS TIME! Walk back to the port through the oldest district in Marseille known as the Panier (watch your belongings). This should bring you straight to InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu. The brand new palace is housed in a listed historical monument dating back to the 18th Century and boasts a beautiful terrace, where you can rest after a busy day admiring the Vieux Port.
If you’d rather have some pastis at the counter and mingle with locals, go to La Caravelle, the 1st floor of Hotel Belle-vue. The view on the Old Port is perfect, and the cosy dining room the perfect place to write your postcards to live jazz in the evening.
34 Quai du Port, 13002 Marseille
Another great spot is Le Café de l’Abbaye: a local’s favorite to watch the sunset. Few seats so come early!
3 rue Endoume, 13007 Marseille
Diner: Le Grain de Sel was awarded Le Fooding’s Best Bistro. As such, this hotspot must turn many away. Try the delectable almond puree with anchovies which goes well with Aix’s Pomponnette rosé. Book ahead.
39 rue de la Paix-Marcel-Paul Marseille 13001. +33 4 91 54 47 30
Another quality bistro-restaurant in the area: Malthazar, 19 Le rue Fortia 75001 +33 4 91 33 42 46
Drinks: Find the secret bar Carry Nation by entering the shop, opening the closet in the back and push through the clothes. The cocktail bar opens after 11pm), 6 rue Jules Moulet, 6ème
DAY 2 – The Radiant Tour 7th and 8th
Grab a bicycle and ride – the first 30 minutes are free of charge so it’s best to flip bikes each time you get to your destination.
Classic Tourism – Notre Dame de la Garde: The Garde Hill (154 m) has always been an observation post. The basilica is a Romanesque-byzantine style with domes, multicoloured stone, gold and mosaics, A perfect representation of the large constructions undertaken in Marseille under Napoléon III. Join in with the locals to light a candle and make a wish.
Avant-Garde Tourism – La cité radieuse by Le Corbusier. This impressive structure, 165 metres long, 24 metres wide and 56 metres high, was built between 1947 and 1951. Its layout suggests an urban steamboat anchored in a park, with multi-coloured loggias, pilings and blank gable walls. This laboratory for a new “housing system” comprises 337 flats, with 23 different layouts and numerous extensions of the living space, to demo a new way of living in collective housing. An indoor street with shops, and a hotel for resident’s visitors and family members on the third floor. You might as well have LUNCH in the gastro restaurant Le Ventre de l’architecte (Chef Alexandre Mazzia). The main attraction is on the rooftop. Apart for a nursery school, there used to be a gymnasium that French designer Ora Ito has bought 4 years ago. He has initiated a campaign to restore the 1950‘s structure to its original state, by removing an addition that blocked the spaces 360-degree views of the city, and transform it into a contemporary art centre, café and artists residences, named the MAMO for “Marseille Modulor” – as a nod to New York’s MOMA. The inaugural exhibition will premiere this June, featuring French sculptor Xavier Veilhan. A must-see.
280 bd Michelet, Marseille 13008
Relaxing tourism: Ride to La Plage du Pradeau to take a look – but we have a better spot: Le Sporting Club du Dauphin is a private club with a swimming pool and an access to the sea for swimmers, but most of all it’s a splendid terrace opened to anyone for a drink overlooking the sea (a good second lunch option if Le Ventre de l’architecte didn’t work out).
178 B Pro Corniche John Kennedy 13007 Marseille
Keep cycling or walking to La Malmousque, one of the most sought-after residency area of Marseille. The beautiful villas have private access to the sea while the crowd can share the rocks. Continue to Vallon des Auffes, a great little inlet with terraced restaurants & local fishing boats lined up at the bottom. If you fancy a romantic dinner there go straight to L’Épuisette, chef Guillaume Sourrieu cooks one of the best bouillabaisse in town. Book ahead 04 91 52 17 82
Marseille’s only and brand new Palace: Intercontinental Hotel-Dieu – 22 Suites, 35 bedrooms with balcony, a Spa and a swimming-pool…
YES WE CAMP is an ever-evolving sustainable camping site especially built for the summer. The camp site is located Quai de la Lave of l’Estaque, by the sea. From le Vieux Port a boat will take you there in 30 minutes for 3 euros. The nearest beach is 5 minutes walk (Plage de Corbière). With lots of art and workshops, strong sustainability concerns and similar floor plans, the project sounds like Burning Man. It’s built around a central area and accomodation expands in a circle. Several month ago founders Eric Pringels and Nicolas Détrie have called for innovative, participatory and playful proposals. They received 207 artistic, event and architecture projects that visitors will enjoy throughout the summer. You can choose from 4 categories of accommodation from 13 to 80 euros per night: Bring your own tent, try a dormitory, a pimped up caravan for two (try the erotic box caravan by Gwennaning Duchesne), and a suite (not sure the eco-lodge made of plants will be ready in time, so book the fishing boat instead!). Common spaces include a work area, sheltered from the rain and the sun with a wifi connection, a kids playground, a stage and solar showers. Fun.
May 17 to October 14
Other Marseille Hotels:
www.gerardin-corbusier.com (cité radieuse le Corbusier.)
Official MP2013 sites
See the full mapped Marseille trail here.
And if you would like to be accompanied by an informative local who can lift the lid on all the more hidden aspects of the city, or even take you on a tour of local street art, fjords, football and food hangouts check out: www.marseilleprovencegreeters.com.