marseille sport beach facadeFrom long, lazy Sunday brunches to cocktails at sunset and late-night clubbing, the friendly, fashionable bar-restaurant Sport Beach is a long-established Marseille institution. logoClick here to book a hotel in Marseille

It sits in the plage Borély seaside complex on the coastal road out of town towards the calanques. Once described as Marseille's answer to Ibiza, this mini beach resort is a chaotic and, to be honest, rather tacky jumble of burger bars, pizza joints, crepe stands and slightly smarter chain eateries.

Sport Beach is one of the first bar-restaurants you come to as you arrive here from central Marseille. Its façade, pictured top, is modest.

But, inside, this lively leisure complex shines out as an easy cut above all the competition. It has always been one of our own personal favourites.

Sport Beach is the brainchild of three friends, Dominique Penciolelli, Guy Bernet and Alain Michaud-Bonnet, who met while they were studying sport at the nearby university campus of Luminy.

They launched it in June 1998 against the exuberant backdrop of the football World Cup, which was held in France - and which France also won. (In fact, the bar's opening night had to be postponed thanks to rowdy England and Tunisia fans rampaging through the city!)

marseille sport beach tapasSport Beach turned out to be a winner too. Two decades later it is still thriving and those same three friends are still running the show. That’s quite an achievement round here where bars and their owners do tend to come and go.

Its survival and success are due to the extremely flexible format. There’s something here for everyone at all hours of the day.

You can go for an award-winning Sunday brunch buffet, drop by at sunset for a tapas plate (pictured: nibbles and cocktails served by the pool), book a table for a cracking good three course meal or head on over after dark for a DJ set or live music.

We’ve filed Sport Beach under "bars" but, like many bars in Provence, it’s just as notable as a sit-down restaurant. In the kitchen: Michel Delbrel, a member of Marseille’s elite club of top chefs, Gourméditerranée.

His regionally inspired menu might feature anything from tartare of sea bass with summer truffle slices to a Charolais beefburger or a club sandwich. The line-up is seasonal and changes regularly.

The dishes are elegantly presented. This is not for anyone on a very tight budget, but it is very fairly priced for food of this quality (and even the other, less stylish restaurants in the plage Borély complex tend not to come cheap). There's a children’s menu too.

marseille sport beach overviewBonus: the super ice-creams (we sampled the exquisite apricot and rosemary). And if you want second helpings later, you can just pop round to Les Glaciers Marseillais, the artisans who make them, whose shop is right next door.

The extensive, carefully chosen wine list focusses on vineyards from the region, with an emphasis on rosé de Provence.

If you want to gaze out to sea with water lapping round your feet and the sand between your toes, you’ll need head a little further out of town to the beach restaurants at Pointe Rouge.

At Sport Beach the smallish upper terrace has splendid views across the Mediterranean, pictured. But on the lower level the wooden decks are focussed very much around the swimming pool, and the door through to the beach is kept closed on busy days.

Sport Beach itself is the main attraction here, a "lifestyle cocoon" (as the owners like to describe it) in its own right. It hums with a welcoming, clubbable vibe that's both laid-back and classy.

Much bigger than it looks from the outside, the bar has an informal, modular layout with a mix of sunny, sociable open spaces and intimate cosy corners.

Dotted around the place you will find a babyfoot (table football), darts board and a tiny boulodrome for that essential provençal sport, pétanque.

The star attraction is the good sized swimming pool. It's true that you can't just dive in for a dip after a few beers: there's a rather complicated system of buying and booking a session and it’s mostly reserved for guests with a club membership.

But it is sometimes possible to arrange one-off access. This is a fantastic bonus in Marseille, a city where public swimming pools are scandalously rare.

Sport Beach gets extra brownie points for its copious ramps: there's wheelchair and pushchair access to most of the lower levels. It’s open all year round and seven days a week (except Monday evenings).

Where: Sport Beach, 138 avenue Pierre Mendès France, plage Borély, 13008 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 76 12 35. Website for Sport Beach

Photo credits (from top): © SJ for Marvellous Provence (two images), Gillaume Gilloux.


Main Menu