Enjoy the pinnacle of luxury in Marseille with a stay at the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu
When I mentioned to friends and colleagues that I would be visiting Marseille, I was slightly disappointed by their reaction. In my own mind, I imagined a quaint and historic French city with that alluring southern ambience that makes the Rivera so irresistible. Instead, it was described as ‘transient’, with one friend persuaded to upgrade it from ‘ok’ to ‘pretty nice’, when pushed. Not many people had actually visited the city and much of the opinion was based on hearsay.
Not one to be dissuaded from visiting somewhere by the thoughts of others I boarded the British Airways flight with the same excitement as I had when initially planning the trip. The flight was relatively quiet, which worryingly suggested that my friends may have been correct in their opinion. However, when I arrived my first impressions contradicted every preconception.
As with many French cities, the outskirts proved very modern and nowhere near as charming as the Old Port. The latter consists of delightful narrow streets that wind up the hillside, weaving their way between tall townhouses. Impressive modern sculptures contrast the traditional sentiment of the Old Town and surround the port. These act as a proud reminder that Marseille has been crowned European Capital of Culture for 2013.
Seeing as it was a beautiful sunny day when I arrived, I stopped for a quick coffee at one of the many vibrant cafes on the waterfront. Each venue was brimming with people who were admiring the street-side entertainment, while also seeming busy in conversation. As noon arrived, Al-fresco dining proved a popular choice and large plates of conventional French food arrived on the terraces, accompanied by carafes of Rose. I could have been sitting in Nice or Cannes.
If you look up towards the highest point of the city from the port, you will see the Notre-Dame de la Garde. It is well worth making the moderate journey up the steep incline (taxi recommended) to visit this historic Catholic basilica. The interior is adorned with beautiful mosaics and there are panoramic sea and city views from outside; it offers a whole new perspective of Marseille.
As you look down on the city below, you will see the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu, a former hospital and striking landmark. This is now a brand new five star venue that opened fully for guests in the spring of this year. It overlooks the port and boasts spectacular views of the basilica from the opposing hillside.
During my visit to Marseille, I took up residence at this plush destination and it proved to be the icing on the cake for my trip. As soon as you step inside the hotel, it screams high-end luxury and the service is impeccable. The modern décor is dramatic, yet it also pays tribute to the local area by encompassing shell-themed features throughout the lobby.
In fact, the Intercontinental really embraces Marseille and makes the most of the surrounding landscape. Thirty-three of the rooms include spacious stone balconies with a dramatic window frame that presents guests with a stunning vista. The Presidential Suite – one of the most impressive I have ever seen – maximises this opportunity by incorporating a huge outdoor balcony, which lends itself well to an intimate drinks reception for a special occasion. The interior of each room is immaculate, with all the typical qualities that you would expect of premium accommodation.
It is not often you visit a hotel that is so impressive and plays such an important role in your experience of a city. However, on this occasion it proved a real highlight and this is not meant as a poor reflection of Marseille. This city is picturesque; the port glistens in the sunshine and the locals proudly note that they are bathed in glorious sunshine for as many as 300 days of the year.
The Intercontinental uses its unique position on the hillside to ensure guests have an inspiring visit. While the views from the rooms are breathtaking, the large open terrace hosts a restaurant that runs parallel to a chic bar. Although the prime spot to dine is at the forefront of the terrace, you can admire the view from anywhere. As the sun sets, this proves a romantic place to enjoy a glass of Champagne.
The dinner menu offers a plethora of seafood and you simply must try the famed bouillabaisse. Usually presented as a soup, the chef has given the dish a special twist by transforming it into a milkshake. The Mediterranean cuisine is both expertly cooked and presented, making this destination a prime location to dine in the city, even among those not staying at the hotel.
Although the Intercontinental offers a very large Clarins Spa with a musical indoor swimming pool, the lack of an outdoor pool in such a climate is its only noticeable downfall. Having said that, the listed façade, lavish décor and other sumptuously luxurious features more than make up for the absence.
With powerful views and a city that is less crowded that other popular haunts on the Rivera, a visit to Marseille and a stay at the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu is an ideal destination for a dreamy autumn break with your partner.
Watch our mini travel documentary about The Sloaney’s trip to Marseille and see more of the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu on Sloaney TV…
Reservations for the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu can be booked by telephoning +33 4 13 42 42 42 or online by visiting the website here. British Airways offer flights from London Heathrow.