Marseille, the Brooklyn of France


A visit to Marseille, the (old) Brooklyn of France.


Marseille has been designated as the European City of Culture for 2013 and a quick visit revealed that preparations are in full swing.

I was on way to Le Lavandou and the spectacular Le Club de Cavailiere Hotel and Spa but wanted to get a feel for the preparations.

Sidewalks along the Vieux Port are being torn up and repaved with flat, non-cobble stones, the 18th century Hotel Dieu is being converted to a 5 star Intercontinental Hotel and the pastis will be flowing copiously.

We arrived at Gare St. Charles famished and headed downtown through a maze of narrow streets until we arrived at the Vieux Port where we discovered La Kahena, a bustling Cous Cous parlor decorated in shades of blue down to the dinnerware of Tunisian mosaics. The interior was packed with mostly young businesswomen so we grabbed a terrace table with its view of Notre Dame de la Garde and were immediately engaged in conversation with an attorney from Aubagne who guided us through the menu.

For starters lablabi-chickpea salad and mechouia-a purée of red peppers, tomatoes and grilled onions garnished with tuna, olives and a quartered hard-boiled egg. The vegetable cous cous with perfectly fine grains served with broth and harissa was superb. A pitcher of rosé and we were out the door for 42 euros.

Marseille being the setting for Pagnol’s loving homage we made a pilgrimage to the Bar de la Marine where Fanny, Marius, Cesar and Panisse (as in Chez Panisse in Berkeley) hung out.

We meandered through the back streets near the port that were packed with cafés, restaurants & bars and caught sight of a Tango group in front of the Opera preparing for a dance that night.

Our final stop before heading to Le Lavandou was Le Pelle-Melle on la Place aux Huilles where we stopped for a pastis at happy hour. Actually two and each verre at 4 euros was accompanied by a plate of nibbles that vitiated dinner: dolmas, olives, crudités, garlicky shrimp and believe it or not sliced rounds of hot dog.

As we drove away from the setting sun I am already looking forward to returning to this vibrant, Brooklynesque burg.

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