One of the factors that prompted me to start this shopping blog was my frustration at the uniformity of shopping these days. All UK High Streets look the same, and it’s not much different in other towns and cities around the world. One of my aims, therefore, is to discover and share independent shops and local brands.
Last weekend I was in Marseille and I have a few little finds to share.
On my first afternoon, I just walked around the old port area and strolled along Rue Republique and la Canebière, the historic but now somewhat unloved-looking historic high street (sadly famous for the assassination here of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia in 1934 and a massive fire that destroyed the Nouvelles Galleries in 1938, killing many).
I had had a ridiculously early start that morning so I didn’t have the energy to explore much further afield. The main streets had all the expected large shops: H&M, C&A, Sephora, Desigual, etc. plus a few long-established shops selling local delicacies. Around the port there is a large soap shop and an intriguing maritime-inspired furniture shop, Castaldi – not the sort of thing I wanted to buy on a weekend break, but well worth a look.
My more exciting finds, and the ones that actually got me buying, came the following day in Le Panier. This is the old, less well-off area of Marseille. The local authorities have spent the last 20 years or so renovating the area and improving living conditions. From what I have seen and read, I do believe the original aim was to improve the lives of the people living here, but it has also had the effect of making this a popular tourist area. Its narrow and steep streets, winding steps and colourful houses attract those with a desire to explore and sensible shoes.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Would it be a sanitised tourist area? Or would it live up to Marseille’s reputation of crime and be intimidating for a lone woman?
It turned out to be neither. I came across a few small groups of people following their maps religiously, and one larger group following a guiding umbrella, but mostly I was often the only person wandering down the street –my idea of heaven. I hate guided tours with a passion: I like to see things with my own eyes and I want to hear the native language, not everything in translation.
I hadn’t intended this to be a shopping day, so I was pleasantly surprised when I came across the beckoning shop windows of Arterra.
Arterra makes and sells the local figurines, known as santons. I have a large doll-like santon (santon habillé) that I bought many, many years ago in Aix-en-Provence. The santons here are the smaller figurine type (santon d’argile) and exquisitely made. The workshop is at the rear and you can watch the santonniers hand-painting the dolls.
Next to this is a small shop with bright yellow doors, indeed it was the doors that first attracted my attention.
Tassara is a ceramics workshop, with a small retail space at the front. The beautiful pieces of pottery were going to be a challenge to carry home, much as I was tempted, but I did succumb to a couple of beautifully decorated tiles.
Nearby is another workshop, this time one that hosts the work of a number of local artists. The ceramic rings in the small window drew me closer – I am not known for my ability to resist the call of jewellery.
I ventured in and I have to say the service was excellent: a guy came over and explained the set-up to me. I couldn’t understand everything he was saying, but I got the gist. One of the things I hate is the way a fear of foreign languages, or foreigners, causes people to not communicate at all. With languages as similar as French and English there is no reason why each shouldn’t speak their own language, if necessary, and still much can be understood. A strange conversation maybe, but at least there is communication. But back to the shop! It covers a large area, consisting of 2 display areas and 4 workshops. Some of the artists offer courses in their art. I was enchanted by the pieces on display and bought several pieces, some for me, some as presents.
Arterra, 3 rue Petit Puits, Marseille
Tassara, 11 rue Petit Puits, Marseille
Atelier Celadon, 40 rue Sainte Françoise, Marseille