Logo for the Elephant Rose cafeThe bohemian-chic Cours Julien district of central Marseille is a perfect place to explore with children.

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The Cours itself (a cours is a wide boulevard) has a large play area with a slide, a climbing frame and a fountain that's made for paddling surrounded by cafés with outside tables (pictured below on a bright spring day).

The street art is colourful and the shop fronts brightly painted and the whole district teems with shops, markets, snack bars and restaurants.

One of the most popular is Oogie at 55 cours Julien, a lifestyle store that includes vintage clothing and jewelry, books, DVDs and records, a hairdressing salon and a bar-restaurant. There's a large seating area at the back for when the weather is bad, and on fine days you can sit on the large terrace while the children burn off energy around the Cours.

The Eléphant rose à pois blancs (pictured top), at 3 rue des Trois Rois, is justly renowned for its home-made ice-creams and sorbets.

Cours Julien, Marseille, playgroundChildren will probably stick to the three favourites - vanilla, strawberry and chocolate - but there are also some unusual flavours (liquorice, speculoos, hibiscus flower) as well as savoury ice-creams, such as thyme, carrot and lime or lemon and dill. At Christmas the Eléphant Rose even produces a foie gras ice-cream.

If they're not too busy, you may be allowed to taste the some of the more adventurous flavours before committing yourself.

Decorated in eye-popping shades of pink, purple and green, the tiny room seats 18-20 people and there's a small table and chairs for kids. The Eléphant is fully vegetarian. It also serves salads, tartes and soups and every Tuesday from 6.30pm to 10pm there's an English-speaking tea.

At 110 Cours Julien, the Au Tour de l'Enfant shop is an Aladdin's Cave of unusual toys you won't find at Toys R Us.

For centuries Marseille has been famed for its savon de Marseille - soap made with olive oil - and La Savonnerie de la Licorne,34 cours Julien, is a small, family-owned working soap factory that allows you to observe and learn about a traditional process still using the historic machinery.

The shop is a good spot to pick up inexpensive and amusing souvenirs or presents such as soap shaped like sardines, cicadas, boules and footballs or perfumed with grape seeds or mare's milk.

La Savonnerie de la Licorne (the name means "unicorn") is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm and Saturday 10am to 7pm. There are guided tours at 11am, 3pm and 4pm. Entrance free.

Biscuit & Biscuit, just off the Cours at 9 rue du Lodi, is a ceramics cafe where you can eat biscuits as well as paint them (a "biscuit" is an unpainted item of crockery, in both French and English). It's suitable for both adults and children aged eight upwards.

cours-julien-kidsBear in that you need to reserve a couple of days ahead, and that the ceramics, once fired, are not available for collection for two weeks.

On the other hand you could always just go there for tea, cookies and cakes. Chocolate brownies, cheesecake, carrot cake and other Anglo-American specialities are on the menu.

L'Adresse Bio at 10 rue Fontange sells health food (cereals, infusions, organic fruit and vegetables) but also has a coin bébé with healthy baby food, clothes and toys. La Queue du Chat, 31 rue des Trois Rois is part of a chain selling fair-traded designer clothes and accessories for babies and toddlers.

Note that there are no markets on Mondays and many shops are closed that day, as well as on Sundays.

How to get there: Metro (line 2, stop Notre Dame du Mont).


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