Marseille and the Calanques France
France’s second-biggest city has far too often been overlooked in favour of Paris and Lyon on the food front, but those in the know think different. Marseille has shifted from decades-old notoriety to become instead a hotbed of creatives (and creative chefs) priced out of Paris, carving their own niche on the French scene.
Its reputation as number one when it comes to bouillabaisse, however, has never been in dispute, and the Vieux Port, where a fish market is held every morning, is lined with harbourside restaurants claiming to serve the best seafood stew in the city. Most are over-priced tourist traps, but follow the Corniche round to Le Petit Nice-Passedat and it’s an altogether different picture.
This Relais & Chateaux hotel, with stunning views across the water to the Château d’If, is home to a three-Michelin-starred dining room where chef Gérald Passedat serves his ‘Bouille Abaisse’, deconstructed over three beautifully presented courses as seashell carpaccio, fish and lobster in a heady saffron broth, and a trio of fish cooked whole with fish soup.
A southern city of this size can feel oppressive in summer, but you don’t have to go far to feel some fresh air. In the south of the city, look for Bricoleurs de Douceurs bricoleursdedoucers.fr a patisserie from talented young baker Clément Higgins, whose daily selection of pastries, tarts and gateaux make a sweet feast to take away and eat on the Plage du Prophète, a short saunter downhill.
The most famous stretch of coastline close to Marseille is the Calanques, 20km of limestone cliffs towering above shimmering coves. There are boat trips from the Vieux Port, but better to hire a car, pull on your hiking boots and admire the views alone from on high before scrambling down for a swim in the azure water.
You’ll want to smarten up for a lunch at La Villa Madie – recently elevated to three-Michelin-starred status, it sits overlooking the Med on a pine-covered cliff above Cassis. Then perhaps take a wander around the town’s improbably photogenic, café-lined harbour to soak up the atmosphere.
The most elegant whites in the south of France are produced in a dozen wineries on the outskirts of Cassis and many are open to the public. The vineyards of Clos-Ste-Magdeleine clossaintemagdeleine.fr plunge down to the sea and tastings are held in a beautiful art deco villa; pick up a bottle of its AOC Cassis Blanc to take down to the pebbly beach of Anse de l’Arène below and drink in the view along the coast to Cap Canaille, the highest sea cliff in France.
WHERE TO EAT
Chez Etienne Serving pizza, but also Marseille specialities such as tripe-based pied-et-paquets, a sheep’s feet-and-tripe stew. Three courses from £28pp. 43 Rue Lorette, 00 33 616 39787
La Villa Madie This three-Michelin-starred restaurant – run by husband and wife Dimitri and Marielle Droisneau – overlooks the coast above Cassis. Six-course tasting menu, £178pp. Avenue de Revestel Anse de Corton, 00 33 496 180000, lavillamadie.com
Le Petit Nice-Passedat Seafood plates worthy of the restaurant’s three Michelin stars. Tasting menus from £153pp. Anse de Maldormé, Corniche JF Kennedy, 00 33 491 592592, passedat.fr
WHERE TO STAY
Hôtel La Résidence du Vieux-Port Compact rooms but unmatched views over the harbour to la Bonne Mère basilica. Doubles from £151. 18 Quai du Port, 00 33 491 919122, hotel-residence-marseille.com
Intercontinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu This luxury hotel boasts some of the best panoramas in Marseille from its terrace and rooms. Doubles from £340. 1 Place Daviel, 00 33 413 424242, ihg.com
Les Roches Blanches Art deco gem on the outskirts of Cassis with sea views and an infinity pool. Doubles from £583 (2-night min). 9 ave des Calanques, 00 33 442 010 930, roches-blanches-cassis.com