Since the World Cup and the TGV train came to Marseilles in recent years, this seaside town three hours from Paris has become France's "it" place, both a mecca for weekending Parisians and a hotbed of creative design. Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Lacroix have all opened stores on or near the elegant Rue Paradis, Marseilles's answer to Madison Avenue. But our favorites are the many sensational little shops dotting the back streets around the Vieux Port. They make walking through Marseilles feel like a lucky, secret find.
RIVE NEUVE The international mix here appeals to both classic and cutting-edge fashion tastes: It's the only place in town for Celine and Alberta Ferretti, but there are also striped men's cashmere sweaters by Coast, Weber & Ahaus ($400) and gritty metal belts for women by Paco Rabanne ($520). At 30 Cours d'Estienne d'Orves; 33-4-96-11-01-01.
SANDRINE LEONARD This small converted garage pops to life with colorful bags that call to mind Lily Pulitzer—a lemon-and-white floral tote ($125), a dainty purse with African-print ruffles ($145). Each season Leonard also designs another line of smart accessories to complement the bags, like a vinyl 1960s-Courrèges-style trench coat with a matching hat and a pair of sleek shoe protectors ($70). $ At 150 Rue Breteuil; 33-4-91-04-68-76.
LA MAMAN DU POISSON After 16 years in the Paris film industry, Véronique Brambilla returned to her native Marseilles to open a stylish children's clothing store last May. She carries locally designed items like two-tone linen dresses ($90) and colorful cardigans ($55), and she's turned her basement into an arts-and-crafts room with a children's theater. At 127 Rue Breteuil; 33-4-91-53-37-34.
MARIANNE CAT Two years ago Cat, a former artist and stylist, opened this shop selling contemporary art and fashion in an old hôtel particulier from 1774. Austere designs by German Peter O. Mahler (jackets, $430; pants, $250) set the tone for Cat's avant-garde assortment. A glass veranda showcases the work of contemporary photographers, designers, and architects. At 53 Rue Grignan; 33-4-91-55-05-25.
STUDIO 19 Contemporary design meets vintage objets d'art in Tarek Hakim's boutique. We love the Rothko-esque galvanized metal tables with waxed concrete inlays in colors like chocolate and lilac ($980-$3,900). $ At 19 Rue Saint Jacques; 33-4-91-53-35-67.
LA MAISON MARSEILLAISE You'll find plenty of whimsical ideas here—an apple green kitchen table ($165) with matching stools ($85) is just one—as well as more utilitarian items such as kitchen utensils and large bottles of the traditional olive-oil-based Savon de Marseille ($16). $ At 38 Rue Francis Davso; 33-4-91-55-54-43.
MISRAKI This well-established spot in a magnificent hôtel particulier (the moldings alone are worth a visit) sells contemporary furniture, fabrics, and custom-made rugs. The best of the bunch is the line of exquisite bamboo-and-mahogany furniture (a dining table is $4,000). At 39 Rue Grignan; 33-4-91-33-24-13.
DROMEL AINE Founded in 1760, this wood-paneled candy store is filled with handmade chocolates, sugared almonds, coffee, and tea. Stop in for delicious orange-blossom water biscuits, called Navettes ($3 for 250 grams). $ At 6 Rue de Rome; 33-4-91-54-01-91.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.