The concierge minced no words at our modern, pleasant hotel, the Alex, just a stone’s throw from Marseille’s grand railway station, where we’d arrived by Eurostar after a direct and comfortable six-hour journey from London’s St Pancras.
“Fifty per cent of people love Marseille. Fifty per cent hate it,” he said, with one of those dismissive shrugs of the shoulders at which the French are so good.
My wife and I? Loved it. Love the heat. Loved the bustle. Loved the sense that this was a place with its area of great charm, but was, at heart, a sometimes shabby and dirty working city with vibrancy and energy.
And also a great for scene. Here are my three recommendations of places to eat when you visit to get a sense of the city.
Among THE places the eat boullibaisse – that garlicky, powerfully flavoured seafood stew that is the cornerstone of Marseille cuisine. Expect to pay a hefty 60 euros a head for the dish. But this is a classy, upmarket place with a great history and a fantastic view over the Old Port. Plus you’ll get amuse bouche such as thin slices of toast topped with truffles.
12 Quai du Port, Old Port.
LE CLANS DES CIGALLES
A small place in a small and shaded side street in the atmospheric old quarter of Le Panier. The kitchen’s tiny, the menu is small but ingredients are local and organic and it’s a place that takes a real pride in the quality. A plate of simply steamed vegetables, chunk of gloriously meaty cod, waxy new potatoes and vampire-repelling garlic mayonnaise made a fabulous lunch with iced rosé wine.
8 Rue de Petit Puit, Le Panier.
With a big immigrant population, Marseille is home to some of the best North African food in France. Check out this place overlooking the Old Port for traditional fare such as the savoury Tunisian fried pastries brik, steaming bowls or cos cos and tajines and grills. Perhaps wash it down with a bottle of tooth-staining Algerian red wine!
98 Quai do Port, Old Port.