Pictures: Eric Cuvillier
Massive staircases, vaulted passages and magnificent terraces all bear witness to the former status of Hôtel-Dieu, which now is the palatial Intercontinental Marseille hotel. The perfectly preserved facade, marble floors and wrought iron banisters transport visitors to a more aristocratic time, while the sleek interior is all modern design touches. When entering, you immediately feel that this is a special place, and your sense of awe will only deepen the more you learn about its history.
In ancient France, there were many Hôtel-Dieu’s – these ‘Hospitals of God’ appeared as early as the 7th century. They were usually located next to cathedrals and accommodated pilgrims, as well as cater for the old and the sick. With the passage of time they closed to pilgrims and took care exclusively of the sick and infirm.
In Marseille, the first Hôtel-Dieu was founded in 1166 by the Confraternity of the Holy Ghost. This building was originally an ensemble of narrow, communicating dwellings built to accommodate abandoned and sick children. But when the population of Marseille grew explosively the hospital was obliged to expand. What was built is what you see today, a superb 18th century building, inaugurated by Napoleon III in person.
At the time, it was considered one of the finest hospital building achievements in France and it served as a hospital for some 800 years. So when it closed its door definitely in 2006, the hotel group that decided to change it into a five star hotel set out to make it into a place where both visitors and the people of Marseille themselves could come and enjoy the view.
Picture: Christian Muller
The World’s Best New Hotel
The historical building may have been beautiful, after centuries of serving as a hospital and a university, it was quite a feat to make it into a five star hotel. Keeping the historical touches of the building, architect Jean-Philippe Nuel ensured that the spirit and the centuries-long history live on in the present-day construction. This involved reinventing the Hôtel-Dieu, modernizing it and offering the building a new identity. “While lots of people like Haussmannian architecture, they do not necessarily want Napoleon III furniture,” he explained.
So while the old façade and passages stayed, the interior was done the modern way, but still using the colors of the city and its ancient monuments. The influence of the sea and the Mediterranean basin are everywhere. So while you walk into a modern lobby, there are alternating black and white tiles identical to the original hospital floors, and which are similar to those of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, the city's most iconic building.
The InterContinental Marseille Hôtel-Dieu opened its doors in April 2013 and rapidly gained recognition as the flagship of the Marseille luxury hotel industry. It was awarded the title of Best Urban Renovation Project in March 2014 and featured on the hot list of the prestigious Condé Nast Traveller’s “The World’s Best New Hotels”.
An Exceptional View
Upstairs, the bar and restaurants are located in the historical parts of the building and thus benefit from truly magnificent high ceilings. The interior courtyards and the gracious wraparound terrace with an exceptional view can make you feel like 19th-century royalty. Marseille is all-present in the food served in the restaurants here. The gastronomic Alcyone restaurant is the proud holder of a Michelin star. Head chef is Lionel Levy, who is leader in the field of modern Marseille gastronomy.
Most of the InterContinental Marseille Hôtel-Dieu’s 194 rooms and suites offer splendid panoramic views of the Vieux Port or include private terraces overlooking the historic heart of the city. These private terraces used to be the vaulted passageways of the original Hôtel-Dieu. They were open because medical opinion in the 18th century held that fresh air was vital for the sick. Today, they serve as second, outdoor living room space that gives just one more special feature to the elegant rooms.
Staying in this classified historical monument has another advantage: it has the best location in town. There is the inimitable view of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Basilica and the Old Harbor, but modern Marseille is also right next door. The MuCEM, Marseille’s ultra modern museum, is a short walk away, as are the Joliette Docks with their energetic business quarter, and shopping outlets.
The Hôtel-Dieu continues to stand tall above the city, as it has done for centuries: it is an ideal venue for anyone wishing to really get to know Marseille, both past and present.
Address: InterContinental Marseille Hôtel-Dieu 1, place Daviel – 13002 Marseille.
Tél. : 04 13 42 42 30
The article was reproduced with permission from hi-europe.net.