Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
InterContinental Marseille – Hôtel Dieu
1, Place Daviel
13002 Marseille, France
We arrived in Marseille’s Saint Charles train station in the pouring rain via Rail Europe’s TGV (high-speed train), followed the clearly marked signs to the taxi cab exit, and told the cab driver that we wanted to go to the InterContinental Hôtel Dieu. No address is required; everyone in Marseille knows its location.
The hotel is a historic landmark building at a high point overlooking the harbor. It faces the majestic cathedral Notre-Dame de la Garde perched on the top of the hill cross the harbor on the other side of the city, affording outstanding photo-ops, especially at dusk. Although cave and rock paintings attest to prehistoric man settling in this area between 31,000 and 19,000 B.C., Marseille was officially settled in 600 B.C. by Greek sailors from the city of Phocea in Asia Minor, making it the oldest city in what is now called France.
The imposing InterContinental Marseille - Hôtel Dieu functioned as a hospital as early as the 12th century. At one point in its long history it was used as the Town Hall and at another time the Court of Justice, but it was best known as a healing center (for centuries the building was referred to simply as Hôtel-Dieu or God’s Hospitality from the medieval Latin hospitalis). Despite undergoing updates and restorations over the years, the building fell into severe disrepair and it became inadequate for the practice of modern medicine. In 2007 the Board of Public Health leased the site to the InterContinental organization for a period of 99 years… and so the reconstruction began.
To create a modern luxury hotel the site required deep excavation, keeping in mind the thousands of years of history that could possibly be exposed, digging was carefully layered to keep any archaeological finds safe from the bulldozers. No cost was spared in restoring what could be reclaimed and reconstructing original design elements that were no longer viable. After 6 long years of hard work the amazing results are a melding of the past with the future in sophisticated tones of anthracite to white and soft tones in between. Modern clean lines define the lobby and rooms and feature high-end electronics and state-of-the-art plumbing fixtures while the structural details of the façade hark back to the days of yore… a perfect example of Historicism architecture.
There is an exercise room with beautiful arched windows to look out over that gorgeous view of the harbor, as well as a massive mirror if you care instead to check your form. There is pool fed by a wall of water; two saunas, one infra-red the other dry heat; separate dressing areas for male and female. The Spa by Clarins is luxury personified with expert technicians guaranteed to melt the stress away.
The front of the hotel sweeps down to the harbor via a series of stairs. Retracing ones steps is quite a climb but for those that find it too daunting a call to reception will bring a go-cart to haul you up the steep incline.
Les Fenêtres brasserie is a plush ultramodern restaurant off the lobby where we sampled the untraditional Bouillabaisse that is the restaurant’s signature dish. Bouillabaisse is dear to Manos as a reminder of his earler days spent in France and so we were excited when Executive Chef Lionel Levy told us that he has reconstructed this “fish soup”. A foam topped glass of tan colored liquid was placed before us with parmesan sticks on the side, and while it was fanciful and elegant, to Manos it lacked the rustic flavor and aromas of the authentic fisherman’s soup.
Our goodbye to Marseille was a replica of our hello… the rail station in the pouring rain.
© July 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.