If Paris is the golden child of France, Marseille is its wild little brother. But the gritty reputation intrigues rather than repels us, so we throw caution to the wind and head into the sprawling streets of Marseille in attempt to find Au Vieux Panier (13 rue du Panier; 00 33 4 91 91 23 72; auvieuxpanier.com), an old grocer's shop that has been converted into an art installation/B&B.
We are let through the crumbling shopfront into a light, airy space with an open-plan breakfast room and lounge area, strewn with the latest art magazines. This house-cum-hotel-cum-art-installation has five rooms redesigned each year by different artists. Our room, aptly named the Panic Room, has been created to mess with the senses – half of it pristine white, the other half a graffiti-fetishist's dream.
We make for Chez Etienne (43 rue de Lorette) to try our luck at getting a seat for dinner – it's worth noting there's no phone, no reservations, no credit cards. Also don't be fooled by the sign outside – it says "pizza" but they serve a lot more, including gorgeous crispy squid.
From here, we jump in a taxi and five minutes later find ourselves at the newly opened Mama Shelter (00 33 4 84 35 20 00; mamashelter.com) at 64 rue de la Loubière to knock back a few white pepper and basil caipirinhas. We ogle the pretty boys and watch stylish girls flirt over table football before following the indecently attractive crowd down the road to see out the night at La Dame Noir (30 place Notre Dame du Mont; ladamenoir.fr), a dark and dirty disco.
The next morning we wake up, startled by the room once again, then drag ourselves down to stumble across shop after shop of Marseille soap (does anyone use soap any more?) and then perch ourselves on the tatty seafront for a pastis.
A 10-minute stroll around the curve of the port finds us tucked away up a side street at La Sardine à Paillettes (9 rue de la Tour; 00 33 6 18 31 46 04; lasardineapaillettes.com), where we buy presents for the family, before stumbling into Sessùn (10 boulevard du Collet; 00 33 4 91 72 60 60; sessun.com), where we can't resist buying up half the collection of French dresses.
Then, instead of spending €45 on bouillabaisse in one of the tourist traps on the port, we catch a cab to Restaurant Peron (56 promenade de la Corniche John Kennedy; 00 33 4 91 52 15 22; restaurant-peron.com), perched over the rocks. The accomplished set menu at €64 a head gets you a mise en bouche, starter, main course and dessert, with dishes such as red tuna sashimi with blackened garlic and lemon caviar, and scorpion fish with vegetable tagine and coriander.
Then, tempted by cocktails, we walk back to the port to check out the kitsch L'Unic (11 cours Jean Ballard; 00 33 4 91 33 45 84) for one last drink. It's the place to be, with a mixture of dressed-up girls and scruffy boys in bands partying away. A guy in a bowler hat tells us that he loves a British accent, so maybe we'll just stay for one more…
A Hedonist's Guide to ... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com