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Blog, France

24 hours in Marseille

August 18, 2018
Marseille, Provence

Marseille has a reputation for being a little gritty, a little unsafe, a little unrefined, a little brutalist.  Not worth going to according to many, especially compared to some of the more attractive neighbouring cities and towns, like Aix en Provence, Montpelier and Nice.  And yet France’s second largest city has always intrigued me, perhaps since it came on my radar when it surprisingly became the European City of Culture in 2013.  Or perhaps even as early as 2012, when I read Mama Shelter had opened there.

So when an opportunity to arose to spend 24 hours here (it was actually a little less), I jumped at it.  And came away so grateful I did.  Marseille is without a doubt one of the coolest cities I’ve visited in a long time, with each of its districts so utterly contrasting you practically feel like you’re in a different city.  It has it all: art and culture (with contemporary art leading the way), a diverse mixture of architecture, a bustling, revived port, fabulous shopping and interesting restaurants.  It has heaps of atmosphere, life and soul.

MarseilleMarseille

Here are my top recommendations for a (very worthwhile) weekend in Marseille:

SLEEP

Mama Shelter

64 Rue de la Loubière, 13006 Marseille

Philip Starck designed, modern, quirky, fun.  At worst (and perhaps unfairly) it could be described as a five star hostel – not that there are any shared dorms or bathrooms – but more for the brilliant communal areas, designed for people to mix and meet and have fun.  The guests are impossibly trendy, young couples mostly.  On the weekend DJs play, there is great bar, a 4 metre long table football game, affordable drinks, an apparently incredible Sunday Brunch.  The staff are all smiles and so welcoming you start to question whether you’re in France.  The rooms vary in size (and price) but even our room (the Snug, the smallest) was immaculate, functional, comfortable but still felt like a treat.  Starck quirks like Sylvester and Batman masks hang from the wall; fun is encouraged at all times.  The price point feels impossibly low, I paid 80 euros for a night (without breakfast).  5/5

Mama Shelter, MarseilleMama Shelter, Marseille

Other recommended hotels (in order of cost) are Alex Hotel, C2 and the InterContinental (if you want something a little grander).

SEE

There is so much to see and do that we couldn’t fit it all in given the time we had. Must the must-dos are:

  • Mucem – the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. Extraordinary not just because of it’s incredible architecture – unusual, eye-catching, photogenic – but also because of the exhibitions it has (when we were there Ai Wei Wei was exhibiting).  But even if art isn’t your thing, make sure you walk through the museum and up to the top floor, from which you can access the fantastic roof terrace* (with brilliant views of the Cathedral and the port) and from there a metal bridge which links you directly with Le Fort Saint Jeanand the Old Port.

Mucem, Marseille

  • Marseille Cathedral – this beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral is a must visit, even if just from the outside.  Its black and white facade remind me a little of that of the cathedral in Orvieto, Italy, or even Siena.  It’s striking and stands out against the port, contrasting wonderfully with the Mucem in front of it.

Marseille Cathedral

  • The Old Port – Central to the city and completely restored in 2013, with the Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking high on a hill, this does truly feel like the heart of Marseille. From the fish market in the morning until the buskers in the evening, there is always something going on, always something to catch your eye, something to stir the imagination.

The Old Port, MarseilleThe Old Port, MarseilleThe Old Port, Marseille

  • Le Panier – Meaning ‘the basket’, this beautiful colourful ‘quarter’ is the oldest – and my favourite – part of Marseille.  It feels like you’re in a little village rather than a large city, with steep narrow twisting alleys, coloured shop fronts and sun drenched courtyards.  Yes, it’s a little touristy at parts, but that does not take away from the fact that it’s brilliant for shopping and small cafes, and for soaking up Marseille’s diverse cultural heritage.

Le Panier, MarseilleLe Panier, Marseille

  • Cours Julien and surroundings – If you stay at Mama Shelter, you’ll walk straight through the Cours Julien to the Old Port.  But even if you’re staying elsewhere, make sure you visit this bohemian quarter, teeming with life and dance and street art.  Known now as one of Marseille’s hippest areas with a mixture of designer boutiques, artist workshops and graffiti works of art, it’s brilliant fun to walk through and gives you a real taste of the city.

Cours Julien, Marseille

  • Le Fort Saint Jean – Best accessed as per the above. I loved the contrast of the old with the new of the Mucem right next door to Marseille’s fort, which was built in 1660 by Louis XIV.  The walk through the fort takes you through the history of Marseille (which is extensive) in a wonderful way.

EAT

Turns out the food in Marseille is rather good too.  While known for its traditional bouillabaise (which we never figured out how to pronounce), the food varies hugely depending on where you are in the city, with a good mix of French, North African and Sub-Saharan African food.  For brunch/lunch in and around the Old Port, either opt for Le Mole Cafe du Fort (more affordable) or Le Mole Passedat* (on the roof terrace of Mucem) run by famous French Michelin chef Gerard Passedat (see his restaurant options here).  For something more casual Victor Cafe and Le Petit Boucan are meant to be fun.  Close to Mama Shelter Coogee is meant to be great (especially for coffee) but it was shut for the summer when we were there, and  Le Fantastique looks wonderful too, with a lovely terrace.  If you’re looking for a coffee on the go, then grab one at Loustic.

For dinner you have tonnes of options, especially around the Port.  We had a romantic dinner at Cafe des Espices, slightly set back from the Port but on a fairy-light lit square surrounded by huge pots of olive trees.  The food and service were impeccable, and they served our favourite Chateau la Coste Rosé.  Other recommended restaurants in that area are Chez Fonfon (which specialises in bouillabaise), Chez Madie les Galinette.  A little further away but still on the sea front is Le Peron, which comes highly recommended.

Cafe des Espices, MarseilleLe Mole Passedat, Marseille

SHOP

I’m usually more of an online shopper than a window shopper – apart from the odd Zara/Mango splurge.  Marseille however, offers such fantastic shopping that even I couldn’t resist.  And I’m not just talking some of my favourite French brands like Maje, Sandro,  Claudie Pierot and Cottoniers des Comptoir, I highly recommend visiting the following concept/vintage/homeware/antique shops(and packing an extra suitcase):

  • Bazar du Panier – Who can resist a shopfront like this?  To be honest I loved all the little boutiques on the Rue du Panier, selling cotton dresses, tasseled pillows, straw bags and hats and colourful scarves.
  • Chez Lucas – Brilliant antique shop.  Was obsessed with a 1940s print of ‘Nationale Cigarette’ from the French Indochine days, but it was simply too huge to take with me.
  • Rita – A true concept store, with beautiful homeware, pretty clothes and a little coffee shop too.
  • La Maison Marseillaise – The ultimate homeware design boutique.
  • Bazardeluxe – Quite wanted to buy everything in this shop and ship it home with me.  I don’t recommend coming here at the start of your holiday with limited luggage space. I ended up buying six glasses (half price) for a bargain 16 euros, totally worth shlepping around the Provence for a week.
  • Allan Joseph – This shop was beautiful to walk through but equally painful when looking at the prices.  Stunning clothes, interiors and smell, but with the price point you’d expect from a shop selling Isabel Marant (i.e out of my budget).

Blog, UK - Outside London

Bath: An easy weekend escape

November 13, 2012
Royal Crescent, Bath

In need of getting out of London but don’t want to travel too far? Look no further than the prettiest city in the Cotswolds – only 90 minutes away.

Bath reminds me of my childhood.  It used to be the closest ‘nice’ city to school.  It reminds me of going to do Christmas shopping.  Of buying my first pair of flares. Of staying here with my parents after they’d watched me try and perform in the school play.  It also always used to remind me of Covent Garden – with its squares full of talented buskers surrounded by large crowds.  I have only pleasant memories of this pretty city and yet had not been back in at least 5 years.  So this weekend I decided to escape London and head back down memory lane.

The Weir that runs through Bath, with the Cotswold hills in the background

I found Bath more beautiful than I had remembered.  As the train pulled into the small station I admired Bath’s surrounding hills in their autumnal colours and could already catch a glimpse of the rows of limestone Georgian houses with their identical facades, to which Bath owes its beauty and its classical, almost royal feel.   The limestone of the buildings has this unique honey colour, which gives Bath the warmth that perhaps Edinburgh – while also stunning and Georgian, yet with grey, not yellow stone – lacks.

Bath's honey-coloured limestone houses

Bath’s honey-coloured limestone houses

bath

It is immediately understandable why Bath is such a hugely visited city – not only because of its looks, but it has a small-town feel, easy to navigate around and heaving with cute little cafes, delicious brasseries and vibrant bars.  Of course its major attraction – and the very reason it exists in the first place – is because of the Baths.  The Romans used to come here to bathe themselves in the healing waters – and the original baths can still be visited and are very popular.

Lovely Bath

My weekend was a mixture of walking around the city, enjoying the crisp and surprisingly sunny weather, a lot of chilling in yummy cosy Cafes, some early Christmas shopping and quite a lot of photo-taking and City Turtling around.  It is the perfect place for a weekend break and an escape from London.  Yes, it is a busy touristy city but that also adds to its lively vibe.  It is not over-crowded in any way.  And while it’s not cheap, it is much more affordable than London – which makes it a great place to treat yourself but not bore a hole in your bank account. Which is of course why City Turtle likes it so much.

One of Bath's many alleyways

One of Bath’s many alleyways

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How to get there:

A 90 minute train from London Paddington station will take you straight into central Bath.  Book ahead and return tickets are from £15 return.

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Where to stay:

Bath has many lovely hotels and B&Bs.  But unless you book early you’ll have a hard time finding an available place you like and can afford.

Splash out: Royal Crescent Hotel £££

16 Royal Crescent, Bath BA1 2LS

www.royalcrescent.co.uk/

I’ve always wanted to stay here. The closest I’ve come to this is High Tea here (which is amazing).  The hotel itself has prime location in the centre of the crescent – the most impressive sight in Bath – and is the most luxurious place to stay in Bath.  It does not come cheap though – rooms from £200.

royal-crescent-hotel

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Where I stayed: AirBnB ££

Rochfort Place, Bath BA2 6PB

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/559271

I struck gold with this place.  Brenda’s studio is perfectly located – just 5 minutes walk from the centre – and it’s in a Georgian house with high ceilings, masses of space and even with a little balcony facing the back garden where you can sit in peace and quiet.  Brenda is lovely, she even leaves coffee, tea, biscuits and bread for you to use in the little kitchen. One night costs £85 which is more than reasonable for what you get.

The lovely balcony

The lovely balcony

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What to do: 

The Roman Baths

The Roman Baths, Abbey Church Yard
Bath, BA1 1LZ

http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/

Price: £12.25 for an adult ticket

 The tourist-attraction of Bath.  Formerly known by the Celts and the Romans as ‘Aquae Sulis’ (meaning ‘the waters of Sulis’ – Sulis was a goddess identified with Minerva), it was first a Celtic shrine and from about 43AD a Roman bath and temple.  It is beautifully preserved and you can also see the curses scratched onto metal by locals during the Roman time – written to the goddess Minerva – asking her to punish those who had wronged them.

The Roman Baths

The Roman Baths

 

The Thermae Spa

Bath Street

http://www.thermaebathspa.com/

Price: From £26 for 2 hour use

I was hugely excited about going to the Thermae baths for my own little healing treatment.  We wanted to go just as Bath was turning dark, as apparently the views from the rooftop pool are the most beautiful then. And it wouldn’t be so full.  We got there, assuming we could walk straight in and warm ourselves in the hot water. This was not to be the case, there was a queue snaking all the way around the building – some tourists told us they had been queueing for an hour. An hour!  They must have clever marketing because on all the pictures they make it look like it’s just you and maybe one other person in the pool.  I couldn’t imagine having to queue for an hour just to share a magical moment with 60 other tourists.

Word of advice: don’t go on a Saturday evening – and especially not when the rugby is on as this attracts even more tourists. Also, they charge for use of slippers and dressing gowns, so if you want to save money – bring these along.

Thermae Baths

Thermae Baths

 

Walk

Bath is a great city to walk around – I love its cobbled streets, some steep, others narrow and winding.  I love the views of the surrounding Cotswold hills – sometimes you catch sight of a stunning country house in the distance:

country estate Bath

Hidden but stunning

Bath also has some lovely little parks, like Henrietta park which is good for a stroll.

Henrietta Park

Henrietta Park

Royal Crescent

While most of Bath feels small and cute, the Royal Crescent is quite the opposite.  Built in the mid 18th Century, this sweeping crescent of Georgian terraced houses are – in my eyes – one of the most stunning pieces of architecture in Britain.  The crescent is so majestic – the way it stands so tall and proud on a hill overlooking a large ‘garden’ and green valley.  A great place for a photo, I certainly could not resist it.

Garden in front of the crescent

‘Garden’ in front of the crescent

The Crescent and City Turtle

The Crescent and City Turtle

Shopping

Cotswold inhabitants will travel to Bath to do their shopping.  I love Bath’s shopping streets – so unlike Oxford street – and they have recently totally rebuilt a shopping area and developed it into ‘SouthGate’.  It mimics the Georgian architecture with a Bath stone facade and so fits in very well with the city.  The shops have greatly improved since my shopping days there 10 years ago..

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Where to Eat:

Breakfast

The Boston Tea Party ££

19 Kingsmead Square
Lower Lansdown, Bath

www.bostonteaparty.co.uk

Perfect place for a yummy breakfast, with all ingredients locally sourced and an extensive menu full of all the things you love to eat. They also have lunch options and a great Kids Menu.

Boston Tea Party, Bath

Boston Tea Party

 

Lunch

Jika Jika £/££

http://www.jikajika.co.uk/

I love this place!  You could come here and not leave all afternoon.  They serve a variety of brunch and lunch dishes, but their burritos are to die for.  Especially the pulled lamb, tzatziki and tabouleh burrito.  It attracts all kinds of people – from students, to families, to couples which together add to the bustling vibe of the place.  I noticed they had quite an extensive drinks menu, but at the time my eyes were more drawn to the milkshakes and fresh apple juices, rather than which vodka they had on offer.

Jika Jika

Jika Jika

The inviting bar

The inviting bar

Open Kitchen

Open Kitchen

Hall and Woodhouse  ££

1 Old King Street

01225 469259

www.hallwoodhousebath.co.uk/

The website does not do it justice.  This place is the place to come to for a Sunday roast.  Their roast menu is simple: beef, lamb, pork or chicken for £11.50 – with all the trimmings. And the portions are very generous.  There is also just a basic lunch menu which offers some nice options.  Downstairs is more of a cafe where you can have breakfast or just a coffee and a cake.  Apart from that I liked the interior of the building itself – very open and light, with a big glass ceiling.  Book ahead as it’s very popular.

Hall & Woodhouse

Woodhouse & Hall

Dinner

Circus ££

34 Brock Street

01225 466020

www.thecircuscafeandrestaurant.co.uk/

Hugely popular, Circus is a cute little bistro just off the Circus, close to the Royal Crescent.  It has a lovely ambience and you must book well ahead, especially for a Saturday evening as locals and tourists a like flock to this place.  The steak with shallots and claret gravy is a must.  They also do lunch with a cheaper menu.

Circus, Bath

Circus

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Where to drink:

Jacob’s Cafe

Puts Starbucks to shame with incredible Chai Lattes and Cappuccinos.  The cake selection is to die for.  And though it is right int he middle of the buzz it has plenty of seating spaces upstairs and you can curl up on the large leather sofas and read a book while enjoying Jacob’s treats..

Jacob's Coffee House, Bath

Jacob’s Coffee House

A proper cappuccino, Jacob's Coffee House

A proper cappuccino

 

Sub 13

Edgar Buildings

www.sub13.net/

Pretty trendy place to go and it is made even more appealing because the cocktails are amazing. And they are Buy One Get One Free from 5 – 8pm every day.  The bar-tenders are super friendly and do their best to create the most delicious drinks for you.  Espresso Martinis recommended!  The main room turns into a dance floor on a Friday and Saturday night, open till 3am.  Be warned, unless you have a reserved table it is very difficult to get in after 11pm.

Sub 13 Cocktails

Sub 13 Cocktails

 

Opium

Grove Street, Bath

www.opiumbars.com/

Quirky and cool, this underground bar has random bric-a-brac everywhere – from Mao on the men’s loo door to sewing machines on some of the tables.  It’s a popular place and open till quite late so recommended if you’re looking for a boozy night in Bath.

Quirky Opium Bar, Bath

Quirky Opium Bar

ENJOY

Bath

A mad tramp dancing in a fountain

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