Carolyne Kauser-AbbottExploreVillages Towns and Cities

24 hours in Marseille Une Nuit at Maison Empereur

Deciding to go to Marseille for 24 hours, one night, we landed on November 1st as the best date for our schedule, but it is La Toussaint (All Saints Day), a public holiday (jour férié) and a busy time. However, we were lucky: the place I wanted to stay was available, so we booked the apartment above Maison Empereur pour une nuit.

The heavy wooden door shut, and despite being steps away from Marseille’s busy Canebière, the street noise was hushed. As our eyes adjusted, we found ourselves in a dimly lit foyer. The few seconds it took to see the light switch was long enough for a fleeting thought. Had we stepped back in time?

Marvellous Marseille

Admittedly, the road construction leading to 2013, when Marseille was the European Cultural Capital, was frustrating. Today, the road system, including a tunnel under the Vieux Port, is seamless. Several 7/24 parking facilities near the port and pedestrian-friendly walkways along the waterfront exist. As a result, we were parked and walking towards Maison Empereur within an hour of leaving the Alpilles.

Discover Marseille Learn French

Marseille is France’s second biggest city, but with a population of 1.75 million, it is about one-tenth the size of metropolitan Paris. So, in many ways, Marseille feels like a small town with a collection of neighbourhoods. We planned to explore some areas, restaurants, and coffee shops I read about in Taste the World in Marseille: Marseille Cuisine by the Marseillais by Vérane Frédiani. Please read our book review here.

Why visit Marseille? Because Marseille is unlike any other city in France or the world, and at 2600+ years old, countless discoveries await. On the shores of the Mediterranean, you get the best of the city buzz and beach life in one place. Marseille is a mélange of global cultures from the Mediterranean basin and beyond. The capital of Provence still has the Provençal clichés of pastis, pétanque, and colourful facades. At the same time, the city is invigorated by street art, food from across the globe, and an epic coastline.

Street Art Marseille Provence

Marseille City Guide

Maison Empereur

Open the door to this rambling 1300m2 (roughly 14,000 sq ft) boutique and enter a fantastical world of hardware, culinary equipment, textiles, and giftware. Regardless of what’s on your shopping list, Maison Empereur, which opened its doors in 1827 as a hardware store (quincaillerie), is a must-visit in Marseille.

Maison Empereur Marseille

Today, the shop is a department store featuring high-quality French and European brands run by the seventh generation of the family. Maison Empereur now occupies a building on Rue des Récolettes with 50,000 items available. The store is part of the notable heritage of the City of Marseille.

The Maison Empereur coat of arms includes three wolves who guard the business and the historical building. An olive branch also represents continuous longevity for the family, and a grapevine symbolizes life and revitalization—finally, a crown for the City of Marseille.

Maison Empereur
4 rue des Recolettes,
13001 Marseille
Open Monday to Saturday

Une Nuit at Maison Empereur

The public holiday meant that Maison Empereur was closed, so we were given directions for where to pick up the apartment key. Opening the street-level door, we entered a foyer and headed up two flights of stairs. The staircase, likely as old as the building, with terracotta tiles on the stair treads, has a distinctly warn slope as you ascend.

Maison Empereur Apartment

©Maison Empereur

We reached the entrance to “une nuit…” as marked on the door, turned the lock, and crossed the threshold into a bygone era. The website photos portrayed the space, but seeing the dark, patinaed walls, old floors, and ancient furnishings in person was like turning the clock back. The apartment has four rooms, so it is a good size at 100m2 (roughly 1000 sq ft), but the subdued colour palette gives the space a cozy feel.

Maison Empereur Apartment

©Maison Empereur

Overlooking Rue des Récolettes is a sizeable salon. Wide-eyed, we looked at each other. Had we signed up to sleep on that daybed? Where was the toilet? The apartment is full of tiny surprises that slowly reveal. Don’t worry. There is a large, comfortable bed and a fabulous tub for a relaxing, romantic soak.

Since January 2017, the apartment – une nuit – has been available for booking. Laurence Renaux Empereur, the seventh generation of the family involved in the store’s operations, brought the concept to life. The result is an apartment accessible to many of Marseille’s attractions, but it is a family archive with catalogues, photos, period furnishings and heritage tools. It feels like an old-world apartment that has a coffee maker and WIFI.

24 hours in Marseille Rue d'Aubagne

Dinner in Marseille

In a city like Marseille, the choices for dinner are likely endless. The city is the birthplace of bouillabaisse, where Michelin-starred chefs perfect their dishes, and street foods like panisse and moitié-moitié pizza are popular. So, choosing a restaurant is not easy. After some back and forth, we landed on Lottie, a small restaurant not far from the Vieux Port but away from the touristy catch basin. Charlotte Baldaquin is the cheffe. While there is a link to her name, the restaurant’s name was inspired by an Irish book series by Patricia Gibney about Lottie Parker, a Garda Siochana detective.

A reservation at Lottie is a must; the restaurant’s capacity is limited, and it is popular. Lottie’s decor is relaxed, with zinc-topped tables and whitewashed walls. The ever-changing menu includes three starters, three mains and a choice of desserts or a cheese plate. Everything is made to order, and the portions are just right.

39 rue de la paix Marcel Paul
13001 Marseille
Open for lunch and dinner Wednesdays – Fridays
Open for lunch only on Mondays and Tuesdays
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays

24 hours in Marseille Cours Julien stairs

Cool Neighbourhoods

If Cours Julien was #7 on Time Out’s Europe’s coolest neighbourhoods, we had to check it out. We strolled up Rue d’Aubagne, passing a collection of storefronts and vendors with assorted goods on foutas prepared for a quick exit, should the police appear. Several bakeries featured tempting Middle Eastern sweets and baked goods, but I was trying to find Black Bird Coffee. Since it was early in the day, many storefronts were still covered by the protective metal grills, a seductive blank canvas for street artists. Colourful, creative and amusing, we were treated to some of Marseille’s best street art along our walk.

24 hours in Marseille Cours Julien

Coffee Lovers

Of course, I wanted to see the Cours Julien and its colourful staircase entry, but coffee first! Black Bird Coffee is a small restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, brunch and beer. It is a casual spot with table service inside or outdoors. Two flat white coffees and some breakfast provided the energy to continue exploring.

Black Bird Coffee
92 Cours Julien
13006 Marseille
Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Please don’t leave without perusing the curated gourmet goods in the épicerie and their cave à bieres with a beer selection from local microbreweries.

24 hours in Marseille Notre Dame de Mont

After coffee, we headed back towards the Vieux Port, stopping at a local market to watch the ladies making North African bread such as Moroccan khobz, known by the Berber name of kesra.

24 hours in Marseille Market

While our time in Marseille was ticking down, we had time for one more coffee at La Maison des Nines. It’s a coffee shop, restaurant, perfume counter and small clothing boutique run by les nines – women of the sunny south.

La Maison des Nines
9 Rue d’Aubagne
13001 Marseille

Épicerie L’Idéal is right next door, and we checked out the gourmet selection on their shelves. Sadly, we didn’t have time for lunch.

Épicerie L’Idéal
11 Rue d’Aubagne
13001 Marseille
Closed on Mondays

So, we had shopped, strolled, snacked, and sipped our way through 24 hours in Marseille. Until the next time!


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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride at six months of age was her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

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