24 Hour Room Service: Hotel Le Corbusier, Marseilles

HOTELS ARE usually about getting away from it all; this one is more to do with being one of the people. Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation was built between 1945 and 1952, an icon of modern architecture. Here, Le Corbusier tried out his prototype for the problem of mass housing, the "vertical garden city". The hotel opened in 1960 with 25 rooms amid the apartments on the third and fourth floors.

It's not a place to leave you feeling indifferent. In fact it doesn't feel much like staying in a hotel at all, what with the international clientele of architects and the middle classes playing at living in high- rises, diluted by a football fan or two (the Stade Velodrome, home to Olympic Marseille FC, is only a few minutes' walk away).

The 340 flats were the concrete realisation of Le Corbusier's concept of hygienic, affordable living with the requisite light, air, silence and sociability. Each module was intended to work like a fully autonomous house with double-height living-room, children's and parents' bedrooms, and a fully fitted and equipped kitchen. A 137m-long, reinforced concrete block, the city within a city came complete with supermarket, baker, primary school and gym.

The more you explore, the more impressive the details you discover - a stack of figures embossed in the concrete facade, a long concrete bench dotted with coloured enamel blobs, the terrace up on the roof with its funnel-like ventilation shaft, gym and seating booths.

And, far from the usual Modernist white, colour was integral to Le Corbusier's concept - each balcony has a coloured panel and most of the apartment doors are still painted in their intended shades of red, blue, yellow, green or orange.


Hotel Le Corbusier is at 280 boulevard Michelet in the east of Marseilles (tel: 0033 4 91 16 78 00; fax: 0033 4 91 16 78 28).


Plenty of parking if you come by car, the best solution if you want to explore the surrounding area (Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, and so on) as well as the city. Otherwise, regular buses run to the Vieux Port and the town centre or down to the Corniche.


Bedrooms are spacious and well soundproofed - unusual for a two-star hotel - and come with tables and masses of hanging space (built-in wardrobes are another Corb characteristic). Furnishings are functional but high quality: a huge wooden door, marble bathroom floor, a wood-panelled wall and beautifully slippery parquet. Blankets though are showing their age, not all the light switches work and the bathroom lights have that nasty insect problem. The view is amazing; one wall is almost entirely window, looking out over surrounding houses, a lighthouse and the sea beyond.

There's a bar and restaurant and, if the food is closer to office canteen than haute cuisine (three courses including steak-frites or plat du jour for FFr60 or FFr80 - pounds 6 or pounds 8 respectively), the dining-room is a masterful play of space with double-height window, balcony and mezzanine reached by spiral staircase. Service is amiable if minimal and once you have your room key, you can come and go like a resident of the flats.


Telephone and French TV in bedroom, Le Corbusier postcards available at reception.


No frills perhaps, but you'll rarely stay in a historic monument as affordable as this one. Singles cost FFr195 (pounds 20), doubles FFr285 (pounds 30). Breakfast in the restaurant costs FFr35 (pounds 3.50).