In our 5 Shops series, we’ll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world’s best cities. From food markets to bookshops, vintage and homegrown design, we’ve found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
Once strictly rough-and-tumble, Marseille is catching on with creative types around Europe – and the world. The famed port city’s natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and multicultural makeup make for a heady brew indeed.
To discover how Marseille’s traditions express themselves in new ways, follow our lead to five of the city’s must-visit independent shops.
Best place to pick up a souvenir
Savonnerie de la Licorne
Savon de Marseille (Marseille soap) is a distinctive natural soap made from seawater and various pure vegetable oils. After pastis (the local anise-based liqueur), this is one the best-known Marseille-made products, used by locals and sought by visitors alike.
Run by a husband-and-wife team on the edges of the bohemian Cours Julien district, Savonnerie Marseillaise de la Licorne is no ordinary mom-and-pop shop. Dating back 100 years, the store fronts a factory, where you can witness for yourself the traditional rolling, mixing and pressing methods for free. The 600g block of olive oil soap (€7.50) feels like a slice of history, and smells so pure. Prices generally start at around €3 for a bar of soap.
Best local design shop
Jogging is not just a shop where you can discover up-and-coming designers alongside established brands like Raf Simons and JW Anderson. It’s also a place to buy a bottle of natural wine, stylish homewares or enjoy a coffee in a relaxed and surprisingly friendly atmosphere.
It’s on the pricey side but I’d say it’s the best place in Marseille to shop brands like OVO, Sunspel, Wales Bonner, Cecilie Bahnsen, Paloma Wool and French designers including AMI Paris, Corpeni and Jacquemus. It may even be one of the best concept stores in France for those of-the-moment labels.
Originally a butcher shop, the current vibe of the store’s interiors is very rustic Mediterranean. If you are lucky enough to get a table, the secret summer restaurant in the store’s quiet courtyard will take you away from the chaos Marseille thrives upon to transport you to the villages of Provence with its fresh local produce.
Best vintage/second-hand shop
Sepia Swing Club
Rue des trois Mages boasts a selection of vintage stores that draw teenagers each weekend to queue up for a mishmash of denim, t-shirts and tracksuits that date from the’ 90s…and are as on-trend as it gets.
With its head-turning window displays and inviting energy, Sepia Swing Club stands out for its range of cherry-picked Americana that will have you rummaging for denim, cheerleader outfits and belt buckles with glee. Owner Marion is a French bluegrass musician who’s passionate about that “Urban Cowboy” or “California Dreaming” look, and gives her constantly evolving yet niche assortment real integrity.
Head to the mezzanine to browse the collection of vintage magazines that, at a flicker, can take you back in time.
Close to Le Panier, Marseille’s ancient city-within-a-city that brims with tourists in high season, is Ensemble: a bookshop and gallery of the sort you’d expect to find in Paris or London. Here, young people in beanies sit silently in designer chairs, thumbing through pages as the sun floods in.
The airy, stark studio space dedicated to contemporary photography has wooden shelves heaving with upcoming artists’ publications from across the world. Some of the most interesting titles cover Marseille itself like William Firebrace’s Marseille Mix (€25) or Danser L’Image – Le Ballet national de Marseille direction (La) Horde (€39): the photographers featured in these volumes train their gaze on a city desperate to stem gentrification and protect its identity.
Best food market
Le marché paysan of Friche, Belle de Mai
La Friche occupies an old tobacco factory in Belle de Mai, a district where 55% of the population live below the poverty line. In recent years the former factory has become a multi-faceted public space that plays host to artist studios, concerts, raves, sports matches and a local radio station playing esoteric music.
Every Monday, the venue hosts a local farmers market where vendors showcase the finest regional produce at reasonable prices. Local in this case means from Provence – a region rightly associated with some of the world’s most renowned food. And the market does not disappoint.
Giant carrots and tomatoes bursting almost indecently sit nestled next to abundant leafy greens. There is a fierce pride here, too, with farmers, local cheese makers and vintners all supremely confident in what they have brought to sell – and happy to tell you about it in detail.