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Marseille, the 2013 the European Capital of Culture has a new “God”....

Marseille, the 2013, the European Capital of Culture has a new “God”....It comes in the form of 172 rooms, 22 suites; 72 with a view of the Vieux Port and 33 with private terraces.

Executive Traveller visited France’s 3rd largest city and it was clear from arrival that the previously tainted city has undergone a massive transformation to make it a “must visit” destination. Each street has a dynamic, vibrant and exuberant story to tell. Modernisation has enabled the city to capture its historic qualities. History is a key instrument to everything Marseillaise and the heart beat of everything from the buildings and streets to the food and shops.

Marseille Vieux Port by Markus Bidaux
Photo: Markus Bidaux
Marseille, the city that brings out picturesque images of soaring seagulls, singing crickets, charming cottages, and leisurely games of “petanque” is the 2013, the European Capital of Culture.

Marseille, the city that brings out picturesque images of soaring seagulls, singing crickets, charming cottages, and leisurely games of “petanque” is the 2013, the European Capital of Culture. With several budget and standard commercial flights about two hours away from London, this charming tourist destination has a host of benefits. Marseille is a region “bubbling over” with cultural exuberance and in spring 2013, Marseille unveiled its biggest asset yet; the Intercontinental ‘Hotel Dieu’, a five star grandeur in the Vieux Port (old port).

The InterContinental Marseille - Hotel Dieu is perfectly located overlooking the Vieux Port, right beside the oldest district in Marseille known as the Panier. It is housed in a listed historical monument dating back to the 18th century and boasts a really beautiful terrace, where you can rest after a busy day admiring the Vieux Port. Nearby the Calanques must be seen and have been designated a Unesco World Heritage. The arrival of ‘Hotel Dieu’ is crucial to the development of Marseille and Jean-Claude Gaudin, Mayor of Marseille since 1995 passionately illustrates this through long term involvement in the Hotel Dieu project.
The Intercontinental Hotel Dieu
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At a press conference launching the opening, he spoke of his pride, as well as finally being able see the doors of the hotel open. His excitement for the hotel’s future and its apparent ability to draw in people to the city of Marseille was evident. The mayor’s involvement in the hotel has been hands on; the city hall extension previously planned to lie between the hotel and the Vieux Port was moved underground to preserve the beauty of the hotel.

As a Provence, Marseille brings together 97 towns and communities in a remarkable cultural project; it comprises of cities—such as the internationally-known metropolis of Marseille, Aix-en- Provence, and Arles.


Together, they host charming villages and natural spaces imbued with magical beauty. The whole region is in full development and artists find it to be a source of inspiration. Culture in Marseille has always been synonymous with festivity, entertainment, avant-garde, and racial fusion. It is the place for museums, theatres, artist’s workshops, design studios, as well as a place to share and exchange ideas.

Events to celebrate the title of European Capital of Culture
Marseille the Provence is doing its best to honour the title of European Capital of Culture. The destination has planned more than 400 cultural events showcasing the artistic excellence of Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, under the theme: «le partage des midis». For this, it is intended that there will be crossroads of people, cultures, economies and religions, a theatre of momentous changes. These influence the artistic and cultural practices, intellectual production, opening up new avenues in relations with Europe. The exchange is at the heart of the cultural life of Marseille Provence. It allows them to be at the forefront of the revival of the arts.

Marseille-Provence is welcoming the world to the very best its towns have to offer. Urban cultures are the star of the show, extending beyond music to include sport, literature, video, new technologies and arts of all kinds. An outstanding collection of new major cultural sites will open their doors to welcome visitors from around the world.

During this initial celebration of the Capital’s exhibitions, ships will set sail, ports will hum to the rhythm of mankind and its history, artists and works will cross from shore to shore, and visitors will enjoy one stop after another. This exceptional journey through time and space will allow each one to discover the Mediterranean of a thousand faces. Culture coincides with the transformation of the Marseille sea front and its new urban and port landscape—a new lifeline between the city and its port. Against this backdrop, the Large sea wall is especially significant and symbolic. This long and thin dyke separating the sea and the city runs for 7 km from Vieux-Port to Estaque.

A one kilometre stretch is being fully renovated for 2013 to create one of the key promenades of the Capital of Culture year.
Photo right: Promenade Louis Brauquier, by Markus Bidaux

Executive Traveller's Daniel Annoh discovers what the management of The Intercontinental Hotel Dieu say about their property
He met up with an excited Madelijn Vervoord, General Manager of the InterContinental Hotel Dieu to chat about her new hotel and Leslie Cherfils, IHG (Intercontinental hotel group) Director of sales for Western Europe.

What is unique about the hotel?
We have a unique gem in the Intercontinental Hotel Dieu. It sits comfortably among some of finest architectural pieces one could encounter. It has been hard work and my commiserations go out to the team of architects responsible for the build. They have managed to keep the periodic feel on the exterior, in order to comply with the historic city; while the interior design is modern, slick and scream out class.

Bedroom at Hotel InterContinental Marseille - Hotel Dieu
Their use of local and natural minerals throughout the hotel, even in the darkest corner shows a sophisticated attention to detail. Each room is fitted with the latest equipment and the beds are so comfortable that they could easily trick the guests into feeling like a God and I hope we succeed in achieving this.

In my opinion staff are the deciding factor in satisfaction within a hotel. Can you let me know what sets your staff apart from the other five star hotels in Europe?
My aim was to get staff that are generous. A characteristic not easily taught, nor is it a characteristic many people have. I feel we have a strong team more than capable of delivering that five star experience. Staff are the ambassadors of the hotel and they all wake up with a smile on their faces, with the intention of putting smiles on the faces our guests. The most challenging thing was to make sure we recruited people from Marseille as well as from everywhere else in the world with these traits. I am confident in saying that we have succeeded in doing that.

Leslie Cherfils, IHG Director of sales for Western Europe, gave an insight into the process of turning the Hotel Dieu into the potential, ‘go to’ spot for tourist the world around.

“To me, the hotel is still a baby, since I have worked on the project for over seven years. Turning a hospital into a hotel is not easy, particularly one of such importance to people of Marseille. We had targets to reach and one was to be open in time for the culture capital of Europe year. We want everyone to live the experience and have spent the past 18 months raising awareness of the hotel. The process has been long and arduous but has instilled pride in all those involved, especially the people of Marseille and hopefully this will carry on to our guests.”

Why the name hotel Dieu and how does it translates to your guests?
The ‘heart of time’ an adopted name given to Hotel Dieu’s premises by the citizens of Marseille is a great way of describing the hotel. Every area has it own time signature. Walking through the lobby towards the hotel’s spa makes you feel as if you’re venturing towards roman baths. The spa is has an attractive surface and looks to be ample in delivering the relaxation.

Marseille has two very distinct ways of being seen; the first view is through the eyes of a traveller seeking relaxation and a quality French shopping experience. The second a view through the eyes of people looking to admire culture and the works of those who walked the earth before our current generations.

What is unique to the location of your hotel?

L'Eau De Cassis, 1 Rue Pythéas, Marseille

If you’re looking to relax and enjoy a spot of shopping, without feeling guilty, look no further than Marseille. A wealth of French boutiques with window displays just daring individuals to walk past without closer inspection, are feature of many of the streets within the Marseille shopping district.

A shop of particular interest is the L'Eau De Cassis, 1 Rue Pythéas. The shop’s staff are trained specialists in the art of perfumer. They take customers through an exclusive journey to find a scents unique to the individual. The affordable luxury facilitates further exploration into the shop’s products such as, organic soaps and room smells. Once you are able to draw yourself away from the many splendours the shop has to offer, you come across the another shop of particular interest, to visit in the picturesque city; a chocolatier proud to be the only of its kind worldwide. The bold declaration is a testimony to the local ways of being able to deliver 100% purity. The create chocolate free of preservatives and any kind of colouring. The shop owner’s knowledge and enthusiasm in chocolate coupled with the selection of ‘to die for chocolates’ makes it a recommended stopover on any trip to Marseille, however short you stay may be. Photo: L'Eau De Cassis, 1 Rue Pythéas by Markus Bidaux

Marseille has been named culture capital of Europe, how do you feel that will impact of the future of your hotel?
Earlier I mentioned the other way to discover Marseille is as a traveller looking to experience a great mix of culture in the heart of Europe as well as to understand the thought-provoking history which has made the city famous. I would first like to excuse the use such dramatic vocabulary, but it truly is hard to describe grandeurs of walking through Le Panier, without such theatre. Le Panier is small shopping and residential district in Marseille with narrow streets. Each street has its own slice of a Marseilles’ story to be told. Engrained within the district is a fantastic little museum.

Perhaps calling it small does it some injustice as the courtyard is vast, and exhibits another example of breath-taking architecture in the city. The museum is a definite Snapshot Hotspot. As you walk further through the culture filled streets, you come across the hidden, Marseille Cathedral, Place De La Major. The dense historical streets aid in eclipsing the magnificent structure. Once there it is hard to understand how you missed it. A shadow is soon cast over those thoughts as you stand in awe of the building’s beauty.

I can only hope to do Marseille and the Intercontinental Marseille - Hotel Dieu justice with my words. Marseille is definitely a destination of inspiration. It ticks so many boxes on a traveller’s list and deserves recognition. Marseille comes highly recommended. Photo:Notre Dame De La Grande through the eyes of Hotel InterContinental Hotel Dieu (Markus Bidaux)

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Executive Traveller 2003