Cafe de l'Abbaye, MarseilleDo you like the sound of a local bar that offers hearty home cooking at knockdown prices? Yet is close to tourist sights, has great views from the terrace and stays open late? If this appeals, the Café de l'Abbaye hits the spot.

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The minute interior - given a vague illusion of space by two mirrored walls - can accommodate 20 covers, plus a couple of seats at the bar and an ever tinier, very clean WC.

There's a terrace outside on a triangular handkerchief between two converging streets, from where you can look (through a grille) at the Old Port or watch the little train chugging past on its way up to Notre Dame de la Garde and back down again.

Chalked up on a blackboard outside, the midday menu is small too, with just three or four main courses and as many desserts. It's all simple fodder with a sprinkling of provençal specialities.

Aïoli is served every Friday, on which day it's advisable to arrive even earlier than usual, and certainly as soon as possible after 12 noon.

Cafe de l'Abbaye, MarseilleWe sampled the Café's tasty alouettes sans têtes, which consisted of two huge, "headless larks" (no, not actual skylarks), a slurp of rich tomato-herby sauce and dollop of cheesy polenta.

Other options were salmon lasagna, beef entrecôte or pork chop. For the seriously greedy, desserts included tarte tatin, fondant au chocolat, strawberries or ice-cream.

A number of clients are regulars who perform the bise (the French-style kiss on each cheek) on arrival. The very regulars get to kiss the patronne's hand.

However, the first-time visitor is made to feel at home too. Service is blitz-fast but relaxed enough for you not to feel under pressure to eat up and get out.

 

 

Afterwards you can walk it off by climbing the steep streets to Notre Dame. Or, if that seems too daunting, you're a few metres from Saint Victor Abbey, pictured (the "abbaye" in Café de l'Abbaye) and the famous Four des Navettes.

Crypt, Saint Victor AbbeyThis historic, 1781 bakery makes the navettes (orange-flavoured biscuits) served at Candlemas in Marseille, though in fact you can buy them all the year round.

The shop and museum for Marcel Carbonel, one of Marseille's leading santonniers (santon-makers), are two doors away. Find out more about santons here.

The Café de l'Abbaye is open all day and well into the night, when things get really busy and, in good weather, crowds of late night drinkers mill around outside admiring the views across the Old Port.

Hot food is served at lunch-time only. It's closed on Saturday evening and all day Sunday.

If eating, make sure you arrive hungry. Lunch won't relieve you of many €uros. On the other hand, you may gain a couple of pounds.

Visited March 2011

Where: 3 rue d'Endoume, 13007 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 33 44 67.

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