Musee du Terroir Marseillais, Chateau GombertChâteau Gombert in Marseille is renowned above all for one thing: its enthusiastic devotion to authentic provençal customs.

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There is no castle at Château Gombert. A village dating back to the 12th century, it once had a château but nothing now remains of it. Today it's a pleasant, well-heeled suburb with a faintly rural feel.

Its centrepiece is the Musée du Terroir marseillais, founded in 1928 by Jean-Baptiste Julien-Pignol, a devotee of the Félibrige movement created in the 19th century by Frédéric Mistral to revive and protect the provençal language and culture.

The museum is housed in a 19th century house in the corner of the main square (pictured top left). It may appear closed and you may have to ring the bell to be let in.

Inside, the gracefully proportioned rooms contain carved and painted provençal furniture, pipes, drums and ceramic "trumpets", an animated recreation of the famous 13 desserts set out by provençal households on Christmas Eve, lots of Mistral memorabilia and a very fine collection of santons, including one of Pignol himself.

Though they are mentioned in certain guidebooks, the curious santons of Marshal Pétain, created on the occasion of the collaborationist officer's visit to Marseille in December 1940, have been withdrawn from display for unexplained reasons.

The signage is in French only but some of the interactive screens have commentaries in English (spoken with a hilariously plummy upper-class accent). A shop sells overpriced textiles and some interesting books.

Alas, the staff are frosty. It seems a shame that a museum created out of one man's passion should not be more welcoming. They probably won't bother to tell you that, if you're planning to eat in the very nice restaurant on the lower floor (pictured below), you can get into the museum for half price.

This restaurant, La Table Marseillaise, is well worth a stop if you're here. It serves a small selection of local specialities: in summer, don't miss the entrée fraîcheur (or plat fraîcheur if you order the large portion), a vast selection of tasty provençal cold starters including tapenade, local goats' cheese, anchoïade (anchovy dip), courgette beignets and panisse.

La Table Marseillaise, Chateau GombertIt has a delightful sunny terrace looking on to the surrounding hills and a little open-air theatre where there are dance, music, comedy and theatre shows during the early summer.

The restaurant remains open throughout the winter but is closed from mid-July until the end of August. Tel: (+33) 4 91 05 30 95.

The museum also runs a hotel, L'Oustau, with seven modestly priced guest rooms which, as far as you can tell from the photographs on its website, could be either charming or shabby. However, they were not made available for viewing. Tel: (+33) 4 91 68 14 38.

 

 

Opposite the museum, the church, dating back to 1688, can probably be given a miss. It has pieces by key provençal artists such as Francois Puget, Michel Serre and Louis Finson, but these are in poor condition and under-lit, and a general air of neglect hovers over the building.

Traditional provencal festivities at Chateau Gombert, Marseille

But the main action in Château Gombert occurs in mid-June, when the locals pull all the stops out to celebrate the Festival of Saint Eligius (Saint Eloi in French).

An annual highlight since 1851, it starts when members of the Château Gombert folklore group deck out their horses in ornate ceremonial harness and, accompanied by tambourins (provençal drums), go around to houses with pognes, or brioche rolls.

Things hot up with a donkey race, a grand parade of horses and blessing of the animals and more folk music. At the climax the Gaillardet, a beautiful bridle decorated with tiny bells is put up for auction.

Over the next few days, flagging energy is replenished with a giant communal daube (a rich beef stew) and an aïoli.

Each July Château Gombert also hosts an International Festival of Folklore featuring dance troupes from around the world. Click here to read more about the Festival of Folklore in Château Gombert.

NewsThe Musée du Terroir Marseillais is currently closed due to lack of financing. However it's still possible to visit it by prior appointment. A crowdfunding campaign is in progress: watch this space for further developments.

Where: Musée du Terroir Marseillais, 5 place des Héros, 12013 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 68 14 38.

How to get to Château Gombert: Metro line 1, direction La Rose. At the last stop, take bus no. 5.

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