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Experience the Renaissance of Marseille on Your French Yacht Charter

Let’s get what must be said out of the way early. Marseille—that maligned, magnificent port city—is rarely included on a French luxury yacht charter itinerary, with the majority of charter yachts floating down the coast as far as St Tropez, before turning back to cruise back up the French Riviera to glittering Cannes and Monaco.

Yet what are yacht charter guests missing by not venturing a little further down the Var coast to Marseille? A whole lot, as it happens. Marseille is located on one of the wildest, most magnificent stretches of coastline in the Mediterranean: a region of towering limestone cliffs and turquoise fjords, Caribbean-like islands, and ancient villages surrounded by rolling vineyards. With the appeal of pretty Cassis and Bandol, the astonishing Calanques National Park, and the exotic Islands of Gold off Hyeres, the Marseille coast is simply unmissable.

Calanques near Marseille, France

Inland, the mighty Gorge du Verdon tears through the Provencal landscape, its vivid aquamarine river winding through cliffs 800m high, and the purple lavender carpets the fields of the Luberon in a breathtaking summer display. There’s no question that Marseille is surrounded by immense beauty to be explored on your yacht charter.

Panorama over Marseille

Yet what of Marseille itself as a yacht charter destination? 

Marseille, long derided as gritty and decidedly unglamorous, is undergoing a cultural renaissance of grand proportions, with an explosion of dazzling modern architecture, boutique shopping neighbourhoods, and swanky Michelin star restaurants. Awarded European City of Culture in 2013 and European City of Sport in 2017, France’s second largest city Marseille is finally making its presence known on the luxury scene, with boutique hotels and high end spas popping up in newly gentrified areas.

Marseille port entrance at dusk

World-Class Architecture, Opera, and Museums

Marseille is the poster child for exciting urban renewal and well worth visiting on your yacht charter—particularly for those with an interest in architecture, design, and culture.

On a Marseille yacht charter, take in a concert at Marseille’s astonishing Le Silo Opera House, which is housed in a converted 1920’s grain silo by the port.

Visit Marseille’s superb architect-designed museums, including the Rudi Ricotti-designed Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM), with its strikingly beautiful exterior of latticed concrete, and the FRAC Museum of Modern Art, where Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has created an incredible façade of refracting glass and enamel, which glints and shimmers across the city in the fabled southern light.

Mucem museum in Marseille, France

The old port of Marseille has enjoyed a magnificent redesign, with the superb Villa Mediterranee cantilevered over a waterfront pool, and Norman Foster’s famous mirrored ceiling installation, Ombriere, reflecting the glimmering sea beneath.

Marseille is also home to designer Zaha Hadid’s first ever skyscraper: the curvy headquarters of shipping company CMA CGM, and Phillipe Starck’s edgy young hotel, Mama Shelter Marseilles.

Marseille is a undeniably a hotspot for a modern generation of designers and architects, but some of the finest architecture has risen in Marseille over the centuries.

Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille, France

The greatest architectural landmark of them all in Marseille is the immense, awe-inspiring Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde, which dominates the city with its Byzantine-Romanesque grandeur, while the Old Major Cathedral also impresses with its striking striped façade and pale pink stone.

Few can fail to be impressed by the vast sandblasted facades of the Rue de la Republique, a remnant of the Napoleonic era and Hausmann’s architectural legacy, while Marseille’s examples of Brutalist architecture—best seen at Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation— tends to divide its viewers into definite ‘love it or hate it’ camps. Once the home of the city’s poor, these concrete architectural triumphs (or monstrosities, depending on your point of view) are now highly sought after by the Marseille elite.

Bouillabaisse & Michelin Stars

The 800 year old hospital on the hill has recently become the superb Hotel Intercontinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu, which commands magnificent Mediterranean views and delights guests with Michelin star dining at glamorous Alcyone restaurant. Those with adventurous palates can even sample the famous bouillabaisse milkshake at the hotel’s more casual Les Fenetres restaurant.

InterContinental Marseille Hotel Dieu

Bouillabaisse, of course, is Marseille’s signature dish, a once-rustic fisherman’s stew that now proudly graces the best restaurant tables of the region. Bouillabaisse is made up of (at least) four types of seafood in a rich tomato, fish and saffron broth, served with crunchy croutons smeared with a delicious, garlicky rouille paste. Chez Michel, Chez Fonfon and Miramar serve up notoriously good bouillabaisse, while those looking for a dreamy bouillabaisse experience by the glittering sea might head back along the coast to the Calanque de Sormiou.

Le Petit Nice restaurant in Marseille, France

Yacht charter guests will be spoilt for choice in Marseille for fine dining, with L’Epuisette and Une Table au Sud also holding one Michelin star, while the astonishingly good Le Petit Nice on the coast outside Marseille holds three stars—a feat only held by two other restaurants on the French Riviera: the Louis XIV Alain Ducasse in Monaco, and Le Vague d’Or in Saint Tropez.

Shopping, Spas & Sports 

High-end shoppers visiting Marseille will adore the upmarket boutiques of the Republique quarter and the new Terrasse du Port centre, while those who love unearthing treasures will spend happy hours exploring the antique shops of Rue Edmond Rostand, the colourful ateliers of Le Panier, and the vibrant food and craft markets of Noailles.

Market stall in Marseille, France

For an afternoon of pampering whilst in Marseille, it’s back to the Hotel Intercontinental Marseille- Hotel Dieu, which offers a luxurious Provencal experience at its SPA by Clarins, or to the decadent So Spa at the Hotel Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port.

After playing host to the World Cup in 2016, Marseille has been awarded the title of ‘European City of Sport’ in 2017, and sports fans and sports fans will definitely want to attend a game at the massive Stade Velodrome, home of some of the continent’s greatest sporting events.

Stade Velodrome stadium in Marseille, France

History & Artists

Much of the renewal reveals what lovers of Marseille have always known: that this 2600 year old city— lain down by the Phoenicians and built on by waves of civilisations— is a trove of historic and artistic treasures. History is everywhere in Marseille.

Marseille old building and statues

After visiting the mighty cathedral, yacht charter guests might stroll through the narrow streets of ancient Le Panier, with its pale peach Provencal facades and colourful boutiques, and walk past the house where Napoleon once lived as a young officer with his mother and sisters.

Fishing boat in Marseille, France

Fans of art and literature can trace the paths of the artists and writers who visited Marseille and its surrounds: Cezanne, Renoir, and Robert Louis Stevenson to name a few. Alexandre Dumas, of course, would famously write of the city, ‘Marseille, white, warm, alive; Marseille, the younger sister of Tyre and Carthage, successor of the Mediterranean; Marseille, always getting younger as it grows older’ and he would set his famed The Count of Monte Cristo on the island prison of Chateau d’If, located just off the port.

Chateau If in Marseille, France

Embrace the Difference of ‘Planet Mars’

Marseille is like nowhere else. Locals call it ‘Planet Mars’, and there’s certainly a dramatic difference to Marseille than glittering Monaco or St Tropez – and even from Nice, another large city sometimes accused of grittiness. Where Nice’s Italian heritage shines through, Marseille carries hints of North Africa to the south, its pale stone buildings washed out under a blue summer sky, and colourful, loud markets with stallholders from Morocco, Algiers, and Casablanca. There’s the famous southern French light, but whiter, brighter, as it falls across the white limestone and grand facades of this mighty city of the Var.

Scruffy apartment building in Marseille, France

There’s an undeniable energy to Marseille, yet it is undeniably, proudly French- a place of bouillabaisse, history, Provencal wine and fine art. It is Paris, exotic Casablanca and ancient Provence, all rolled into one, with an atmosphere and grandeur (and yes, a lingering grittiness) that is all its own.

Fisherman in Marseille, France

For now, Marseille is caught between its metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly – a rising city for those who appreciate art and architecture, food and wine and history. To visit Marseille with an open heart is to experience the heady feeling of walking through an ancient city living through a vibrant, exciting renaissance.

Marseille is a sensational yacht charter destination, on a coastline of exquisite, awe-inspiring beauty. So what are yachts missing by leaving Marseille off their charter itineraries? Quite a lot, as it happens!

To discuss chartering a yacht in Marseille and other French Riviera destinations, please contact:

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