Extreme Makeover in Marseille, France: historic Hotel Dieu transformed into InterContinental Beauty

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As the 2013 European Capital of Culture, Marseille, France was due for a stunning makeover –which included among other city enhancements—a $160 million plus restoration of the 18th century Hotel Dieu. Formerly, the building was a hospital and once a hostel for religious pilgrims. Today, it’s one of the gloriously luxe InterContinental hotel properties: the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu.

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Rising majestically and overlooking Marseille’s historic Vieux Port, it’s difficult to decide which is more gorgeous—the magnificent hotel building itself or the views from out of most of the guest room windows and balconies. Guests can watch fishing boats and yachts bob in the bay below or gaze across the water at the city’s iconic Basilica Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde–affectionately known as “The Good Mother”. At sunrise and sunset (and actually all points in between), the panoramic vista of this landmark from the hotel (I’m trying not to gush) simply exudes enchantment.

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The hotel has 172 rooms plus 22 suites. Rooms on the coveted 5th floor have individual open-terraced balconies while Executive Terrace rooms  on the 7th floor each offer a spacious enclosed balcony and feature an arched stone “window”.

Sunrise view from a 7th floor Executive Terrace room at Marseille's InterContinental Hotel

Sunrise view from a 7th floor Executive Terrace room at the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu

 

All share the same view (and basic room lay out), are good-sized but not huge (with room for a small sofa, however), and are accented by neutral colors and comfy touches.

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Bathrooms have sliding doors which mean you can take a soak with that fabulous view, if you’re so inclined, while state of the art showers are separate. Typical InterContinental expected amenities like in-room espresso machines, signature bedding, wi-fi, robes, bottled water, and that flawless service–are all part of the experience here as well. The 24-hour room service makes a meal or even a glass of wine (along with some of the delicious local cookies called navettes) while lounging on one of the room balconies a must.

View from a 5th floor room's open terrace balcony at Marseille's Intercontinental Hotel

View from a 5th floor room’s open terrace balcony at the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu

Renovation of the building took two years. Truthfully, when I did a hard-hat (and Wellington rubber boots) tour of the less than half-completed site in 2012, I was skeptical if it would be finished a year later. For one thing, archeological sites had been discovered on the grounds and artifacts were being excavated. “That’s the trouble with Marseille; it’s so old, whenever you dig, you find something,” a guide informed me. But the hotel was completed—and opened in May 2013—with many of those found artifacts now dramatically showcased in the hotel. This is the other beauty of the property—the way its architectural details and the city’s history have been preserved and interwoven with the modern art vibe of the interior décor.

 

A French artist created the mirror made from mussel shells that reflects the city's port history as well as one of the hotel lobby's sitting areas

A French artist created the mirror made from mussel shells that reflects the city’s port history as well as one of the hotel lobby’s sitting areas

People-watching is prime in the huge lobby—where there are various sitting areas on either side of an impressive entry aisle bathed in sunshine from the skylight overhead.  Muted colors with bright pops of exotic floral arrangements add a sophisticated warmth—and when I checked in, the multilingual staff were  welcoming and seemed genuinely excited about this new addition to the city.

Check-in at Marseille's InterContinental Hotel

Check-in at the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu

A walk to the now touristy but beautifully re-done pedestrian waterfront promenade (it used to be nine lanes of traffic!) is only two-minutes downhill–and you can catch a ferry to the nearby Calanques there too.  The hotel is also adjacent to the Panier, the oldest neighborhood in Marseille—and a great place to shop for local art and wares. The concierge helped me map out an excursion, complete with a nifty little book with detailed info about the shops.

Within the hotel, there’s a small spa by Clarins, a fitness room (arched floor-to-ceiling windows provide views for those on the treadmill), and an indoor pool. Eating and drinking options include a sexy bar/lounge and a recently opened gastronomic restaurant, L’Alcyone– which I missed by a week or so. I loved La brasserie Les Fenetres, (their more casual restaurant) where locals and visitors are welcome to breakfast, lunch or dine inside or outside on a spectacular terrace– with meals that highlight local Provencal ingredients that match the superb view I’m still dreaming about.

Stuffed fresh zucchini blossoms for lunch on the terrace of Marseille's InterContinental Hotel

Stuffed fresh zucchini blossoms for lunch on the terrace of the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu

 

Check out the hotel’s website for more information. Learn more about the Provence region at www.visitprovence.com/en.

You can also compare rates and book online through IHG, Travelocity or Priceline.

Review and photos by Donna Tabbert Long who was a guest of the InterContinental Marseille Hotel Dieu.

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