Le Rendez-Vous: GoCambio’s Guide to the French Host Cities of the Euros ’16
10 June to 10 July. 51 matches. 24 teams. 10 stadiums across 10 French cities.
This summer, Europe enjoys its biggest sporting event of the year. Celebrating the art of football, the UEFA European Championship 2016 is running its first 24 team tournament thanks to the new “Week of Football” concept, where games will be played from Thursday to Tuesday.
Held every four years, it’s the third time France has hosted the tournament after its inaugural championship in 1960 and the 1984 finals. The French team have also been the winners of Henri Delaunay Cup twice, both in 1984 and 2000.
Come June, the matches will be played in some of France’s most fascinating cities: Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Étienne, and Toulouse. Even if you’re not a football fanatic, the Euros are still a fantastic opportunity to see what France has to offer the interested traveller. Check out our mini guide to these French host cities and let’s play on!
The city of Bordeaux, the capital of the Aquitaine region, is competing in the World Travel Awards (basically the equivalent of the “Oscars” for tourism). A contestant in the category ‘City Break Destination 2016’, Bordeaux is famous for its first-class wine and gastronomy, leisure, heritage and culture, shopping and nightlife, modern art, public gardens, history, cruises and museums.
A port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France, Bordeaux has been world-renowned for its wine since the 8th century. As well as organising the world’s main wine fair, Vinexpo, Bordeaux takes €14.5 billion in the wine economy in the metro area each year. (That’s a LOT of wine).
One of the biggest cities in France and the economic capital of south-west France, it’s a young, dynamic student city close to the sea. With more than 200 kilometres of cycle paths, Bordeaux is also the 4th most bicycle-friendly city in the world, and its urban areas have become paradise for cyclists, meaning it’s super accessible and cheap to travel around.
The “Miroir d’Eau” (Water Mirror) is one of the cities’ most contemporary attractions at less than 10 years old. Thanks to its key location across from the 300 year old monument Place de la Bourse, between Quai de la Douane and Quai Louis XVIII, this spectacular pool – designed by landscape artist Michel Corajoud – is the most-photographed site in Bordeaux. Listed as a contemporary World Heritage Site by UNESCO along with some other 1,810 hectares, between the outer boulevards and the Port of the Moon (the crescent-shape bend formed by the Garonne), Bordeaux is a perfect mix of old and new.
France’s oldest city by the Mediterranean sea, Marseille has welcomed travellers from around the world for hundreds of years. A European Capital of Culture in 2013, it is the capital of its department of Bouches-du-Rhône and the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
This gorgeous city has a unique identity and distinctive heritage, enjoying a lively period of renewal recently. With museums, churches, galleries, entertainment, architecture, shopping, public parks, gardens, art, culture, history and tradition, Marseille is an ideal city break, proudly boasting the best sunshine in all France. For the hungry traveller, Bouillabaisse is the most famous seafood dish of Marseille.
A key destination in Marseille is the Château d’If. Built in 1527 on one of the Frioul islands in the Bay of Marseille, it was initially used as fort on the orders of King Francis I. However, Château d’If soon became a royal prison, and housed the famous iron mask and Edmond Dantès, the (fictional) Count of Monte Cristo.
For the best views of the city, you must visit the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church; it stands high above Marseille and offers a panoramic look of the city and its harbour. Established in 2012, Calanques National Park is Europe’s largest suburban park. With beautiful landscapes, outstanding biodiversity and cultural heritage, it is the only national park in Europe to include land, marine and semi-urban areas, and attracts over 2 million visitors a year.
In preparation for Euro 2016, Stade Vélodrome grew from 60,000 seats to 67,000 covered seats, and is the second largest stadium in France after the Stade de France.
A small city in the north of France in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Lens is a former coal mining stronghold that undergone serious rejuvenation in the past number of years.
An architecture-lover’s dream, the founding of the Louvre-Lens art museum in December 2012 indicated a new, artistic turn for the heavy-duty industrial city. A branch of the prestigious Parisian museum, it was constructed on mining wasteland, incorporating a transparent construction with glass and aluminium façades.
The importance of mining continues to be reflected in the city’s art and cultural attractions. The first example of the Art Deco style in this mining area is the Lens railway station, constructed in 1926 by Urbain Cassa. With beautiful mosaics adorning the interior, the Cubist-inspired designs reflect scenes of industrial life. Based in the main offices of the Lens Mining Company – the true centre of industry in the city – is the Jean-Perrin Science Faculty, which was constructed in 1930 and opens onto large formal gardens. This mining spirit is also evident in La Base and the 11/19 twin slag heaps, one of four preserved mining heritage sites in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.
The city’s stadium Stade Bollaert-Delelis opened in 1932. A major centre of French football, this English-style ground has four distinct stands, hosting fervent local support at every RC Lens home match. The local fans are renowned for the warmth of their welcome and the atmosphere at games has been described as the best in France.
Another fascinating host city is Lille. A cosmopolitan city at the crossroads between France, the Low Countries and England, Lille has continued to flourish despite a decline in local industry in the 1960s. World-renowned for its bars and bistros, known to locals as ‘estaminets’, Lille is a northern student city with a thriving cultural scene.
History and heritage is deeply important to the people of Lille. Established in 1816, Lille Natural History Museum boasts major zoological, geological, industrial and ethnographic collections, showcasing at least two temporary exhibitions annually. The Canonniers Museum, founded in a former convent in Rue des Canonniers, illustrates the military history of Lille, displaying military objects and accounts of the daily life of the stationed gunners in the city. Located on Rue de la Monnaie in the old town, the Hospice Comptesse presents life in Flanders from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution, and is home to a collection of Flemish paintings and ceramics, Lille gold and silverwork, tapestries, furniture and other items for that period.
Lille is also famous for its museums, and is an ideal destination for anyone looking to brush up on their culture. The Palais des Beaux-Arts is one of the largest fine arts museums in France, with 12,000 square metres of exhibition space and an impressive collection of paintings from the 15th century to the beginning of the 20th. Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970), the president of the provisional government of the French Republic, is one of the city’s most famous residents. His birthplace on Rue Princesse has been made into a museum, with two parts on opposite sides of a courtyard garden, presenting De Gaulle’s life and works.
The city is about more than just museums, however. Lille plays host to the biggest flea market in Europe, attracting around two million visitors each year on the first weekend of September. Why don’t you start prepping your French skills in advance?
France’s third largest city after Paris and Marseille, Lyon is famed for its historical and architectural landmarks (12th century to modern) and characteristically narrow streets, known as traboules. Its distinctive city landscape means that Lyon, along with multiple other French cities, has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is well worth paying a visit this summer.
The old town of Vieux-Lyon, in the Renaissance district of the city, features townhouses, medieval streets and narrow passageways that host some of the best bouchons, typical Lyon restaurants that serve local dishes such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork along with local wines. Since the late 20th century, Lyon’s reputation as a principal centre of French cuisine has spread worldwide, with internationally significant local gastronomy that holds mass appeal.
When you’ve finished dining, you can climb to the summit of the Fourvière hill; here you’ll enjoy a magnificent view of the city and all that remains of the ancient capital of the Gauls. On a clear day, you can see the Alps, the Gallo-Roman Theatre and the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, known as the protector of the city.
Lyon is also the home of the cinema pioneers and brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, considered the world’s first filmmakers. The city hosts the famous Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) every 8 December, earning Lyon the title ‘Capital of Lights.’
Situated in the sunny south of France, Nice is France’s second most popular tourist destination after Paris, and has been the destination of choice for foreign – especially English – visitors since the late 18th century.
The most striking vistas of Nice can be seen from a climb to the Château de Nice. The chateau – which stands in ruins in the beautiful hill gardens – has earned its place as the second favourite park of the French people, just behind the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.
The old town of Nice prides itself on providing sumptuous displays of local cuisine; here you will find the best of local cuisine, from the traditional dishes of Pissaladière, Pan Bagna, Socca and other specialties. With narrow streets brimming over with bars, cafes and restaurants, this area is busy both day and night.
When you’ve finished indulging yourself in the local fare, the old town’s Promenade des Anglais along the Mediterranean is the ideal destination for a light evening stroll. Known simply as the Promenade or La Prom, there are dedicated cycle routes which offer the quickest and most leisurely way of crossing the city.
Nice’s selection of museums is particularly appealing. The Matisse Museum is accommodated in a 17th century Genoese villa, celebrating the French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954), painter, designer and sculptor, a leading proponent of fauvism. The Musée des Beaux-Arts, The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Terra-Amata Museum and National Sport Museum are also all worth paying a visit to.
Arguably France’s most beloved city, Paris is not just for lovers – it’s for everyone.
To truly appreciate the Parisian vistas, the famous city skyline is at its best from three incredible vantage points; the celebrated Eiffel Tower, the Montparnasse Tower Observation Deck and the highest point in the city, the Basilica of Sacré Cœur in Montmartre. Alternatively, a river cruise on the Seine is a more leisurely option to view all the architectural beauty and cityscape Paris has to offer.
To pick just a couple of Paris’ most famous attractions is impossible. Paris’ Louvre Museum is the most visited museum of art and antiquities in the entire world, housing its most famous work, da Vinci’s elusive Mona Lisa. Similarly, the emblematic Centre Pompidou is a truly iconic 20th-century high-tech architecture building, attracting millions of visitors a year. Known locally as Beaubourg (due to its location), it’s the home of the Bibliothèque publique d’information (Public Information Library), a huge public library, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the largest museum of modern art in Europe, and IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research. Notre Dame Cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world, and on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
With a population of 110,000, and located 10km north of the centre of Paris, Saint-Denis earned the nickname ‘la ville rouge’ (the Red City) thanks to the prevalence of socialist administrations at the start of the last century.
A young city – it’s thought to have the most youthful population in the entire country – poet Jean Marcenac bestowed Saint-Denis with the title ‘the town of dead kings and living people’. Formerly an industrial hub, it was hard hit by the rapid fall of heavy industry in the area, but is enjoying a fresh revival.
Situated in the heart of the “Grand Paris” close to “Carrefour Pleyel” is the former power plant and major centre of film production in Europe. La Cité du Cinéma is a film studio complex supported by the film director and producer Luc Besson, located in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. Staying true to the roots of the original building, the “Cité du Cinéma” keeps an industrial spirit that combines “Art Deco” and modern art.
Saint-Denis is the home to the royal necropolis of the medieval Basilica of Saint Denis and was also the location of the associated abbey. The basilica is widely believed to be the first Gothic church and ranks as an architectural landmark, indicating the transition from Romanesque architecture to Gothic architecture. Just 300m from the Saint-Denis Basilica, the former Carmelite monastery houses the famous Museum of Art and History, and created in 1998, the adjacent Pierre de Montreuil Garden. In the town centre near the Basilica, there are a wide range of restaurants to suit every budget, where the cuisine offered reflects the local population – varied and multi-ethnic.
Saint-Etienne is a true melting pot of culture in eastern central France, and the capital of the Loire department. An industrial city with mining roots in the Rhone-Alpes region, it’s also home to immense creativity and inspiration, earning the recognition of France’s only UNESCO City of Design. Full of contrasts, Saint-Etienne is complex and dynamic, transcending beyond the influences of the Industrial Revolution to a flair for contemporary music and visual arts, home to the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, second only to the Centre Pompidou.
A top attraction in Saint-Etienne is discovering the Gorges de la Loire on a cruise. Le Grangent offers a comfortable and gentle experience where you will take in the Grangent lake and all the protected natural reserve has to offer. For something more metropolitan, just a short walk from Place de l’Hôtel de Ville you will find Saint-Etienne’s main retail outlets located in Place du Peuple and the surrounding streets: Rue Alsace-Lorraine, Rue Michelet and Rue Général Foy.
On the site of the last working mine in Saint-Etienne (that closed in 1973), the Couriot Pit Mining Museum reflects the city’s mining origins. Open to the general public at 3 Rue du Maréchal Franchet d’Esperey, a ten minute walk from the city centre, it retraces six centuries of the mining industry, which immeasurably influenced the history of the region. Visitors can explore the reconstructed mine working, and the museum also hosts live performances, screening films and festivals.
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard sits next to the Étivallière sports park, a complex boasting a range of sporting facilities including a rugby stadium. The Soccer 5 complex, dedicated to five-a-side football, is also situated incredibly close to St-Étienne’s stadium.
Affectionately known as the ‘Pink City’ (la Ville Rose) by locals thanks to the terracotta-brick buildings lining the streets, sunny Toulouse is the fourth-largest urban area in France. The capital city of the southwestern French department of Haute-Garonne, as well as of the Midi-Pyrénées region, Toulouse sits on the banks of the Garonne river by the Mediterranean Sea.
A hybrid mix of history and the ultra-modern, Toulouse is the centre of the European aerospace industry, with the headquarters of Airbus, the Galileo positioning system, the SPOT satellite system, the Airbus Group (former EADS), ATR , Intel, CNES’ Toulouse Space Centre (CST) and the Aerospace Valley all calling this historic city home. Toulouse also houses the Basilica of St. Sernin: the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of oldest universities in Europe (founded in 1229).
There is much to see in Toulouse; as well as scenic walks in public parks and gardens, there is the Capitole de Toulouse (mainly 18th century), which houses the opera, ballet and the richly decorated Salle des Illustres, the Hôtel de Ville, the Théâtre du Capitole (opera house), and the Donjon du Capitole (16th century). Le Château d’Eau, an old 19th-century water-tower, was converted into a gallery in 1974 by Jean Dieuzaide, a French photographer from Toulouse; it is now one of the oldest public places dedicated to photography in the world.
The Carmes market offers a wide selection of venues for lunch and dinner, with many establishments specialising in local Gascon cuisine, including cassoulet Toulousain, duck, Saucisses de Toulouse, garbure (a cabbage soup with poultry) and foie gras, the liver of an overfed duck or goose, a delicacy primarily made in the Midi-Pyrénées.
Whether you’re a football fanatic (or maybe just visiting with one), these ten French cities have something to offer just about every traveller. We can guarantee the atmosphere will be as electric for visitors and French people alike! While France can be an expensive destination during this time, we’ve also put together a guide that shows you how to travel Europe on a budget, so there’s no excuse not to see the excitement for yourself!
About the Author: Emma is a 23-year-old copywriter at GoCambio and part-time shoe seller, so she’s always ready to think on her (size 5.5) feet. With a background in English, History, and Creative Advertising, some of Emma’s passions include fashion, travel, writing, film and social media. And tea. Black, no sugar.