During the Turkish siege of Vienna in the 17th century, bakers working through the night sounded the alert to an attack, and the enemy was repelled. To commemorate the Austrian victory, the city’s bakers created a crescent-shaped pastry after the emblem on the Ottoman flag, thus the croissant was born. (Anyone know how Vienna’s got their name!)
This little information comes with breakfast at The Sofitel Palm Beach, Marseilles. The tray runneth over with fresh fruits, fresh juices, yogurts, eggs-u-order and insulated designer bags contain warm croissants, sticky buns, pains au raisin and chocolate. What a wonderful way to start the day, especially as you’ll have slept like a baby in the special Sofitel beds. Don’t know what they do, think sleeping on clouds, outside, just the sound of the surf, the muted cries of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Marseilles is a chic new/old destination. Stop off at Sofitel Palm Beach on your way to, or from, the Porquerolles Islands, Hyeres, Toulon, Bandol, Cassis, Saint Tropez, Aix-en-Provence. Like the city, Sofitel Palm Beach mixes old with new, state of the art décor is by Claire Fatosme and Christian Lefevre.
Walk into the glass lobby, which could be in the middle of the sea, amazing! The hallway is bathed in light, the islands opposite (Iles du Frioul and the Chateau d’If) invite a visit. The welcome is discreet and efficient, check out chic designer staff uniforms by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, you’ll want to steal one.
The public spaces have discreet minimal touches of Starck, Zanotta, works of art, photos reflecting Marseille then and now. You’ve boarded a large liner without leaving port.
La Reserve, the restaurant, serves excellent fresh fish paired with Provence wines (Coteaux d’Aix, AOC de Cassis, les Coteaux des Baux de Provence, Bandols du Luberon) on the decked terrace, guarded by overweight seagulls.
No wonder the seagulls have a weight problem, the bread is warm from the oven, the food marvellous. Chef Eric Guigon’s concept is to serve the fresh local catch, sprinkled with a few fresh herbs and spices, presented and cut up in front of clients who include Richard Anconnina, Claude Chabrol and maybe Zizou! Work off calories in the massive pool, filled with thermal water which cascades down an inner wall of the hotel.
Marseilles grew up around the Old Port, the story goes that Greek sailors founded the original city in 600BC, called it Massalia, then set up trading posts in Hyeres, Antibes and Nice. To-day it’s mostly about culture, eating, shop ‘til you drop, taking in the fish market La Canebiere, the many daily street markets, and bargain hunting for oils, soaps, antiques. The monuments are monumental, every time you look up something exciting catches the eye. It’s like the Sofitel, the mix of the old and the new that grabs you.
You’ll want to buy and drink Pastis, after which you’ll see cows at various points in the city. It’s not the pastis playing tricks, it’s “CowParade” which Marseilles hosts this summer. Local artists work on 70 fibre- glass cows in various colourful original ways, at the end of the season they are rounded up and auctioned, the proceeds go to children’s hospitals. (www.marseilleandcow.com)
Visit Stade Velodrome in case Zizou is lurking about and head out to Les Calanques (cliffs and coves) which will blow your mind with their beauty.
Corbusier’s design for the Cité Radieuse you’ll love or hate. Without a reservation you can see the bunker like building from the surrounding gardens. Try smiling at the guardien, he’ll probably let you take the lift to the ninth floor, enjoy the views from the roof terrace. By appointment, arrange to see an apartment (you have to pay 5€) preserved and furnished as it was in the 1950’s.
Or, arrange a visit via Alban and Dominique Gérardin who own Hotel Le Corbusier. Yes, you can stay, eat in the restaurant/bar, “The Belly of the Architect”.
“Part of Le Corbusier’s vision of communal living in the building was an area of “spare rooms” that could be rented for visitors: this is now the Hotel Corbusier”, explains Alban Géradin a not over-friendly man who, with his not over friendly wife, has owned the place for four years. It’s not the Hilton (or the Sofitel) it’s mostly frequented by architect afficionadoes and excited schoolteachers in Birkenstocks. But, if you like Corbu, it’s almost spiritual to walk around see original chairs, architects plans, furniture. The Géradins are not phonies, “we’re not Group Accor, we don’t need the faux smile or welcome, we’re here to keep Corbu’s vision of communal living alive, “I have given you a diamond, use it”, he said”.
Sofitel Palm Beach, Marseilles,
And La Reserve Restaurant.
200 Corniche John F. Kennedy,
T: 04 91 16 19 00
T: 04 91 16 78 00
Le Petit Nice, Gerard Passedat,
Anse de Maledormé, Corniche Kennedy,
T: 04 91 59 25 92
Une Table Au Sud, Lionel Levy,
2 quai du Port,
T: 04 91 90 63 53
Creperie du Prado,
2, place Amiral Muselier,
T: 04 91 76 63 93
12 quai du Port,
T: 04 91 91 10 40
140 Vallon des auffes,
T: 04 91 52 14 38
La Villa Madie,
Avenue de Revestel,
Anse de Corton,
T: 04 96 18 00 00
La Maison du Pastis,
108 Quai du Port
T: 04 91 90 86 77