Bedroom, Sofitel Vieux PortIf you're after traditional pampering in Marseille, you have the choice of four five-star hotels, including the Sofitel, with correspondingly lavish room rates. Is it worth it? logoClick here to book a hotel in Marseille

Despite the name, Sofitel is not really within the Old Port, but sits guarding its entrance, nestled in between the Fort Saint Nicolas and the Palais du Pharo.

It's about a 15-minute walk along the busy seafront road to the Tourist Office on the Canebière and is fairly close to the beaches of Marseille in the other direction.

You enter via a vast lobby decked out in shades of chocolate brown and burnt orange. However, despite the retro-1970s colour scheme, the Sofitel, which was built 30 years ago, has been almost completely refurbished since it was finally promoted from four to five stars in 2009.

The lobby is scattered with marine-themed modern art and broken up into "zones." Le Carré, a cocktail bar/brasserie overlooking the port has - by night - surreal table lamps with faux neon jellyfish embedded in perspex.

In 2014 the hotel unveiled a new open-air terrace leading off the bar, the Terrasse du Carré. It offers all-day food, artisan ice-cream (courtesy of Le Glacier du Roi), cocktails and, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, live music (jazz, pop, rock or soul) - plus one of the best views in town.

Lobby, Sofitel Vieux Port MarseilleThe following year this was joined by an even larger terrace on the Sofitel's roof where the scene is, if anything, more fabulous. Called the Dantès (after Edmond Dantès, the hero of Alexandre Dumas's legendary, Marseille-set novel The Count of Monte Cristo), it also has music at weekends.

Elsewhere a screened-off corner offers computers for guests' use and - a nice touch - a mini-library in the form of a large square table is surrounded by couches and strewn with books to borrow, all in French, alas (the Sofitel chain has a scheme to sponsor leading authors and hosts regular literary events).

Bravo here to the architects who really have maximised the harbour-side location with a great, dramatic sweep of picture windows looking over the Old Port.

There are six categories of room and suite, depending on the view, the size, the bathroom facilities and whether there is a balcony or a terrace.

The first thing to be said is: don't bother staying here unless you want to pay extra for a room overlooking the port.

The room at the back which we visited was fine in itself, but had a depressing view straight on to a blank concrete wall and charmless courtyard, with a tower block in the middle distance. There are about 20 such rooms out of a total of 134. The ones on the port side are much nicer.

One unusual detail in many of them is a window in the bathroom looking into the main bedroom (with a blind in case you want a spot of privacy during your ablutions).

Some rooms have day beds, and the night bed is the Sofitel's ultra-comfortable patented MyBed.



The rooms aren't cheap. It's often possible to secure a fat discount on the rack rates. But, when booking online, be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully.

Some (but not all) booking sites require the whole amount to be paid upfront and/or slap on hefty penalties in case of cancellation.

Internet access is free, with wi-fi throughout the hotel as well as guest computers in the lobby. There's a spa in the basement, a fitness and business centre and the usual other facilities you expect in a hotel of this calibre. It's all immaculately presented.

The swimming pool and poolside restaurant are shared with the next-door Novotel, the Sofitel's more workaday sister.

A huge bonus for keen swimmers: free access to an Olympic sized pool and other professional amenities at the Cercle des Nageurs de Marseille just up the road.

Trois Forts restaurant, Sofitel MarseilleIt goes without saying that the top-floor restaurant, Les Trois Forts, also has stunning views (pictured). Its shape continues the nautical theme by suggesting the prow of a ship, complete with captain's wheel, while the carpet has a compass motif.

Yet Les Trois Forts is imbued with an slightly stuffy, expense-account ambiance, and, despite its ambitions, is still, somewhat gallingly, not one of Marseille's restaurants with Michelin stars.

The Sofitel scores much better on the breakfast front. In 2011 Villégiature, an independent travel authority, gave it an award for the best breakfast in Europe.

It includes the hotel's own-brand honey, produced by five hives of bees on the roof. And in 2013 the Sofitel was voted one of the best hotels in Europe by Condé Nast Traveller magazine.

The Sofitel has three five-star competitors in Marseille. Two of them are boutique hotels: Le petit Nice is a little further out of town, and the C2 Hotel is a little up on the hill on the south side of the Old Port. The more immediate rival is the InterContinental Hôtel Dieu.

This majestic former hospital occupies a prime position in the heart of Marseille between the Old Town and the Old Port and has been converted into a luxury hotel which opened in 2013.

Visited April 2011 and May 2014

Where: Sofitel Vieux Port, 36 boulevard Charles Livon, 13007 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 15 59 00 or (+33) 4 91 15 59 50. Book a room at the Sofitel Vieux Port, Marseille


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