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 pedestrianised 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 and bar fronts brightly painted: don't miss the jolly yellow Monsieur Chat (Mr Cat), or rather a dozen-odd Messieurs Chats, on a huge mural at the WAAW bar, 17 rue Pastoret, pictured below.

The Marseille Tourist Office currently offers a guided tour of the district's graffiti and street art designed especially for kids, with games and a colouring book.

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.

monsieur chat marseilleThere'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.

Children 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 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.

At 110 Cours Julien, the Arthur mon Héros shop is an Aladdin's Cave of unusual toys that you're unlikely to find at more mainstream high street stores.

Cours Julien, Marseille, playgroundFor 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.

It allows you to observe and learn about a traditional process still using the historic machinery. Guided tours are free.

La Savonnerie de la Licorne (the name means "unicorn") 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.

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


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