Luxury Hotels

WINDSTAR – 5

Leslie Cherfils, above, is the larger-than-life General Manager of InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu, a hotel which itself is life in the fast lane.  It always has been. It was Hotel Dieu, hospital for the poor from the 12th century. It certainly made a mark during the years – it was the theatre for the first-ever cataract operation by an innovative doctor, Jacques Daviel.

AXA, the insurance giant, opened it as a 194-room hotel in 2013. Walk in at the lowest level and you pass reception, above, and process grandly between basalt urns, the white walls offset by lavender-coloured bits and pieces, the whole cleverly lit by overhead skylights. Designer is Jean-Philippe Nuel, known also for such other masterpieces as the Taj in Pondicherry, India’s main French heritage.

Nuel has been brilliant in preserving the heritage of the building. Girlahead visited this time just for lunch and it was too chilly, alas, to eat outside on the enormous terrace looking down to, and over, the port. Inside, the double-height room has a main wall of natural rock, Hollywoodised by giant ceiling-hung lampshades. Leslie Cherfils suggested the hotel’s modern bouillabaisse, basically a small creamy mound of taste in a minimal brown puddle. Next it had to be an ensemble of seared scallops and small bites of pork belly, with slivers of artichokes.

The point was not only that the tastes were exquisite but the restaurant was nearly full. Lunchtime, Tuesday, all locals. They use this place, they respect it. The chef, Lionel Lévy, is a Marseille celebrity, deservedly. Now he is about to play a less-prominent role. He will be introducing his on-site successor, Arnaud Davin, and it will undoubtedly be a smooth succession.

(This is what happens all the time at sea, by the way. Star Legend’s Captain, Mark Symonds, does about three months on, three months off, and working down the hierarchy first-time staff might be onboard for eight months. Every cruise begins with new team members but they instantly fit in as if playing together forever. Windstar is an especially friendly, and familiar, company.)

Anyway, back to Marseille. Before leaving town Girlahead just had time to run upstairs and fetch her humble belongings. See a video.