This week’s dream
Savoring the colorful chaos of Marseille
“You can have an unforgettable trip to a French city without ever stepping foot in Paris,” said Sebastian Modak in The New York Times. I recently visited the two cities that rank just behind Paris in size, and while Lyon is gorgeous, Marseilles “had the chaotic energy I didn’t know I needed.” France’s gateway to the Mediterranean and North Africa is a city of immigrants, which probably explains why people in historic, cultured Lyon told me to watch my back and not walk the streets after dark. They had it wrong. Yes, this port city of nearly 900,000 is home to crooked cops, corrupt local officials, petty thieves, and a powerful mafia, but it also feels uniquely alive, as if its diverse citizenry reinvented it every day. The chaos of its street life turns out to be “as addictive as it is endearing.”
Consider Noailles, a neighborhood where people from across Africa and the Middle East “trade and chat all day long.” I circled the district’s streets for hours, sometimes engaging strangers, sometimes just watching as “side by side, people from across the world looked over the catch of the day at fish stalls and filled their bags with the same vegetables for very different meals.” Over time, waves of immigrants from Italy, Spain, Russia, Algeria, Syria, and even Latin America have poured into the city and remade it, and “every Marseillais I spoke to said the city was better for it.” In one humble corner shop, I enjoyed one of the best bowls of Vietnamese bun thit nuong I’ve ever had.
There are also plenty of quiet and beautiful places in and around Marseille, like Le Panier, with its brightly colored art galleries, or Les Goudes, a quiet fishing village that’s inside city limits. Look for me, though, in places like the main plaza of the Cours Julien neighborhood. At around 7 one night, I was wandering among revelers of all ages sitting at rusty picnic tables outside the dive bars and microbreweries when I came upon a pair of friends passing a spliff near walls covered with street art. They were there to watch two Senegalese musicians—one on guitar and the other on a djembe wrapped in brightly colored silk.
At Hotel Maison Montgrand (hotel-maison-montgrand.com), doubles start at $76. ■