This modest, stylish boutique hotel in the bustling heart of Marseille is fantastic value for money, but the exceptional service is what really makes the Alex Hotel.
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Thoughtful touches and a personal approach are in evidence everywhere and a small, enthusiastic management team provides 24 hour porterage. The hotel is even, rather sweetly, named after the owner's young son.
From the outside the location is not especially inspiring. Despite the appealing photo on the hotel website, pictured below, it actually sits on a very busy thoroughfare just opposite the main bus and train stations.
Step inside, though, and you enter a haven of calm. This might be a three star hotel, but when you arrive you're likely to be offered an espresso coffee from the machine in reception. Candles will be glowing softly after dark and there may be flowers on the front desk.
The 18 rooms and three suites are smallish but cunningly designed: some use sliding partitions to maximise the space. Two are adapted for guests with disabilities.
They're decorated in restful charcoal and dove grey around the sleeping area, with energising bursts of burnt orange, blue, lime green or crimson elsewhere in the room.
Each floor is colour-coded and each bedroom has its own individual design. It's all slightly reminiscent of Le Corbusier's cool modernist style, as seen in Marseille's Radiant City just across town.
In the bathroom is a walk-in Italian shower and a lovely, silky microfibre coloured bathrobe, also Italian - much classier than the usual bulky white terry towelling.
The bedding and memory foam mattresses are of high quality too. Extras in the room include a minibar with free soft drinks and an iPad docking port.
The sound-proofing is on the whole efficient, but the traffic hum outside the hotel is constant. So, while the rooms at the front overlook the magnificent staircase leading up to Saint Charles Station, pictured below, it's best to try for one at the back.
These rooms contemplate terracotta roofs and a quiet little courtyard where you can sit out or linger over breakfast on sunny days. Two of the suites have balconies with this very nice view. Quietest of all is the separate annexe across the courtyard (rooms nos.501-503), though this building has no lift / elevator.
There is one big bonus to the location: the unbeatable transport connections. Right opposite the Alex Hotel are the main train and bus stations, the airport bus shuttle, the Eurostar terminus, a metro interchange and a taxi rank.
The hotel itself has one parking space for guests right in front of the hotel (you'll need to reserve it ahead). A municipal car-park is just across the street. So this is the perfect base, both for exploring the city and for touring the region.
Converted from a traditional Marseille town house, the Alex hotel is too small to offer much in the way of extra facilities though it does have two meeting rooms and a small business station with printer.
The most glaring omissions are a licensed bar and restaurant, but the premises were, when we visited, being expanded in order to add these plus a sauna and fitness centre.
You'll find a few basic station bars and restaurants close by, while there's a much wider choice on the Old Port and in the hip Cours Julien district. Both are a 15 minute walk: be prepared for a bit of hill climbing - or take the metro.
As in most big cities, the area immediately around the station is rather down at heel - though not, despite Marseille's reputation, dangerous.
The Hotel Alex does do breakfast, at a very reasonable extra charge, and it's brilliant. Staff take turns in the kitchen at breakfast and you might find the hotel manager, Stéphane Serres, who comes from a family of bakers, whipping up some waffles or chocolate muffins.
Also on offer: French toast with orange flower water and omelettes cooked to order: the house special is caramelised goat's cheese and honey, which sounds odd but is delicious.
There's also DIY espresso coffee, freshly squeezed fruit juice and a small but sufficient cold buffet. Best of all it's available from 6.30am until 12 noon.
Visited October 2016
Where: Alex Hotel, 13-15 place des Marseillaises, 13001 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 13 24 13 24. Book a room at the Alex Hotel in Marseille