Ever since studying French hip hop and the lyrics of rap group IAM at uni, I’ve been intrigued by Marseille. So, to get some end of summer sunshine, Steven and I booked a cheap Ryanair flight and headed to the south of France for three nights.
Marseille is like an intruder on the chichi vibe of the Côte d’Azur (its nickname is planète mars) due to being a large port town with North African influences and a laid-back Mediterranean culture. It can be a bit dodgy in places (we almost got pickpocketed in the old port), but it’s ancient history and super friendly people add to its rugged charm.
Being on a pretty tight budget, we decided to spend two nights at the moderately priced Mercure Marseille Prado and stay for the last night in the luxurious Pullman Palm Beach spa hotel. I’m not usually a fan of big chain hotels, as they always seem to have more properties than they can cope with, but Mercure has been pretty good to me over the years. This one was comfortable and basic (we got it for £156 for two nights and wouldn’t pay much more) but the main draw was the incredible breakfast, served on the terrace each morning. The hot selection was dubious, but there was a good selection of mini pastries, fresh baguette, local cheeses and heavenly buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup.
The location is quite far out from the centre on foot, but it took less than 1o minutes on the metro and it is just 20 minutes down the tree-lined avenue to Prado beach and our next stop, the Pullman Palm Beach.
The Pullman Palm Beach is a sleek design hotel that overlooks the famous Corniche J.F Kennedy, next to a yachting club, and has an outdoor infinity pool, jacuzzi, sauna and gym.
We were in a double patio room which was decorated in a subtle nautical style and featured prints by a local artist, a massive flatscreen TV and the most incredible bed that felt like you were curled up in a marshmallow.
The bathroom had both a shower and a bathtub, bois d’orange toiletries by Roger & Gallet, some seriously fluffy bathrobes and velvety slippers – everything you need for a relaxing spa stay.
Most of the guests were business delegates and I was so tempted to gatecrash their champagne and macaroon receptions at night (I resisted, of course), but there are probably more regular travellers in the high summer. This wasn’t a bad thing though, a we almost had the pool and sauna to ourselves.
The hotel is all about relaxation, so it’s very quiet and peaceful, especially in the library on the first floor, where you can read coffee table books and international newspapers in an armchair, overlooking the sea.
We didn’t eat at the restaurant, although the food looked amazing, but we had a drink at the bar before going into town for dinner. We had a Pina Colada and a Tequila Sunrise (both 12 Euros) from the classic cocktail menu, but maybe a spirit or beer would be better, as they were a bit too weak and filled with ice. We got a massive tasting plate of olives, nuts and tapenade bruschetta with our drinks though, as well as a sunset view, so it was well worth it.
The best thing about the Pullman is that staff are around when you need them, but they leave you to get on with your own thing without hassle. The spa facilities were amazing and there was no shortage of towels, sunbeds, extra toiletries and even free healthy snacks in the spa area. We were even upgraded to an ocean view room on arrival.
We got a decent deal at £130 a night, as a double room at walk-in price costs upward of £300, but it was one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in and was worth every penny. I’m already plotting a way to return next year – I wonder if Marseille has a film festival to be reviewed?
Mercure Marseille Prado, 11 Avenue de Mazargues 13008 Marseille
Pullman Palm Beach, 200 Corniche J.F Kennedy 13007 Marseille