Oh how I love France and all that it has to offer. ..
I recently had the great pleasure to get to experience two great cities of France. One being Nice, which I’ve spent plenty of time in when I was living not too far down the road at Toulon where I played for four years for RCT. The other being Saint Etienne, a place I had heard so much about but never had the opportunity to visit, until now.
Travelling to Saint-Etienne
The atmosphere when I arrived via train was palpable. It was so much about seeing the atmosphere but more about feeling it.
There were thousands of rugby supporters donning their national team colours all coming together with one common thread, the love for our great game that is rugby.
The city of St Etienne know how to embrace an event of this scale and the people and the venues welcomed everyone with open arms and a double bisous (kiss) on either cheek. People went out of their way to ensure you were able to create core memories that will last a lifetime.
They hosted a number of games at Geoffrey-Guichard Stadium, famous for being the home of AS Saint-Étienne (les Verts), a European powerhouse of the 70’s. Whether it was Italy versus Namibia or the one I was eagerly anticipating, the Wallabies versus the Flying Fijians, the buzz in and around the stadium was something you had to feel to believe.
From the party getting started at the Orbital taproom right next door to the stadium to the non-stop dining and chanting as the men tasked with furthering their nations chances in the RWC went about their work on the pitch. The atmosphere was simply incredible. Whilst I left the stadium disappointed in the result, seeing my wallabies go down to a deserving Fijian side, my mood quickly changed when I went to the Six Nations pub at Place Jean Jaurès to wash away the pain with some local pression (tap beer). This is where the party went to all new levels. People having fun, enjoying life and mixing with people of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds but all bonded by that common thread of rugby. There were hundreds if not thousands of people singing and dancing on the streets deep into the night, and morning in some cases haha.
But the great thing about St Etienne is that it’s a city that offers so much more than an ability to host world class sporting events.
The locals have an immense amount of pride for their people, their city and all that they produce from amazing artisanal food and wine, world renowned architecture and artists to the most breathtaking scenery. You can hike to the peaks of mountain tops or adventure on a lake that would give any body of water around the world a run for their money in terms of picturesque views. All this can be attain within 30mins drive from the city center. Truly remarkable.
©Saint-Etienne Tourism & Congress
Travelling to Nice
Then I set off on my travels to Nice, via the train, in my opinion, the best way to travel around France. The seats are spacious and you get a great appreciation of the French landscape with endless sea views and rolling mountainous landscape.
Upon arrival, it just felt different, the sea breeze off the Mediterranean, the casual attitude of the locals who work enough so they can then enjoy all that the Côte d’Azur has to offer.
The promenade de Anglais is world renowned. The water is a crystal blue that is mesmerising to see but even better to feel.
Of course Nice is world renowned for the Sea, but it’s the alps that truly captured me this time. Ancient towns set atop the mountains, ski fields only an hour away from the city center, wine vineyards on the face of all the mountains producing some of the wines we all enjoy globally.
Aside from the amazing food, wine and culture I was fortunate to experience, I also attended a Rugby World Cup match between Wales and Portugal. With Nice's stadium only a few tram stops from the city center, it was impossible not to get caught up in the passion and emotion of the occasion.
NICE ©OTM NCA
It is safe to say that my experiences, the people I met and the atmosphere I felt in Saint Etienne and Nice alike, will stay with me forever.
Both are now destinations I will make sure I return to and I encourage you all to do the same.
But don’t take my word for it, check them out for yourselves.
Thank you Saint Etienne and thank you Nice.