Fresh. Affordable. Intelligent. I’m in my element. Arriving a little spent from an early start and a full day of exciting art exhibitions, the friendly Mama Shelter in Marseille  lifted my energy as soon as I stepped into the impeccably designed restaurant/bar and reception area. There are idiosyncratic details everywhere, quotes and proverbs hand-stenciled on the walls and ceiling, original designer ideas to take home, and the flame of creativity alive and sparkling in every corner. Interesting.
Located within walking distance of the old port and the main shops and museums, Mama Shelter is slightly off the path of the tourist bustle. I made my way on foot from the Musée Cantini  near the port and it took me about 15 unhurried minutes to get there, but then I discovered that the Baille métro stop is conveniently just five minutes from the door and the TGV train station is just a 10-minute taxi ride away.
Marseille is a place filled with energy, contrasts, spectacular beauty and individuality, and this hotel fits right into the city’s urban-seaside vibe.
“Free man, you’ll love the ocean endlessly!
It is your mirror, you observe your soul
In how its billows endlessly unroll
Your spirit’s bitter depths are there to see.”
–Charles Baudelaire, Man and the Sea
The first chapter of the Mama Shelter story began with the launch of the Paris  location in 2008, created by a team that includes the cofounders of Club Med and superstar designer Philippe Starck. When it came time to open in Marseille, the chosen spot was the intersection of three small streets in the urban heart of the city near the Cours Julien.
The 127 rooms decorated by Philippe Starck  are made to feel like a little connected cocoon, fluffy bed worthy of a luxury resort, a 27” iMac, free movies on demand, free fast WiFi, power-shower, a microwave oven, minibar, safe… an umbrella hanging in the closet. And no Mama Shelter room would be complete without a quirky set of superhero masks. I’ll leave their possible uses to your imagination.
My three customary basic ‘boxes’ to rate any hotel stay were ticked: crisp bed, power shower, strong coffee. Mama Shelter delivered so much more value, particularly in the friendly brief interactions with staff, at the reception, bar, and restaurant. The buffet breakfast caters to every possible preference, from my simple butter-and-honey crispy baguette, to a wholesome fresh fruit and muesli or a full-Monty fryfest. You can really call it an early brunch and easily skip the midday meal until Pastis-time.
The restaurant serves fresh, locally sourced generous dishes created with the complicity of chef Guy Savoy , at very reasonable prices. The inviting dining room is open to the trendy bar, where DJs and live music often share the space with people reading from the stack of books in the comfy sofas and friendly games of table football.
Any savvy traveller will recognise that to reconcile decontracté chill out with efficiency is not that simple. It takes more than a little thought, both in design and in operations management. Mama Shelter succeeds at every level, and the little extra walk to get there was more than rewarded in comfort, value and a reassuring attention to detail.
Mama Shelter Marseille
64 rue de la Loubiére
Tel + 33 (0) 4 84 35 20 00
Mama Shelter is also in Paris, Bordeaux, Los Angeles, Lyon, and Rio de Janeiro
Small Mama Double starts at €69