This intriguing city captures the best of French cuisine, from exquisite to traditional, with rich Mediterranean and exotic North-African influences. Marseilles is simply a gastronomic delight
Cosmopolitan, exuberant and dynamic, this Provencal city has an identity all of its own. Often overlooked, mysterious and mesmerizing Marseilles is definitely one of France’s best kept secrets, and a visit just for the food alone will stimulate the senses and awaken the taste-buds.
Stroll around the exhilarating Vieux Port, savouring the smells of seafood fresh from the Mediterranean; ramble around gothic Le Panier and its narrow mystical streets bursting with the vivid kaleidoscopic colours of the south; lose yourself in the exotic heady souk-like food markets of Noailles.
What to eat
The Marseillans blend the local flavours of Provence, with the sea, and a dash of North-African spices and flavours thrown in, gives the traditional Provencal cuisine a unique and exciting twist. Fare is simple but expressed by complex hearty blends of aromatic herbs. The most famous seafood dish of Marseilles is bouillabaisse, an aromatic stew made with a fish base and a variety of fish and shellfish, and vegetables, served with rouille, and crisped toasted bread (croûtes).
Other favourite local specialities include :
• Swordfish in olive oil with ratatouille and saffron rice
• Moules Marinière with lots of onion and garlic and 'Herbes de Provence'
• The local Cassis pink hued white wine is crisp and excellent with the seafood
• Aïoli – mouth-watering sauce made from raw garlic, lemon juice, eggs and olive oil
• Tapenade - a paste made from capers, chopped olives and olive oil - great for dipping bread
• Panisse, a pastry made from chickpea flour with distinct Arabic influences
Where to eat
The best of the seafood restaurants are dotted around le Vieux Port, in particular around Quai de Rive Neuve. Its streets are lined with restaurants and cafés. In the mornings, local fishermen ply their trade in the noisy bustling fish market opposite the boats. An amble through the Le Panier district, close to the old port and popular with the locals, takes you around typical Provencal pedestrian streets lined with vivid multi-coloured buildings. Steeped in history, you will also find a good selection of restaurants offering simple traditional local fare at reasonable prices.
Around the vibrant market square of La Plaine, the characteristic streets provide a wide assortment of traditional restaurants and rustic bars frequented by the locals. L'Intermédiaire or the Bar de la Plaine are good spots to chill out and have a glass of wine. However, for me the Vieux Port encapsulates all that is Marseilles and its cosmopolitan food culture. Lined with tempting cafes, rustic seafood restaurants sit side by side with more ethic eateries from its North African neighbours; this area is brimming with character, culture and cuisine.
Here are a few tried and tested restaurants that I absolutely cannot wait to go back to:
Best for seafood
L'Oursin (14, cours Jean Ballard; Ph+34 4 9133 3485)
Located near the Vieux Port, this atmospheric eatery is a must for seafood. Plenty of fresh mixed shellfish, hearty bouillabaisse and fantastic omelettes with the fish of the day thrown in. Clam spaghetti is heavenly. Mains from about € 20.
Best for the best Bouillabaisse!
Restaurant le Miramar (12, quai du Port; Ph+ 34 4 9191 1040; www.bouillabaisse.com)
You must come here if just for the infamous bouillabaisse alone! Taken from its simple origins as a simple fish soup for fishermen to use up unsold fish, this is now a culinary creation in its own right. Locals and tourists alike flock to this waterside haunt for the saffron scented seafood. Get here early for dinner as it tends to fill up early, and the locals certainly don’t rush. Expect to pay from about EUR 60 per person for Bouillabaisse, but here's a tip: you can order the dish without the lobster which can make it cheaper and more palatable on the pocket
Best for ethnic flavours
La Kahena (2 rue de la République, 2e; Ph+ 34 4 9190 6193)
If you like exotic tastes, hot spices and colourful plates of food, head to this tiny North African spot. Near the Vieux Port, La Kahena is packed to capacity every night. Specialises in couscous, of which it offers ten different varieties, including spicy beef, or lamb, fish, chicken and the house special - with a bit of everything in it. Best accompanied by a traditional mint tea. Dishes very reasonable from about € 15.
Around Marseilles - Cassis
A 20-mile trip along the coast east from Marseilles takes you along some beautiful coastline to the nearby pretty fishing village of Cassis. Pure white cliffs overlook this tiny coastal village and the natural beauty of the long narrow inlets known as the Calanques. Surrounded by rugged landscape, the tiny colourful port of old town Cassis oozes charm and can often be bypassed in favour of the more glamourous celebrity filled spots along this coastline. There is a spattering of traditional, if somewhat touristy eateries all vying for your attention all along the old port which is undoubtedly the prettiest part of this old fishing village. However, one that stands out is Chez Nino (1, quai Barthélémy; Ph+ 34 4 4201 7432; www.nino-cassis.com).
The Provencal fare, especially the seafood is sublime, and the views unparalleled. A glass or two of the local pink coloured cassis wine is a must. Lunch about EUR 30 – 40
Where to sleep
Grand Hotel Beauvau (4 rue Beauvau)
One of the finest boutique hotels in Marseilles overlooking the old port has an old-world sophisticated charm. Rooms are bright, awash with Mediterranean colours, with lovely marble bathrooms. Most have fantastic views across the old port out to the med. Rates EUR 150 per night per room
New Hotel Bompard Corniche (2, rue des Flots Bleus)
The hotel is located in a residential neighbourhood but close to the striking beaches on the outskirts of Marseilles. Absolutely gorgeous, and what you would expect from a Provencal boutique hotel – This mansion-style hotel is decorated in warm terracotta tiles, pink and peach hues, and even has a scented garden with a small but adequate pool. Rooms open out onto little terraces surrounding a sunlit courtyard, and boast relaxing mosaic bathrooms. , 500 metres away from the enchanting Corniche Kennedy.
Rates from EUR 85 per night per room.