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Three nights with a change of scenery in Marseille!

The panoramic view from the balcony of our room at the hotel Les Bords de Mer, at three moments of the day...

I always wanted to go to Marseille without really knowing why, a kind of inexplicable attraction of the heart. So, to celebrate my 30th birthday which was just one week after our wedding, we spent 3 nights there with my husband in June 2022. I give you here our experience on the spot and my recommendations in order to take the best advantage of what the exotic city of Marseille has to offer!



  1. Our three night stay at the hotel Les Bords de Mer

  2. A three-star gastronomic experience with Chef Alexandre Mazzia

  3. What to discover during your stay in Marseille?

  4. What souvenirs should you bring back from Marseille?


1. Our three night stay at the hotel Les Bords de Mer

=> Do not hesitate to go to Marseille by train from Paris in only three hours and a few of direct journey and try, if possible, to book well in advance with the Ouigo trains in order to benefit from low rates!

From Paris, we went by train to Marseille because it's only three hours and a bit of direct travel for a total change of scenery. We had booked well in advance with Ouigo (aka the Barbie train with its blue and pink colors), which allowed us to have very low fares for such a distance. When we arrived, we chose to take an Uber from the Marseille-Saint-Charles train station to the hotel, for practicality with the luggage and also, we will admit it, for ease.

=> In Marseille, I recommend the hotel Les Bords de Mer for its location close to the sites to visit in Marseille and its absolutely stunning sea view!

Concerning the choice of the hotel, we absolutely wanted a hotel with a view on the water and we had to choose between a view on the Old Port or on the Mediterranean Sea. The choice was quickly made with a view on the immensity of the sea. We then had to choose between two hotels with a sea view in Marseille (knowing that Le Petit Nice Passedat was out of the question because it was out of our budget): the Nhow Marseille or Les Bords de Mer. Even though the Nhow Marseille offered more facilities and a larger room, we chose Les Bords de Mer because it was closer to the sites we wanted to visit on foot. We then booked directly on the hotel's website. The stay was not really cheap, but we wanted to do this pleasure for my 30th birthday and also needed some rest right after our wedding, and we absolutely do not regret our choice! Explanation.

When we arrived at the hotel Les Bords de Mer, very contemporary and located next to the Plage des Catalans, on the Corniche Kennedy, the welcome was good. We were taken to our room where, to celebrate our wedding and my birthday, a bottle of white wine from Domaine de Fontenille, which owns this hotel, among others, was waiting for us. On the other hand, we were disappointed by the size of the cramped room, but fortunately compensated by the large and pleasant bathroom with sea view, and especially by the balcony with a sea view so incredible that it gives the impression to wake up in the middle of the marine immensity. Note that the hotel also offers rooms with beautiful terraces always facing the sea.

Regarding the hotel's facilities, the indoor pool, although nice, is small. It is accompanied by a hamman and a sauna, but the latter was not working when we were there. On the other hand, the swimming corridor on the rooftop with sea view is really incredible. My husband spent long meditative moments there! Last but not least, the spa of the hotel offers the treatment protocols of the Austrian natural cosmetic brand Susanne Kaufmann.

Regarding breakfast at the hotel, it was taken in the hotel restaurant with, once again, a breathtaking sea view and, in particular, on the islands of Frioul. The buffet did not have a huge choice, but it was of good quality and there was also the possibility of choosing a savory or sweet dish by the plate. One drawback was the irregularity of the quality of the service according to the staff in charge of it, which is too bad when the prices are high. Nevertheless, I advise you at other times of the day to try the delicious panisses that the hotel offers à la carte (this is a Provençal speciality, below in the form of French fries, made from chickpea flour browned in olive oil or in the oven), all of which why not accompanied by one of their original cocktails with Provençal scents?


2. A three-star gastronomic experience with Chef Alexandre Mazzia

On the gastronomic level, we were lucky enough to have lunch at the three Michelin macarons AM table by Alexandre Mazzia, always in the spirit of this double celebration post-wedding and for my 30th birthday. And I can tell you that the experience will remain engraved!

First of all, the location of the restaurant is unexpected because it is located in the 8th district, in a residential area, behind a very discreet facade and opposite a medical center. Once you pass the door, time stops. Of course, the setting is small and sober, but we were lucky enough to be placed at the counter, where we can follow closely the work of the chef and his brigade, all in an impressive mastery and calm. For the anecdote, when we were served the finger bowl (in this case, the big floral bowl on the fourth picture), I almost drank it because of its beautiful presentation and its good smell...

Alexandre Mazzia conceives his menus as different journeys that he proposes to his guests, at the crossroads between local Provençal flavors, a few Asian touches and his childhood memories in Congo, by the sea, in front of the men who fished and the women who smoked the fish. Thus, his creations can be tasted as a succession of artistic bites in a universe between sea and vegetal, with spicy, smoked, roasted notes and flowers! If this is possible, it is an experience to live at least once in a lifetime. Finally, the service was impeccable and dynamic.

I am always fascinated by the creativity, but at the same time the mastery of balance, both absolute of the great chefs, and the quantity of preparations that this requires. To give you an idea, here's the menu and its phenomenal amount of preparations (by the way, if anyone can decipher Alexandre Mazzia's word in the second line, after "et HAPPY...", don't hesitate to tell me! :-) ) :

Two anecdotes to finish:

- The chef Alexandre Mazzia, former basketball player, will cook for the athletes during the 2024 Olympic Games and it is from Marseille that the Olympic flame will start its French journey!

- What was not our idea, directly after this big meal, in dress and suit under 35 degrees, to go up on foot to Notre-Dame de la Garde. But, the game was worth the candle... And so I come naturally to what you should discover during your stay in Marseille!


3. What to discover during your stay in Marseille?

The order indicated here is not an order of preference, but the order in which we visited Marseille!

=> Take a walk from the hotel Les Bords de Mer to the emblematic Old Port and Fort Saint-Jean!

From the hotel Les Bords de Mer, you can walk to the Old Port in about 30 minutes. The itinerary will take you past the mythical Plage des Catalans, which was quite full when we came in June 2022, but which we still enjoyed for a pleasant swim. You will then pass in front of the entrance of the famous "Cercle des Nageurs de Marseille" (which can be seen from the hotel) and, who knows, maybe you will have the chance to meet one of our French athletes?

Then, a short walk awaits you to the emblematic Old Port with its fishing boats, its ferries, its fish market every morning, its terraces, and also its intriguing giant mirror ceiling: the Ombrière. Indeed, designed by British architect Norman Foster, this mirror reflects the comings and goings of pedestrians, protects from the sun and is a meeting place. You will also see around the Old Port the National Theater of Marseille, the Criée, or the Club Pernod Ricard, a private club and reception room owned by the inventor of the famous little yellow drink, pastis!

Finally, if you continue the tour of the Old Port, you will arrive at Fort Saint-Jean, a 17th century military fortress, allowing a visit of 8 centuries of Marseille's history under the open sky with its suspended botanical gardens and its sublime panoramas on the city of Marseille! There are also exhibition rooms inside the Fort.

=> Visit the unmissable Mucem: the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean!

Mucem, opened in 2013, is the first major national museum dedicated to the civilizations of the Mediterranean basin for the 21st century. The Mucem is divided into 3 distinct sites: the J4 (the museum in photos above, in its sublime concrete lacework), the Fort Saint-Jean and the Conservation and Resource Center (CCR), located at the Belle de Mai. I will speak below only about the J4 which is the heart of the Mucem!

The J4 is linked to Fort Saint-Jean by a footbridge with an impressive view of the city, a nice link between history and the contemporary world. A second footbridge connects the J4 to the Panier district. The unique concrete lace architecture of the J4 was designed by the French architect Rudy Ricciotti (associated with Roland Carta). While at the J4, you can walk on the roof terrace, enjoy the sun loungers or a drink, as well as go up and down the floors via the outdoor ramps around the building, allowing you to enjoy the play of light and shadow.

Inside the J4, there are two levels of exhibition spaces. The floor 0 is dedicated to permanent exhibitions, while floor 2 is dedicated to temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibitions are "Connectivities", dedicated to the history of the great Mediterranean port cities of the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as "The grand Meze", dedicated to the Mediterranean diet. For example, in terms of temporary exhibitions, we could see the fascinating exhibition devoted to the Emir Abdelkader, the founder of the modern Algerian state. There are also events and conferences.

The J4 being very large, half a day is really necessary if one wants to devote time to the two permanent exhibitions and the two temporary ones proposed. Finally, there is a bookshop and a panoramic restaurant, the Môle Passedat, run by the Marseille chef Gérald Passedat!

This sublime cathedral of neo-Byzantine style with impressive dimensions is located near the Mucem and the Panier district. Much less known than the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde, it is nevertheless the real cathedral of Marseille and its history is just as interesting.

Indeed, it is the only cathedral to have been built in France in the 19th century. Its construction was decided at a time of strong economic and demographic development for Marseille. It is located in a place where several religious buildings were already standing in the past, at the entrance of the autonomous port of Marseille, on the passage of the boats, as a sign of prosperity for the city. The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid on September 26, 1852 by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. Its construction was completed in 1893, after 40 years of construction followed by 3 successive architects, including the same architect as for the "Bonne Mère": Henri-Jacques Espérandieu. This monumental building, of equivalent size to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, can accommodate up to 3000 people. It must reflect the importance of the second city and the first port of France. Its Byzantine-inspired facade, which reflects the multicultural face of Marseille, in white Carrara marble and green Florence stone is rich, as is its interior (marble, porphyry, mosaics, statues, stained glass, etc.).

=> Stroll in the Panier district, the oldest district of Marseille!

The name of this district comes from an inn with a basket as a sign. The Panier district is the ideal place in Marseille to stroll and get lost in the middle of its narrow and colorful streets, its designer and artisan stores, its café terraces, its many inscriptions on the walls, etc.

Moreover, we did not do it, but it is possible to discover the Centre de la Vieille Charité, which is a building of the XVIIth century, hospice of poor people during centuries, until its restoration and its transformation into a multidisciplinary center with scientific and cultural vocation of the City of Marseille.

Finally, a gourmet recommendation to discover an original flavor of ice cream: Vanille Noire, an ice cream shop located at 15 rue Caisserie, which, as its name indicates, offers an ice cream with a black vanilla flavor, a high-end vanilla with a black color and a slightly salty / iodized taste! Note that the other flavors are just as delicious (raspberry, an absolute delight!). You can sit in the shade.

=> Go upstairs to visit the "Good Mother", the protector of all the people of Marseille, and enjoy the 360° panorama!

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde is the most visited monument in Marseille. The basilica is so called because it is located on the hill of La Garde (formerly an ideal surveillance point for spotting ships arriving in the harbor), at an altitude of 150 meters. You can get there on foot (as we did, but it climbs and it can get hot quickly in summer) or more comfortably by car, with the bus 60 from the Mucem or with the little tourist train from the Vieux-Port (there was a funicular to get there between 1892 and 1967, but it was stopped because of the competition from the car).

This basilica of Romano-Byzantine style was built between 1853 and 1864, under the orders of the architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu. And it is as beautiful outside as inside! On the outside, it is made of white and green stones and is crowned by the imposing 11-meter high gilded copper statue of the Virgin and Child, made by the goldsmith Christofle. As you can imagine, the Virgin's gaze is turned towards the sea and she presents her Child to the world. Her statue can be seen from the four corners of the city. For the anecdote, this statue is hollow, there is moreover an interior staircase closed to the public allowing to reach its eyes. The interior of the basilica is made from an alternation of white marble from Carrara and red marble from Brignoles, with many mosaics. You will also see many models of ships hanging, ex-voto underlining the attachment of the sailors to the basilica. When you come out of the basilica, you can enjoy a magnificent 360 degree panorama on the whole city of Marseille. An absolute must-see!

=> Enjoy my favorite picturesque village: the small Provencal fishermen's village, "le Vallon des Auffes"!

Just a few steps from the hotel Les Bords de Mer, going down the Corniche Kennedy, you will pass near the Monument to the dead of the Eastern Army and the distant lands. You will then have to go down a row of stairs under this monument to discover the Vallon des Auffes. While you were still a few seconds before in the second largest city of France, you find yourself in a small postcard port of 200 inhabitants, nestled under the Corniche viaduct, with its pointus (typical fishing boats of Provence), its colorful fishermen's houses (also called "cabanons"), its bars and its famous restaurants ("Chez Fonfon" for a bouillabaisse, "Chez Jeannot" for a pizza or "L'Epuisette" for a gastronomic address). You can also swim in a seawater "pool" and/or enjoy a sublime sunset on the sea. Last piece of information: the Vallon des Auffes is called like that because of the ropes of the boats and the fishing nets whose fiber is called "auffo" in Provençal. Indeed, the rope makers settled there two hundred years ago. In short, a mythical place with a soul of yesteryear, to be discovered to appreciate and enjoy its conviviality!

=> Discover the museum dedicated to the Cosquer Mediterranean cave, the "underwater Lascaux"!

We were quite lucky during our stay in Marseille, I'll explain why! By chance, our stay in the Phocaean city ended on the day of the opening of the museum dedicated to the Cosquer cave (June 4th 2022). We had heard in the past about the fascinating history of this cave and its discovery and we absolutely wanted to discover this museum where the replica of the cave is located. We took our tickets and had the chance to see Henri Cosquer, the discoverer of the cave (in the turquoise blue shirt in the center of the last picture) during our visit of the museum.

Briefly, what is the fascinating story of this cave and its discovery? In 1985, Henri Cosquer, an experienced scuba diver with a passion for the underwater world, went diving in the Calanques of Marseilles and discovered, at a depth of 36 meters, a cavity dug into the rock face that he decided to explore. In stages, he managed to go up the long gut of nearly 175 meters long which led him to the room of a 30,000 year old treasure: more than 480 works painted or engraved on the rock, penguins, deer, ibex, bison but also handprints, or even traces of fire. Whereas the law obliges him to declare without delay this type of discovery for its preservation, he reserves it for a long time in order to deepen his discovery. But, the rumor of an "underwater Lascaux" circulates and attracts divers. Three of them died in the tunnel leading to the cave. Marked by this tragedy, Henri Cosquer finally made his discovery official with the authorities in 1991. The cave, authenticated as a major prehistoric site, now bears his name and its entrance, secured by a gate, is now reserved for scientific teams who have continued to study it ever since. Unfortunately, because of the rise in water level, this cave is doomed to disappear, some of the paintings being already partially submerged, hence the need to restore it and share it with the general public.

The Cosquer Méditerranée museum is located in the Villa Méditerranée, right next to the Mucem. The visit begins in a diving club atmosphere, the same one where Henri Cosquer was preparing. Then, you take an elevator simulating a diving chamber, taking you to level -2. From there, you start with a headset the 35-minute immersive journey within the reconstructed cave. It should be noted that this course is accessible to all since it is done seated in small vehicles containing a maximum of six people at a time and which follow one another. At the exit, you can watch in a cinema a documentary on the discovery of the cave. Then, finally, you have access on level 3 to the Mediterranean Gallery to learn more about our ancestors and their way of life. I must say that I was afraid of heights because some of the walls of the floor were entirely made of glass so that I could see underneath :-) The total visit of the museum lasts about 2 hours. On the spot, you will find something to eat, lockers and a store. To discover absolutely!


4. What souvenirs should you bring back from Marseille?

Below I detail three suggestions that we brought back ourselves!

=> A set of petanque balls from the Marseille manufacturer La Boule Bleue...

First of all, you should know that Félix Rofritsch created the first studded wooden pétanque ball in Marseille in 1904, which marked the beginning of the adventure. Today, it is the fourth Rofritsch generation that manages this family business, whose name became the Boule Bleue in 1947. Today, they are still located in Marseille and offer approved petanque balls, collectors or leisure balls, which are customizable and guaranteed for 5 years.

So, when we were walking in the Panier district, my eye was drawn to this blue store that I had heard about and I suggested to my husband that we go in. He told the saleswoman that he was picking up an order and gave his name. I laughed, thinking it was a joke, but when the saleswoman went to the back of the store to get the order, I understood that he had planned everything! He had indeed pre-ordered two sets of three personalized and engraved balls. Indeed, you can choose the diameter, the weight, the stripe and put an engraving on it. We then inaugurated these balls in Brussels (go figure!), on the petanque courts in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. So now you know that my husband is a petanque fan... And, last advice for the road: don't forget to take into account the weight that this purchase will represent in your suitcase back home (knowing that a petanque ball approved for competitions weighs between 650 and 800 grams) :-)

=> A must: Marseille soap in solid cube/liquid/shavings...

No trip to Marseille without bringing back some of this soap whose authentic composition must be based on vegetable oils (traditionally olive oil), water, vegetable glycerin, sea salt and soda, without additives or animal fats. By the way, did you know that the composition of Marseille soap is inspired by the Syrian soap of Aleppo, based on olive and laurel oils? Following the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the method of making this soap was brought back to Europe and, in particular, to Marseille, which then had the raw materials necessary for its manufacture, which developed from the 15th century. In 1688, Colbert, Louis XIV's general controller of finances, specified in an edict that Marseille soap must be made with olive oil from the Marseille region. Then, in 1906, the mention "Extra pure 72% of oil" is defined to guarantee the quality of the soap. But, today, the term "Marseille soap" is not a controlled origin appellation, hence the sometimes misleading and abusive use of this term on some products...

So, we have to admit that we never know where to buy real Marseille soap when visiting the city, in the middle of all the tourist stores. So, only one recommendation in the Panier district: the authentic and perfumed store, 72% Pétanque, which offers a very large choice of soaps of various sizes, colors and smells, all at very reasonable prices and with a pleasant welcome from the owner that you can see making his soaps behind his counter. I had opted for bottles of liquid Marseille soap and shavings in order to make my own laundry (by the way, click on this link if you want a recipe for homemade liquid laundry). Finally, the store also offered a sweet and savory grocery and various decorative items, in short, the ideal store to bring back souvenirs! One last important detail: bring cash for payment.

=> Les Espérantines de Marseille : famous chocolate with olive oil...

Esperantine - Marseille - Provence - Chocolat - Chocolate - Boîte - Box - Huile - Olive - Oil - Spécialité - Marseillaise - Speciality - Amande - Orange - Almond - Coffret -  Olivette - Olivet - Noir - Black - Célèbre - Famous - Solara - Blog

The Espérantine is a speciality from Marseille. It is an olive leaf made of dark chocolate where olive oil replaces the milk fat usually used in chocolate sweets. The filling of this chocolate is with Mediterranean flavors: almonds and candied orange peel. The Espérantine is presented in the form of an olive branch with olivettes of Provence, also in chocolate. The whole is packaged in boxes with a design inspired by the Greek origins of Marseille.

This chocolate is fine and melting, with a discreet taste of olive oil. We bought several sizes of boxes to offer in the store located at 70 Rue Caisserie, in the 2nd arrondissement, near the Old Port, where the welcome was very warm and where we could take the time to taste different products. They also propose, among other things, cookies, "cailloux du Panier" (chocolate coated "navettes" in the form of pebbles), chocolate bars, olive nougat, various confectioneries, a salty and sweet delicatessen, ice creams, cold and hot drinks! It is possible to buy on the spot very practical isothermal bags if you have to travel.

Last information: unfortunately we didn't have the opportunity to go there for lack of time during our stay in Marseille, but don't hesitate to discover the superb workshop-boutique L'Espérantine "Les voûtes de La Major", located under the cathedral of the same name, in the vaults brought back to their original appearance and fitted out by Rudy Ricciotti (yes, yes, the architect of the Mucem). To be discovered, close to the Mucem and Cosquer Méditerranée!

=> There are still many other ideas of souvenirs to bring back from Marseille (don't hesitate to send me your feedback if you try them): cookies with orange blossom from the Four des Navettes, olive oil, honey from Provence, aïoli, a bottle of pastis, santons from Provence to put in the crib, etc...!


=> I hope this article has helped you in the preparation of your stay in Marseille and, if you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate, I'll be happy to get back to you!


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