Do you like the idea of staying in the coolest hotel in Marseille, from the same the team that created the acclaimed Mama Shelter in Paris, at a bargain rate? Then step this way.
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Opened in 2008, the original Mama Shelter in Paris was conceived by the Trigano family, which also co-founded Club Med, and the French urban philosopher Cyril Aouizerate. And it was designed by the ubiquitous Philippe Starck (the team is pictured below).
Mama Shelter Paris swiftly mopped up awards and plaudits from the likes of Condé Nast Traveller, Wallpaper, Vogue, Les Inrockuptibles, and other eagle-eyed observers of the fashion scene.
Thanks to its roaring success, the Mama Shelter crew has been busily expanding the brand, with new branches in Istanbul, Lyon, Bordeaux and Los Angeles. Now Marseille has its very own Mama Shelter too.
The project cost 20 million €uros, raised from private investors using the tax-efficient buy-to-let business model already popular in Britain and North America. At the launch Serge Trigano told us it aims to attract a clientele of 50% business travellers and 50% tourists.
Even before Mama Shelter Marseille opened in 2012, the local newspaper was calling it "l'hôtel le plus funky de la ville". And it's a most welcome addition to a city where affordable hotel rooms are in pitifully short supply.
Mama Shelter sits in a quiet side-street opposite an unassuming little bar-tabac and takeaway pizza joint. It's surrounded by typically Marseille, Haussmann style residential apartments, whose windows overlook the terrace bar (and the bedrooms) at the back of the building.
In contrast to all this, the purpose-built hotel has a sleek, flat, ultra-modern facade (with, in a nicely ironic touch, a little mediaeval stone statue set in a niche on the corner of the building - you can just about see it in the photograph if you look closely).
Aouizerate explains that the team wished to keep a "slightly industrial and very urban" flavour to it.
Inside, the reception area has a black ceiling covered with stylised graffiti which mirror the designs of the lino and carpets on the floor.
A separate entrance leads to a bar, pictured below, which is gaily decorated with illuminated swimming rings, and the restaurant, which is also open to non-residents.
This large space seats 100 covers and has an open-plan kitchen, pink table football (or, as the French say, babyfoot), a podium for visiting DJs who supply sounds at the weekends and long trestle tables, designed to encourage diners to mix, lined with benches and some rather uncomfortable painted wooden rocking chairs.
The superchef Alain Senderens has been billed on the Mama Shelter website as in charge of the food, but in fact his deputy, Jérôme Banctel, is overseeing the Mediterranean-inflected menu and Jean Grezel is the chef on site.
Outdoors at the back, a small terrace with walls painted in cheerful yellow and white stripes has space for 50 more diners, diners and smokers, plus a pastis bar, barbeque and giant chess set.
The late-night scene here has been curtailed somewhat because of complaints from local residents, but bedrooms overlooking the back patio and bar area will experience a certain amount of noise up till midnight.
There's a distinctly minimalist feel to the 127 bedrooms. The walls are raw concrete softened by a pastel colour scheme which is both lighter and brighter than the one at the Mama Shelter in Paris.
They're compact, certainly the budget rooms (15-17 square metres / 160 - 180 square feet), of which there are around 60. The concept is that clients will want to spend much of their time socialising in the public areas.
The smaller room, pictured, has a queen-sized double (or twin) beds but no armchairs or conventional bedside tables. Instead, as in the Paris sister-hotel, the bed lighting comes from the ingenious illuminated headboard, though levels may be rather low to read easily by.
On the wall opposite the bed, a large iMac screen supplies free internet access (there's also free wi-fi throughout the hotel) and on-demand movies, and acts as a television and radio.
You can even use it to take photographs of yourself and your loved one doing whatever it is you do in bed.
Somehow space is found to squeeze in a handy, tiny kitchenette area with microwave, sink and fridge, as well as the expected minibar and safe. The bathrooms come with high-quality Kiehl's soaps and shampoo and are equipped with showers only.
All in all, Mama Shelter is a class act and truly fantastic bargain. So where, you ask, is the catch? Well, the hotel has no swimming pool or spa (did you really expect them at this price?) And you'll pay extra for breakfast and parking. But the biggest drawback for some visitors may be the location.
Although the website describes Mama Shelter Marseille as "ideally located in the city centre", this is a little euphemistic.
But there are three roughly equidistant metro stations, Baille (the nearest), Castellane and Notre Dame du Mont, and Marseille has a very fast and efficient public transport system.
For many visitors, the out-of-centre location will be an acceptable compromise in return for a fabulous room at an unbeatable price. The original Mama Shelter in Paris hasn't suffered from the fact that it's way out in the 20th arrondissement by the Père Lachaise cemetery.
Au contraire, Serge Trigano says, its performance is 12 years ahead of the original business plan. Moreover, the area, down-at-heel when the Paris hotel opened, has been given a tremendous boost by its presence.
The Mama Shelter team rejected an offer to base its Marseille hotel in the intensely redeveloped Euroméditerranée district in favour of a real grassroots local community and believes that the Paris effect will apply again in Marseille. We wish them the very best of luck.
Visited April 2012
Where: Mama Shelter Marseille, 64 rue de la Loubière, 13006 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 84 35 20 00. Fax: (+33) 4 84 35 20 01 Book a room at Mama Shelter Marseille