Luxury Hotels

WINDSTAR – 4

Windstar Star Legend thus left Spain, sailing for France. That evening, returning from dinner, turndown in room 608 included a handy little credit card-sized two-fold, with the French flag on one side and, within, phrases that are helpful for non-French speakers. Bonjour and the like. Later on this action-packed week-long cruise another card appeared, a primer with useful Italian words.  Another night a small towel seal appeared, fashioned out of washcloths, with stick-on eyes. One night it was a chocolate and olive oil edible goody. Night turndown, by the way, was clever. Whoever did it understood and respected Girlahead’s idiosyncracies (she never used the pay-for minibar, would that have been replenished, as was the complimentary drinking water, in glass carafes with day-glo emerald stoppers).

First stop in France was Marseille. Windstar offers a wide variety of pay-for escorted excursions and one here takes in the city’s symbol, La Bonne Mère, officially Notre-Dame de la Garde, atop a 149-metre hill on the south side of the city’s Old Port. It is more than worth climbing the dozens of steps to reach it from the carpark – see the building’s interior, above. This city obviously invests in religion. Despite being the most-visited location in town, with hordes of tourists already on the scene by 10.30 a.m, it was all meticulously clean, There’s a free elevator that can whisk you down, after the visit, back to the car.

Next stop was the historic CNM, Le Cercle des Nageurs Marseille, a swimming club that opened 1921 and is still going strong – apparently today it has 2,500 members. Luxury Marseille style includes sitting on the CNM terrace, cantilevered over the water, enjoying a perfectly-chilled Domaine de Fontcreuse bubbly from the Cassis region, with olives and a local specialty, panisses, 4cm-diameter chickpea cakes.

We talked about how being the European Capital of Culture in 2013 has given Marseille the boost it needed then, and arguably it still needs now – Matt Damon, here for a movie shoot, said recently he loves Marseille because it’s so unexpected. This Summer, Marseille hosts the Olympics sailing, and some of the football.