I saw everything in Saint-Etienne, except what I came to see… La Cité du Design

Saint-Etienne, close to Lyon, has become known for its emphasis on design. There’s the city’s Biennale Internationale Design –the largest of its kind in France—and La Cité du Design, an establishment inaugurated in 2009 within a former arms factory, which hosts temporary exhibitions. Although design is known today as the main “in” to experiencing the city, I was led astray from this feature through the city’s fascinating mining history and its contemporary architecture…

I took a stroll around the eight-acre park around the Puits Couriot, which has a playground, picnic area, and vast lawns. Then I headed in to visit the adjacent Musée de la Mine, a 1000 m² site opened in 2014. It has been declared a historic monument, full of authentic rooms and workshops that showcase the region’s industrial history.

Musée Mine Saint-Etienne (External link) - 3 bd Franchet d'Esperey

I decided to grab a bite at the chic bistrot Un Chien Dans Un Jeu de Quilles, a stone’s throw from the central Place Jean Jaurès. The menu changes regularly with seasonal products. I was tempted by the fresh fish of the day, but ultimately ordered the lentilles du Puy with boudin blanc. No regrets!

Restaurant Un Chien dans un jeu de quilles - La Carte (External link) - 11 rue Praire

I decided to check out the crazy silhouette of performance space Le Zenith, designed by Foster + Partners, who won the international design competition in 2004 with their modular forms. This state-of-the-art venue, which can accommodate audiences ranging from 1000 to over 7000 people, raised Saint-Etienne’s profile. I can see why: the cantilevered roof structure is an interesting feature—and it’s aerodynamic to help channel the flow of air through the building to ventilate the auditorium naturally, which reduces energy.

Zenith Saint-Etienne (External link) (in french) - Rue Scheurer Kestner

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In other architectural curiosities, I wandered around the perimeter of the bright, surprising volumes of the office complex La Cité des Affaires, designed by French architecture studio Manuelle Gautrand. The façades are glazed on three sides, while the fourth is vivid yellow, highlighting a play on forms.

Manuelle Gautrand - Cité des affaires (External link)

To go further into contemporary architecture, I went to visit the largest complex imagined by Le Corbusier in Europe, which Maison de la Culture has been listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage site. I was amazed by its angled facade punctuated by colorful openings as well as the amazing sound and light I witnessed in Saint-Pierre church.

Site Le Corbusier (External link) - Firminy

I decided to pop into Les Contrebandiers Saint-Etienne—which is at once a cave à manger (for nibbles), bar à vins (for wine) and cave à vins (for bottles to take away). What’s better than a lively apéro to chill after a day of discoveries?

Les Contrebandiers Saint-Etienne - 2 rue des Fossés

Once the site of "industrial revolution," Saint-Etienne is experiencing a new wave of modernity right here in the heart of France.