Big, beefy and boisterous Marseille has been going stylish and sophisticated in recent times. That’s meant doing something about the hotels. Establishments suitable for a feisty southern port - blood on the carpet, lipstick on the headboard – no longer fit a city with a self-image of modern dance and mojito cocktails.
So we have a rash of new, or newly-renovated, design hotels. Some of them are rather luxurious.
Even cheaper places have tidied up their acts. You’re much more likely to find cleanliness, toiletries and a decent welcome than dubious fat blokes hanging around reception. (First time I went to Marseille – young, broke and terribly naïve – it took me some time to understand why the greasy hotel I’d chosen had hourly, as well as nightly, rates.)
This is all to the good. It’s even better if you get the right location. This is particularly important in Marseille, where so much of life concentrates on the area around the Old Port (Vieux Port). Book a room too far away and you’ll feel exiled. You’ll also be spending a lot of time walking, or on buses and trams, to get there.
Of course, there is Plan B, which is to ignore the centre and go for the southern sea-side stretch around the corniche from the main city. This is where Marseille broadens out, that richer people who have their villas here might breathe easily.
There are beaches, parkland and ample bars and restaurants. Just back from the sands, the Escale Borély is a nest of cafés, bistros and nightspots where cooler folk gather. Stay in this district (I’ve included an option below) and you’re out of the hurly-burly. You will, though, need a taxi, public transport or stout legs to get to the shopping, the main sights and the big city buzz.