Marseille smells of the sea, of lavender and traditions. This year it is the cradle of culture and you can feel it everywhere. From the charming side-streets of Panier, the ancient heart of the city, to the brand new museums, like the Pavilion M at the port (pavillon-m.com), or the metal structure of the huge J1 hangar alongside the ferry quay (mp2013.fr), and the futuristic FRAC (Fond Régional de l’Art Contemporaine) which provides a home for contemporary art (fracpaca.org).
From Zaha Hadid to Stefano Boeri, the best of world architecture has been mobilised for the 2103 European Capital of Culture which today displays an identity which is both ancient and very modern, starting from the sea and the charming old Vieux-Port, reflected in the mirrored sunshade designed by Norman Foster, which has turned the horizon completely upside down. Without forgetting L’Unité d’Habitation de Marseille, which represents one of the practical realisations of Le Corbusier theories on new methods for building a city, and is one of the fundamental arrival points of the Modernist Movement regarding the concepts of architecture and urban planning: 17 floors high, it consists of a sequence of 337 apartments, almost as if they were mass produced and then assembled, like a “machine for living in”.
48 hours are not enough to see all the sights of the city but you can experience everything in one go along these lines: for sleeping, opt for the budget design hotel, Mama Shelter (mamashelter.com), designed by Philippe Starck, in the trendy Cours Julien area. (It opened last year, after Parisand Leone, and now can count on a new hotel in Istanbul, with one in Los Angelesplanned for next winter). Lose yourself in the streets, starting from the Cours Julien, and you will come across little artisan workshops like Monstro Diva in Rue Pastoret 15 (monstrodiva.com), or Art-Design-Etc (art-design-etc.com) and Dans Tes Rêves (danstesreves-deco.com), which have the best of vintage. For lunch go to Le Jardin d’à Côté (lejardindacote.com). Another hotel to point out is the romantic but whimsical Au Viex Panier, designed by street artist Tilt, which is in Rue de Panier (auvieuxpanier.com), a maze of side streets, little squares, artisan workshops and cafés, that have always bewitched cinema and TV, since it is here that waves of immigrants arrived. All roads lead to Vieille Charité, the jewel of the district; a majestic, great Church with a baroque dome. Then, shopping for classic Savon de Marseille soaps at 72% Pentaque (philippechailloux.com), and dinner at Le Bobolivo (idhii.net).
If you like street art and music, don’t forget to visit La Friche la Belle de Mai (lafriche.org): a former tobacco factory which, thanks to major restructuring, is now an important cultural project that acts as a creative display site for the entire district, with, for example, This Is (Not) Music (lafriche.org), until the 9th of June, with 200 artists and 47 days of music.
Text and photos by Emanuela Virago