Marseille – 12 Tips for Sustainable Tourism and Luxury Travel in 2024

Marseille. The name rolls off the tongue like a shot of pastis, echoing the grit and unapologetic nature of this Mediterranean coast city, which is equal parts a collision of cultures, a swirling cauldron of flavours and a haven for seekers of raw authenticity. Unlike Nice, Marseille is not a typical picture-postcard French Riviera destination, and perhaps not the first destination that comes to mind when you think of sustainable tourism and luxury travel. Yet, Maral and I left impressed, appreciating the robust character and immense pride of the Marseillais. During our five-month odyssey through Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy, only Napoli provided a similar intensity and vibe.

Sun-kissed and shaped by its maritime heritage, Massalia (the original Greek name), came to be around 600 BC. Now a hodgepodge of fresh-caught fish and aromas from distant lands, the streets crackle with a spirit oozing rebellion and resilience. The old port and the surrounding areas allow you a glimpse into the city’s ancient past, but if you desire sensory overload, venture deeper inland and you’ll be rewarded. Opulent palaces, bustling markets with diverse offerings, magnificent churches, gob-smacking views of the sea and adjacent islands – it’s all yours to enjoy. Remember though, Marseille is there for its own sake, not putting up a show for tourists. And that’s what sustainable tourism should be about.

View of Old Port in Marseille, France

Marseille

Marseille – aiming for leadership in sustainable tourism

City officials have a mandate to promote sustainable tourism in Marseille. As a testament, they enrolled in the GDS-Index in 2021 (an annual global reference for responsible tourism) and secured the Sustainable and Innovative Destination label in 2022. This means Marseille limits the negative impacts of travel while providing attractive services towards visitors. Tight collaboration between city and service providers includes assistance to obtain the Green Key sustainable accommodation certification for hotels (the goal is to have 60 to 70% of the city’s hotels certified by 2024), and the Ecotable label for local restaurants. In terms of transport, the municipality is promoting bike-, car- and scooter-sharing systems, not least in a massive rehabilitation project near the old port.

When visiting, be sure not to miss Calanques National Park, a fjord-like landscape that will leave you enchanted. It’s a huge draw, and wisely there are visitor caps in place, and in high-season, you have to pre-register to be allowed entry. Marseille has dedicated a whopping 35% of the area to natural parks, so feel spoilt for choice.

Beach at Calanques de Sormiou, Marseille

With a stated aim to promote slow tourism, sustainable development, and eco-responsibility, officials have made a point of addressing overtourism, both to show off less known neighbourhoods and provide an attractive service offering during the off-season. We were there in February and can attest to a lively city with all manner of sights and restaurants open for business.

Sustainable Hotels and Accommodation in Marseille

 

Nhow Hotel

Enjoy a convenient location right on the shore, while it’s around 4km to the centre of town. Nhow scores level 3 on Booking.com’s sustainability indicator, meaning it has committed a lot of finances to achieve one or more third-party green certifications. In reality, this implies a reduction in plastics, improved water efficiency, smart energy metering, and close cooperation with local suppliers.

Intercontinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu

Right near the old port, you’re hard-pressed to get a more central location. The hotel delivers luxury and sustainability, with the Green Key label and a stated aim to eliminate single-use plastics. Intercontinental has signed the Nature protection charter and is involved in reducing food waste.

NH Collection Marseille

With a garden, cocktail bar, and fitness facilities, you can relax in between sightseeing and shopping as the establishment is located in the new business and leisure district, La Joliette. The building has an intriguing background, inaugurated by Napoleon III in 1864, still looking like the palace for which it was intended.

Culture

 

La Vieille Charité

In the La Panier neighbourhood, be sure not to miss La Vieille Charité, an architectural marvel and testimonial to Marseille’s storied history and cultural significance. The iconic monument, sporting a baroque façade and imposing structure, has come to symbolise compassion and community. Built as a shelter for the city’s most vulnerable, it developed into a vibrant culture centre housing museums, galleries, and educational institutions. The multi-storied arched walkways allow you to explore captivating exhibits, ancient treasure and contemporary art installations. The serene courtyard, with its graceful arcades and tranquil atmosphere, provides a sanctuary for reflection.

Multi-storied building with arches in Marseille

La Vieille Charité

Friche la Belle de Mai

For a more contemporary cultural hotspot, visit Friche la Belle de Mai. An abandoned tobacco factory, now transformed into a dynamic creative space, buzzes with artistic energy. The sprawling complex is a haven for artists, musicians, and performers. The site is home to a multitude of disciplines, including theatres, exhibition spaces, artist studios, music venues, and more. It serves as a platform for emerging talent, fostering creativity and collaboration within the local and international community.

Old Port

Known as “Vieux-Port,” this is the beating heart of Marseille. Steeped in history and surrounded by a bustling waterfront, there is a scent of fresh seafood in the air.

For centuries, it served as Marseille’s main harbour, connecting the city to the Mediterranean and beyond. Today fishing boats, luxury yachts, and colourful sailboats bob in the water, creating a picturesque scene. Cafes, restaurants, and shops with unique local treasures line the quayside. Enjoy a glass of Pastis, the iconic anise-flavoured liqueur, or perhaps the splendid and pleasant-smelling soaps produced locally.

The port serves as a starting point for exploring Marseille’s famous neighbourhoods, such as the historic area of Le Panier, the majestic Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica, and the vibrant markets of La Canebière. From here, you can also hop on a boat and roam the island of Count Monte Cristo, Château d’If, or head to the aforementioned Calanques.

Docked boats at Old Port in Marseille.

Old Port, Marseille

Sustainable Restaurant and Food Experiences in Marseille

Le Petit Nice

On the rocky coastline of Marseille, an exquisite culinary outpost where fish is the hero of the story, beckons. Led by the visionary chef Gérald Passedat, this three-Michelin-starred restaurant has become a mecca for indulgence, with each dish a harmonious symphony of flavours and textures that pays homage to the sea. Bouillabaisse is a Marseille creation and where better to try it than Le Petit Nice. The restaurant’s commitment to sustainability is evident in its sourcing of local, seasonal ingredients and its dedication to responsible fishing practices.

La Mercerie

Scoring level 3 on the Ecotable label, expect to devour creative, colourful vegetables from gardens next door. They also source fish, lamb, and dairy from the region. Seasonality is another key concept in this Noailles-based establishment.

Les Eaux de Mars

The waters of Mars, you have to love the name. Located near the central station, the chefs work with cooperative farms to source local organic ingredients and fish. Their practices have earned the restaurant a level 3 rating on the Ecotable label.

sustainable tourism Sights in marseille

 

Cathedrale De La Major

This magnificent Romanesque-Byzantine masterpiece stands proudly on the shores of Marseille. The grandeur and intricate details make it a sight to behold, the twin domes adorned with exquisite mosaics, a particular delight.

Two towers at entrance of Cathedrale De La Major, Marseille

Cathedrale De La Major

Constructed in the 19th century, Cathedrale De La Major is a symbol of Marseille’s religious history, its design inspired by the Byzantine architectural style, evident in arches, columns, and ornate decorations. The interior is equally impressive, with a vast nave, detailed chapels, and a stunning altar.

Marseille History Museum

Next to the shopping mall, Centre Bourse, a few minutes walking from the port, a museum dedicated to the story of Marseille, spreads its wings, spanning prehistory to the present day. The best entrance is via the archaeological park, complete with remains of Roman roads & Greek walls. The museum’s collections showcase a wide range of artefacts, artworks, documents, and multimedia displays to piece together Marseille’s past. Don’t miss the ancient wooden boats in the large hall. One has to marvel at the magnificent conservation work.

Museum of Civilisations

After touring Fort Saint-Jean, one of the fortress sentinels at the mouth of the port, you can take the sky bridge over to the mesmerising Museum of Civilisations. It’s a photographer’s dream with its intricate lattice facade creating a visually striking and evocative play of light and shadow.

The museum is a symbol of Marseille’s commitment to celebrating its heritage and fostering dialogue between different peoples. The collections encompass a wide range of themes, from Mediterranean civilisations to contemporary art and cultural exchanges. Explore ancient artefacts, artworks, photographs, and interactive installations, which shed light on the interconnectedness of humanity.

Intricate lattice exterior, Museum of Civilisations, Marseille.

Museum of Civilisations

Top-down support for sustainable Tourism in Marseille

A perk of writing and researching the destinations you visit is the added knowledge that comes with it. Although a frequent traveller to the south of France, Marseille had eluded me, but now I can say I’m over the moon to have corrected the mistake. Not only does the city provide you with top cultural sights, deluxe accommodation, amazing nature and sumptuous food, it packs a punch in the sustainable tourism bracket as well. Especially noteworthy is how the municipality goes in with finance to help hotels and restaurants transition their operations into a more sustainable model. Combined with effort and intent from the service providers, Marseille might have found a working formula for the future.

Have you been to Marseille? What were your impressions? Let us know in the comment section! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from tips, interviews, and inspirational examples of sustainable travel.

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