Of all the places to visit in Marseille, the most magical of all is the emporium known as Maison Empereur. Established in 1827, Maison Empereur.has been run by the same family for six generations. It is France’s oldest hardware store and is made up of various floors (and doors) of homeware, clothing, toys and beauty products.
One must be prepared to loose a few hours wandering through their awe-inspiring collections of vintage inspired toys, artisan made homeware, and zero waste beauty products.
Even more ancient and appreciated than the shop itself, is Savon de Marseille (soap) which welcomes you upon entry. Blocks of this lovely soap have been crafted in Marseille since the middle ages with olive oil from local groves, marine ash and sea salted water (they’re vegan and conflict palm-oil free too) and are used for everything from linens and floors, to hands and faces.
So loved is the soap that in 1688 French law declared that only soaps made according to the ancient methods could bear the Savon de Marseille mark. Today, there are less than five Savon de Marseille soap makers still crafting the soap in the centuries-old tradition. It takes two weeks to bring the soap to life, first, the perfect mixture of olive oil, alkaline ash from sea plants and Mediterranean sea salted water are heated for ten days in antique cauldrons, then the mixture is poured into pits where it hardens. After it is cut into cubes and stamped, then set out to dry in the sun.
As it hardens, it is quite literally kissed by the sea, and dressed by sea winds in a fine white powder of salt from the Mediterranean. Savon de Marseille is completely biodegradable and comes unpackaged, making it the perfect and perhaps most authentic souvenir to savor on your Southern travels.
Address: 4 Rue des Récolettes, 13001 Marseille, France
Phone: +33 4 91 54 02 29
PHOTOS: SHANE WOODWARD