The South of France Guide

Our tips for Marseille, the French Riviera, and Provence...

After a week in Paris, we took a 3hr train ride down to Marseille. We had been 'warned' about the noise, but it didn't take us long to fall in love with the South. Harnessing a warm and unpretentious energy, the people (and their food) will forever be a highlight. A few pinch-me moments, arriving at places we'd only spent our whole lives aching to experience.

Below is our guide to the South: including Marseille, the French Riviera, and Saint Paul de Vence. Bathed in autumn light, with temperatures warm enough to swim in the sea, and where the food's main ingredient was sunshine. Take us back here anytime.

Villa Marie Jeanne — Family owned, this accomodation was recommended to us by a Marseille-local. Tucked just behind the roar of the city's centre, it is a lush square of paradise. We had the garden room, access to the pool, and breakfast outside each morning, complete with homemade jams and fresh fruit from the property.
Villa Marie Jeanne, 4 Rue Chicot, 13012 Marseille.

Tuba Club — The drive there was stunning, snaking along the coastline, the afternoon moon flashing into view on each corner. The vibe here was very relaxed. We took in the view from their balcony which scaled the rockface, the sea pounding against it, spraying us in salt as the sun went down. The restaurant was filled with young families (who we suspect were also guests at the hotel here); newly acquainted lovers; waiters with trays of fresh fish pacing into the kitchen. We could only imagine how fresh the seafood was given Tuba Club's location.

A negroni felt like the right drink to order at this place, followed by clams in nduja, ceviche with green radish, a fresh green salad bathed in lamb's ear, chives, tarragon and dill, and fried calamari. Exceptionally delicious, this was by far a stand out meal for us. We finished on a fresh fig tart, which was as beautiful as it was yummy. We easily could have returned the following evening. Highly recommended.

Tube Club, 2 Bd Alexandre Delabre, 13008 Marseille.
La Cantoche — We met our friend Mary Gaudin here for lunch, as it is one of the better places to eat on a Monday, when everything else is closed, and it was joyful! We sat outside, and chose from the petite menu: beetroot and burrata garnished in chives, fish with cannellini beans, roast peppers and olives. To end the meal we shared a plum tart topped with fresh cream. It was central to all of the exciting retail spaces we wanted to see and experience. A gorgeous and flavourful lunch.
La Cantoche, 13 Rue Haxo, 13001 Marseille.

La Mercerie — We had booked a table here, in advance, after many recommendations from friends. The night we went, we sat down, and the waiter informed us that it was a five-degustation set menu tonight, so the food would just arrive. Perfect. The restaurant started to hum, wine was being poured, big groups of guests came through, and the open bar kitchen offered us a chance to see the chefs at work. The music was great too - enough so that we had to dart to the bathroom to Shazam the playlist!

The wonderful waiters started by serving us ceviche with mango and chilli - outrageously good. Then a radicchio taco hosting fresh tuna and fried shallots. Roasted (and still warm) beetroot with whipped labneh, grapefruit juice and chive. The main course was pork with barley and chanterelle mushrooms over a green sauce. And the fifth course: dessert, was a raspberry gelato with a biscuit wafer, a silk panna cotta topped with a stewed fig. All small portions left us satisfied and full.

Eileen Gray E1027 House Tour — We drove from Marseille through the (very steep and narrow) hills of Monaco to get to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Through the tour guides at Cap Moderne, we walked through the iconic modernist home built by designer Eileen Gray in 1925. Gray's design philosophy of E1027 is masterful in its encouragement of a certain way of living and existing within a space. We were then led through Le Corbusier's bar and restaurant 'l'Etoile de Mer' built on the principles of friendship, and covered, inside and out, with hand painted murals. The bar has a secret door into Le Corbusier's personal cabin, which consists of only a bed, storage, a toilet, and desk. A row of cabins, (or places to crash or to spend a residency), we built alongside the restaurant. The interiors were painted in primary block colours and accented in murals. It felt like an intense way of living, furnished only in the essentials, but really, all three seemed to be saying the same thing: the sea, the sea, look at the sea!
E1027, gare SNCF de Cap-Martin Roquebrune, 06190 Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

Maison Empereur — This store has been on our to-see list for years. Set up as a traditional hardware store, it offers cookware, home supplies and antique French toys.

On the top floor, specialty boutiques that seem to be run individually offer vintage textiles, ceramics, and crafts from the Provence area, as well as classic French garments such as chore jackets, silk scarves, wool blazers and slippers. Everything was tempting... Maison Empereur, 4 Rue des Récolettes, 13001 Marseille.

La Colombe d'Or — This place was utterly magical - there is no other way to explain its effect. Translated to 'The Golden Dove', this hotel is known all over the world for bringing together a Provencal way of life and an astonishing private collection of modern art. Frequented by exceptional figures, such as Pablo Picasso, Matisse, Calder, and Cesar, leaving behind them magnificent works, which now form part of the unique setting. Each room has its own feel, with its own artwork and outlook. (We slept underneath a Matisse original.) Laden in trees and flowers, you can feel where the greatest artists of our time have drawn, and signed, moments of happiness. The restaurant on-site means you simply don't have to leave, if you don't want to. The green mosaic tiled pool also helps. But just outside the wooden door, falls a quaint little petanque court, surrounded by restaurants, and a stone-paved no-car-access village that winds its way to the Provencal church. On Wednesdays a small market opens up, offering fried zucchini flowers, fresh fruit and produce, and local olive oil.
La Colombe d'Or Hotel and Restaurant, Place du Général de Gaulle, 06570 Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
La Colombe d'Or, Saint Paul de Vence, France.
The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence — A short distance from La Colombe D'Or is the Rosary Chapel, designed and decorated by Matisse in 1951. Grande yet simple, the chapel is a place to sit and be still, notice all the details amplified, coloured, or simply not there at all. The chapel is framed by an exhibition which tells the story of the building, and the artist's impressions, plus a section that displays the chapel's robes and their colour & symbolic meanings.
Galerie Catherine Issert — Across the road from La Colombe D'Or is a contemporary gallery worth visiting. While we were there, a French painter Gerard Traquandi was exhibiting. Gallery rooms were filled with large scale colour paintings, landscapes and still lives, and a row of painted pots. Aside from the artwork, the building itself is worth taking notice of, and the sculptural mobile out the front is exquisite.

Fondation Maeght — We walked by foot into the grounds of Fondation Maeght, greeted by life sized sculptures by Miro. Gorgeous doors opened to the museum of modern art on the Colline des Gardettes, a hill overlooking Saint-Paul de Vence.

We wandered through the exhibition Jean Paul Riopelle - Essence of studios, then out into the sculpture garden and courtyard, and into the tiny chapel. Both playful and architectural, it was an experience for the senses. Fondation Maeght, 623 Chem. des Gardettes, 06570 Saint-Paul-de-Vence.

See our Paris City Guide, here.
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