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Gritty Marseille, France, Is Now a Haven for Creatives


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Of all of the outstanding destinations within the south of France, Marseille has been probably the most neglected. But as Provence’s maritime hub shows a latest creative spirit, town is getting the form of attention it hasn’t experienced because it was a European Capital of Culture in 2013. Long maligned for its gritty veneer, municipal dysfunction and economic inequality, the sprawling metropolis has never left French or foreign visitors indifferent. They either want nothing greater than a temporary stopover or find themselves immediately hooked on its seaside beauty and frenetic energy — a sentiment that some locals insist has the whole lot to do with its Greek roots and port-town identity, distinct in every way from the remainder of the country.

France’s oldest and second-largest city by population (around 877,000 people), Marseille shares more in common with Algiers or Naples than neighboring Aix-en-Provence by dint of its history and coastal geography. Its foundation is built on a patchwork of immigrant communities (Armenian, Italian, Comoran, Spanish and North African, to call just just a few). It’s a spot where cultural movements like Afrofuturism and underground electronic music flourish, where soccer is the good equalizer and where, because the filmmaker and writer Vérane Frédiani put it in her 2021 book, “Marseille Cuisine le Monde” (“Marseille Cooks the World”), people flock for a fresh start. That’s ultimately what has pulled in droves of Parisians (nearly one in 10 home buyers in Marseille are from the capital region, Île-de-France), amongst them chefs, artists and entrepreneurs, to start anew after 2020’s lengthy lockdowns.

That the flood of newcomers set their sights on Marseille is a testament not only to its most evident gifts — 300 days of sun per 12 months and fast access to nature (the deep limestone inlets of the Calanques National Park are lower than a 30-minute drive away) — but additionally to its evolving assets. “The food has at all times been a mirrored image of its population, nevertheless it keeps recuperating, more inventive,” says Ezéchiel Zérah, the Marseille-born founding father of the newsletter Pomélo, who’s currently working on a book in regards to the city. “It’s where Paris could have been eight to 10 years ago.”

Beyond the colourful culinary landscape, there’s a booming music scene, contemporary art galleries and large-scale cultural and preservation projects resembling the Cosquer Méditerranée, a latest museum that replicates the prehistoric underwater Cosquer Cave and its Paleolithic artwork. Some grumble that every one of those developments will inevitably beget gentrification. Others see them as a approach to transform town into the cultural cradle it deserves to be. Where there may be consensus, nevertheless, is that Marseille has never been a more dynamic place to go to.


One in all few hotels set directly on the Corniche, a three-mile waterfront roadway, the 19-room Les Bords de Mer from the Les Domaines de Fontenille collection occupies a restored Art Deco hotel overlooking the Catalan beach. From each of the guest room balconies to the heated rooftop pool, travelers get unobstructed views of the coast in addition to of the Frioul archipelago in the space, home to the Château d’If fortress of “The Count of Monte Cristo” fame. None of the standard totems of Provençal design — lavender, rattan furniture, terra-cotta tiles — make appearances. As an alternative, clean minimalism, as imagined by the owner Guillaume Foucher, the inside designer Béryl Lelasseur and the architect-designer Yvann Pluskwa, lets the azure backdrop do the heavy decorative lifting, especially within the sea-level Susanne Kaufmann spa. lesbordsdemer.com

“A spot made for friends, dreamed up by friends”: That’s how the co-owners Greg Gassa and Fabrice Denizot describe their five-room guesthouse (it’s going to grow to eight next 12 months) in Les Goudes, a peaceful fishing village on the sting of the Calanques National Park. The look of the property, which was once home to a free-diving school, was inspired by Le Corbusier, well-known for designing Marseille’s most iconic and avant-garde housing structure, the Cité Radieuse (see below), with a subtly nautical scheme by the inside designer Marion Mailaender (most recently of the boutique hotel Rosalie in Paris). Within the restaurant, rising culinary stars Sylvain Roucayrol and Paul-Henri Bayart offer fresh sea bream sashimi and baked cuttlefish, while Mediterranean snacks — try the harissa-dusted panisse — are served at the brand new terrace bar upstairs. tuba-club.com

EAT and Drink HERE

After working at Le Pré Catelan and Semilla in Paris, the chef Matthieu Roche returned to Marseille, where he studied, to open his first restaurant within the Sixth Arrondissement along with his partner, Camille Fromont, who oversees the wine selection. In a busy dining room, which features work by the Parisian multidisciplinary artist Alexandre Benjamin Navet, the neo-bistro kitchen seems a chilly tomato tagine with peppers and chickpeas and line-caught red tuna with a watermelon granita, crisp green beans, baby cucumber and crushed peanuts, amongst other dishes. ourea-restaurant.com

Already known for heritage restaurants resembling Chez Yassine and Tam-Ky and multiethnic food stalls, the Noailles neighborhood became much more of a culinary hub when it welcomed Julia Sammut, a former food journalist and the co-founder of Le Fooding, one among France’s leading food guides. It began with L’Epicerie Idéal, her now-iconic specialty store inspired partly by her Mediterranean roots, and continued this 12 months with the launch of L’idéal, a restaurant that smacks of a Florentine trattoria. There’s natural wine and rigorously seasonal dishes made with ingredients and condiments sourced from the identical producers consumers can find across the road at her grocery; the choice includes the whole lot from orgeat syrup and harissa concocted by the chef to fresh greens like puntarella grown by an area organic farmer. The menu rotates every day, however the two constants are pasta alle vongole on Wednesday nights and rotisserie chicken with fries for Sunday lunch.

This wine bar restaurant from the Small Group (also behind La Mercerie) attracts a world crowd as much for its collection of natural wines, including orange wines like Michel Michel, a 100% sémillon from Lestignac within the Dordogne, because it does for its short menu of small plates by the chef Valentin Raffali. Expect deconstructed moules frites, pizzettes made with sourdough from the Small Group’s cafe-bakery Pétrin Couchette and desserts that weave in sorbets with interesting flavors like peanut and blood orange from the local ice cream shop L’Eléphant Rose à Pois Blancs. livingstonmarseille.com


When the Marseillais designer Ora-ïto, a.k.a. Ito Morabito, bought the rooftop space that formerly served because the gymnasium and solarium of the Cité Radieuse, Le Corbusier’s 70-year-old Brutalist masterpiece, he didn’t intend to show it right into a museum. But that’s effectively what happened when he opened his experimental exhibition space MAMO (a play on Recent York’s MoMA) in 2013 and welcomed the general public, freed from charge, to find the work of international sculptors, collectors and conceptual artists. His most up-to-date exhibition featured a site-specific tribute to history and sport called “Le Modulor du Basketball” by the American artist Daniel Arsham. It is going to be followed next June by the work of the Congolese sculptor Rigobert Nimi in a show co-organized with the Italian French art collector Jean Pigozzi. mamo.fr

For the art historian, curator and multidisciplinary artist Emmanuelle Luciani, this late-Nineteenth-century home, which belonged to her great-grandfather, is partly an anchor for creative work (each her own and that by artists resembling the French product designer Jenna Kaës and the French American sculptors Bella Hunt & Ddc, whom she represents). However the property, positioned within the residential Mazargues neighborhood, also features rotating exhibitions of paintings, objets d’art and furnishings with an emphasis on Arte Povera and sculptural pieces that nod to soccer fan culture. “What makes Marseille different from anywhere else in France, especially within the art world, is its lack of pretension,” says Luciani. “It’s a spot where people navigate high and low culture without issue.” Contained in the home, which doubles as an artist’s residence and two-room inn loosely inspired by William Morris’s Red House, a house-museum in London symbolic of the Arts and Crafts movement, visitors experience the union of high-quality and ornamental arts in all places from the Baroque ground-floor salon, with its pastel-colored Andrew Humke fresco inspired by iconic Egyptian, Roman and Greek motifs, to the bedrooms featuring headboards, desks and wall hangings by Luciani and her collective of artists. southwaystudio.com

Occupying a former tobacco factory in town’s Third Arrondissement, this 30-year-old cultural and community center continues to function one among town’s most inclusive artistic destinations. Functioning not only as an incubator, theater school and exhibition and concert space but additionally as a skatepark and rooftop hangout, La Friche hosts greater than 600 events per 12 months, including music festivals, performances (the English choreographer Jonathan Burrows and the Italian composer Matteo Fargion recently showcased their duet “Speaking Dance/Rewriting”) and art fairs like Art-o-Rama, the south of France’s foremost event highlighting international contemporary artists and emerging local talent. lafriche.org


What to bring home, as suggested by locals we like

“You see these colourful, block-printed cotton shirts throughout Provence, but their origins are Indian,” says Zuri Camille de Souza, a chef originally from southwestern India but based in Marseille since 2018. Originally called Indiennes, these printed fabrics in largely floral motifs arrived from India through the port of Marseille within the seventeenth century. Textile houses adopting the technique proliferated thereafter, including Souleiado. “The aesthetic is so familiar to me since I grew up with the pattern on our clothing and bed linens,” says Camille de Souza. “I like seeing it in such a special landscape.” From around $199; souleiado.com.

“Juliette [Moutte] is a super-talented Marseillaise jeweler whose work I like,” says Maryam Kaba, a dancer and choreographer and the founding father of the local dance-fitness company Afro Vibe. “She transforms silver and gold from vintage jewelry that she finds at flea markets into latest creative pieces, from rings incorporating coloured resin to hook bracelets and chain necklaces featuring thunderbolts, a motif borrowed from the local tattoo artist [and painter] Bobar.” Custom pieces, repurposed from client heirlooms, can be found upon request. From around $36; ateliercapobianco.com.

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