The plea­sure of be­ing lost in Mar­seille

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MAR­GARET KEMP

If you haven’t been lost in Mar­seille then you can’t have been there. As Alexan­dre Du­mas wrote, this is a place that is “al­ways get­ting younger as it grows older’’.

But while you’ll cer­tainly be lost at some point, you won’t be stuck and you won’t be bored. You can me­an­der through the 16 con­trast­ing neigh­bour­hoods, or cross the town eas­ily via metro, bus, bike, tram or even Le pe­tit train de Mar­seille — the Mar­seille fun train. Head straight to the Old Port (600BC) where Foster and Part­ners’ mir­rored canopy (2013AD) gleams in the hot sun, then up the hill to the lovely, listed In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel Dieu, which has great views, a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant and a Clar­ins spa, but which from 1188 un­til 1993 served as the city’s main hos­pi­tal.

For those on a tighter bud­get, there is Mama Shel­ter (de­signed by Philippe Starck) in St Julien, the arty 6th ar­rondisse­ment. Mama’s con­cept is of a place where friends gather around a scrubbed pine ta­ble, or in the walled gar­den, to eat, drink and meet peo­ple. Out­side, the state-ofthe-art build­ing fea­tures a statue of Saint Vic­tor, the pa­tron saint of Mar­seille, who protects all who pass.

The shabby-chic Panier dis­trict, be­hind the In­ter­Con- tinen­tal, was the head­quar­ters of re­sis­tance fighters dur­ing World War II. The Nazis bombed sec­tions of Panier but much of it re­mains and has been ren­o­vated with the help of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. Af­ter you’ve fin­ished ex­plor­ing (the art scene is pretty good at the mo­ment), I can rec­om­mend a Pernod in the Bar des 13 Coins.

Of course, no visit is com­plete with­out a bouil­l­abaisse fix. Orig­i­nally a fish stew made by fish­er­man to use up mar­ket scraps, to­day it’s up there with the gas­tro­nomic lips­mack­ers, com­plete with its own Charte de la Bouil­l­abaisse Mar­seil­laise. Re­serve a ta­ble at restau­rant Chez Fon­fon for the au­then­tic real deal, or try Le Pe­tit Nice where bouil­l­abaisse is re­vised by three-star Miche­lin chef Gérald Passé­dat, whose mod­ern spin is in­flu­enced by his grand­mother’s recipe, Provence and the mis­tral. If you can’t snag a ta­ble there, stalk Passé­dat to the rooftop of the mag­nif­i­cent Rudy Ric­ciotti-de­signed Mu­seum of the Civil­i­sa­tion of Europe and the Mediter­ranean, where he re­cently set up a more ac­ces­si­ble eatery.

Walk Les Calan­ques, get lost in the old streets, sun­tan and schmooze at Le Sport Beach. You can also stock up on fra­grant Savon de Mar­seille soap in the bou­tiques around the Old Port, and gasp at the $14 mil­lion trans­for­ma­tion to the sprawl­ing for­mer rooftop gym of Le Cor­bus­ier’s 1952 iconic Cité Radieuse. As you leave Mar­seille, ad­mire the gi­ant sculp­ture by César Bal­dac­cini. A cast of the artist’s thumb, it rep­re­sents the hitch­hik­ing sym­bol. To touch it means you’ll re­turn — soon.

THE SPEC­TA­TOR

• mar­seille-tourism.com

The Old Port dis­trict of Mar­seille

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