1 Le Panier
If you are staying at the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu, it will be particularly easy to access Le Panier, the oldest district in the city.
Dating back to the 17th century, it’s set back a short distance from the Vieux Port. Wander its quiet, narrow streets and floral squares, up shaded steps and past green-shuttered houses, and you will stumble across all manner of curiosities.
Having gone through a process of gentrification over the past quarter of a century, the neighborhood is now home to rustic cafés with pavement seating, artisan workshops and ateliers selling trendy antiques, handmade ceramics and Marseille’s La Cagole beer.
You may also spot some unusual street art – from papier-mâché sculptures on Rue de Petit Puits, to peeling walls plastered with the pages of 1940s magazines.
2 J4 Esplanade
Exit the Panier district by Marseille cathedral, stopping to pop in if you have time, otherwise continuing down Boulevard du Littoral to where it meets J4 Esplanade, a huge seaside plaza.
Here you will immediately spot Villa Méditerranée, with its 118-foot cantilevered event space hovering over a pool, and the nearby Rudy Ricciotti-designed MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, open daily 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM).
The gleaming glass exterior of the latter is partially encased in twisted black latticework, while inside are changing exhibitions of contemporary art.
Stop for a coffee at the rooftop restaurant, and then cross the aerial gangway that connects to the historic Fort Saint-Jean. mucem.org, villa-mediterranee.org
3 Vieux Port
Make your way out of the fort and on to the Quai du Port promenade that winds around the harbor.
The Vieux Port, as it is known, was recently transformed by Foster and Partners, and now has a broad granite walkway that runs alongside the colorful bobbing boats.
At the far end is the Ombrière, a 10,000-square-foot slice of polished steel held up by slim metal pillars to create a reflective canopy that protects pedestrians from sun and rain. If you are here between 8:00 AM and 1:00 PM, you can watch jaunty fishermen selling crates of shellfish, grouper and wriggling eels to local chefs, who turn them into bouillabaisse.
4 Rowing Club
Follow the curve of the waterside Quai de Rive Neuve up the hill, and turn right down a rough track beneath the hilltop Sofitel hotel to reach the trendy Rowing Club.
Ascend the concrete steps all the way to the top, where you will emerge on to an expansive rooftop terrace complete with Astroturf, colorful hand-painted decking, comic print furniture and sweeping views of the harbor.
On Sundays there is a brunch buffet (€29 / $32) laid out on the floor below – help yourself to a generous plate of creamy French cheese and crusty baguette before taking a seat in the open air. (If it’s hot, you might want to borrow one of the quirky straw hats they have available.)
The Rowing Club also offers tasty tapas, succulent barbecues, Provençal wine and à la carte dishes.
Open daily (except Sun and Mon evenings) 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM, 6:00 PM – 12:00 AM. 34 Boulevard Charles Livon;
tel +33 491 900 778; rowing-clubrestaurant.com
5 Notre-Dame de la Garde
If you are feeling energetic, hike 25 minutes up to the Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral, which stands high on a rocky limestone summit, making it the city’s most famous landmark.
After scaling the meandering flight of steps to the top, you will be rewarded with a magnificent panorama – an endless expanse of orange rooftops, the Bay of Marseille glittering blue and the Frioul archipelago of islands.
The Neo-Byzantine basilica has a 135-foot square bell tower crowned with a gilded statue of the Madonna and child. Inside, you will be greeted by the warmth of a thousand flickering candles.
The heavenly vaulted structure, adorned with intricate mosaics and murals, is held up by hefty red and white striped marble columns. Model sailboats hang from the ceiling, a nod to Marseille’s nautical heritage. Open daily from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM (winter) or 8:00 PM (summer). Rue Fort du Sanctuaire; notredamedelagarde.com
6 Cite Radieuse
Hop in a taxi to 280 Boulevard Michelet, about ten minutes away, where you will find a striking Brutalist housing block designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.
Dating back to the early 1950s, each of its 300 or so duplex apartments have their own private balcony.
The roof of the building, which was once an outdoor gym, has been restored at a cost of $7.9 million by local industrial designer Ito Morabito and turned into a public art space. As well as an indoor gallery, shop and artist studios, there is a paddling pool and a giant turquoise sculpture of Le Corbusier coming out of the ground.
Take the elevator up to level nine, where you can enjoy 360-degree vistas.
Open daily 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM; admission is free. Tours take place at 2:30 PM and 4:30 PM for €10 and include a look at one of the apartments. Alternatively, there is a hotel with vintage rooms from €78 a night (gerardin-corbusier.com).
tourisme-paca.com, visitprovence.com, marseilletourisme.com
By Jenny Southan