Friday, June 10, 2016

Euro 2016: travel guide to France’s host cities

The Euro 2016 host cities all offer a delicious taste of France to go with the football – from glorious food and chic bars to world-class art and architecture

Paris/Saint-Denis
Ireland v Sweden, 13 June
Northern Ireland v Germany, 21 June


At a glance. Paris is a lot more than its endless list of must-see sights. This is still a city of neighbourhoods, almost villages, and to get a real feel for local life explore just one – Pigalle or Montmartre, Bastille or the Marais – and discover street markets, corner bistros and the Parisians themselves, who are a lot friendlier these days than the old, grumpy cliche.

Eat. Le Bouillon Chartier (9th arrondissement) has been open since 1896, serving seven days a week from 11.30am till midnight. Expect a long queue outside the belle époque Chartier, as they don’t take reservations and prices are unbeatable. Don’t expect gourmet cooking but classic French comfort cuisine – confit de canard, choucroute – with mains from €8.50. Les Racines (6th arr) is an unassuming Latin Quarter bistro, where genial chef Jean-François Debert cooks splendid heritage dishes that are fast disappearing elsewhere – juicy Montbéliard sausages with lentils, succulent kidneys smothered with Dijon mustard, and brandade de morue, a creamy cod and potato gratin (plat du jour €14). Le Berbère (62 rue Crozatier, 12th arr), by the buzzing Aligre market, is perfect to try out a North African couscous (from €12) or tagine. Guests are welcomed as if they were family. In Saint-Denis, L’Emaillerie is a bustling neighbourhood brasserie that caters for groups of fans going to the Stade de France. Dishes range from simple entrecôte steak and frites to modern French cuisine such as burger of tuna and foie gras with apple compote.

Drink. At Bar du Marché (11th arr), two minutes from the Bastille, Hakim, the lively barman at this new venue, serves craft beers and organic wines, while chef Xavier cooks up delicious Basque tapas. The mythical Left Bank bar Le Piano Vache (5th arr) is always packed with students, its walls plastered with thousands of yellowing posters. Expect rock’n’roll music and cheap drinks. An ancient, 19th-century cabaret, Aux Folies Belleville (20th arr) is the perfect chill-out bar in the heart of Belleville’s seething Chinatown. Funky retro decor and wine at €3 a glass.

If you see one thing. Avoid long queues outside mega-museums like the Louvre and discover one of the city’s many small museums. Hidden away in the backstreets of Pigalle is the Musée Gustave Moreau, a sumptuous mansion and studio displaying hundreds of striking paintings by this Symbolist master. If heading to the the Stade du France, the must-see in Saint-Denis is the basilica cathedral Saint-Denis, a stone’s throw from the fanzone – it’s a gothic masterpiece and necropolis of the kings and queens of France.

Marseille
England v Russia, 11 June


At a glance. Since Marseille’s reign as European Capital of Culture in 2013, it has been shedding its rough-diamond image. Trendy bars and boutiques have sprung up all over the city, and the redesigned quayside has brought some spectacular architecture to France’s oldest city.

Eat. Waiters dressed as sailors serve delicious bouillabaisse, the city’s famous fish stew, at Chez Michel, Zinedine Zidane’s favourite old haunt. Try the sauteed baby squid at La Boite-à-Sardine, a quirky fishmonger-restaurant with walls covered in gleaming sardine tins and buoys dangling from the ceiling. Otherwise, the most spectacular seafood platters (and pizzas) are at the slightly scruffy Chez Jeannot in the colourful Vallon des Auffes cove. Next door is Viaghji di Fonfon, a tapas and snack bar which is great for a sunset drink.

Drink. Sophisticated beer cellar Fietje has opened Fietje2 in the trendy Saint-Victor district, complete with neon-lit benches on the terrace and hundreds of beers to try. On the same street is La Ruche, a buzzing cocktail and wine bar near the port, open until 2am.

If you see one thing. Make it the Château d’If, Marseille’s 16th-century prison island and the dramatic escape setting for Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

Bordeaux
Wales v Slovakia, June 11 Belgium v Ireland, June 18


At a glance. The recently opened Cité du Vin – AKA the Guggenheim of wine – is the latest €81 million jewel in Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé’s 20-year masterplan to reinvent the south-western city that once came with a fusty reputation. In the past 20 years, handsome lime-stoned buildings have been polished and restored, the riverfront has been turned into an esplanade, the pedestrianised city centre is buzzing with cafes, and a sleek tram system sweeps residents and visitors – whose numbers have leapt from 2 to 6 million in the past five years – across 40km of the city and its suburbs.

Eat. Belle Campagne is a two-storey cantine and upstairs restaurant in the buzzy St Pierre district of the old town. It has a vintage vibe – hardwood floors, exposed brick, zinc bar – and specialises in local seasonal produce, such as porc noir Gascon. There’s finger food at the bar (frites fried in duck fat with aïoli, €4.50) and a full menu upstairs (blonde Aquitaine beef steaks from €7 per 100g). For fish cooked simply and superbly, there’s Le Petit Commerce, also in St Pierre, which has an exhaustive choice of seafood on its daily blackboard. In Marché du Capucins, you can slake your thirst and slurp down oysters at any number of stalls while enjoying the theatre of the day’s commerce.

Drink. Le Point Rouge wine bar and cocktail lounge opened in December in a formerly disused chateau in the developing Quai de Bacalan district not far from Gare St Jean. The discreet sign and bell at the entrance hint at a speakeasy, but inside it is a cavernous warehouse with stone arches, vaulted ceilings and concrete floors. The USP is the staggering choice on the wine menu: 1,200 by the bottle and 40 by the glass, as well as more than 100 cocktails.

If you see one thing. It would be rude not to visit the Cité du Vin, after all the time and money spent to position Bordeaux as the world capital of wine. But not far away in the redeveloped Bassin à Flots dockland area is the astonishing La Base Sous-Marine, a brutish building that was a former U-boat bunker that now serves as an exhibition space for photography, festivals and performing art events.

Nice
Poland v Northern Ireland, 12 June


At a glance. Ironman, an array of seafront marathons and the construction of the new Allianz Riviera stadium have made Nice the sporting capital of the south. It is also home to France’s national sports museum.

Eat. The narrow streets of the old town are the best place to find the local specialities socca (chickpea pancake) and pissaladière (sweet onion and olive tart). For a seafront salade niçoise, eat at Di Più on the promenade (€14.50), or try the open-grilled lamb and Iberian pluma at L’Antica, near the station.

Drink. Hot afternoons are best spent overlooking the super-yachts at the Café du Cycliste, a cool, warehouse-style tearoom full of Lycra, bike racks and 3D maps of the Riviera. Hire a carbon-framed bike and be in Monaco the same evening. On the other side of the port is the Café des Chineurs, which serves draft fruit beers and has an eccentric assortment of curios and antiques alongside giant pine tables. In the time it takes to watch a game of football, you can create a three-dimensional keyring of yourself for €20 at Le Comptoir de l’Imaginaire, France’s first 3D café. Here, you can create an image of something on the cafe’s computers (anything you want), then make it in 3D… like your own golden boot.

If you see one thing. The Coulée Verte, Nice’s new park, complete with dancing fountains and cooling mist machines.

Lens
England v Wales, 16 June


At a glance. This former coalmining town, a short drive south-east of Calais, is widely believed to have the strongest footballing culture in France, so expect a good atmosphere at the 38,000-seater Stade Bollaert-Delelis.

Eat. Tuck in to the local Flemish cuisine in one of the area’s taverns, or estaminets. A local favourite is Le Pain de la Bouche, which serves hearty meat and potato dishes. The restaurant at the Lensotel shouldn’t be missed. There are a number of sophisticated dishes, such as foie gras and lobster with saffron sauce, on the reasonably priced menu (three courses from €20.50).

Drink. This is beer country, so settle down in the traditional pub just a few minutes’ drive from the centre at the Al’ Fosse 7. Closer to the action, the Cubana Bar serves a good selection of beers.

If you see one thing. Lens boasts the architectural wonder that is the Louvre-Lens, the outpost of the famous Paris museum. It has an excellent selection of works on loan from the parent gallery, and the on-site Atelier de Marc Meurin restaurant serves Michelin-star cuisine (menus from €32).

Lyon
Ukraine v Northern Ireland, 16 June


At a glance. In its headlong, seemingly unstoppable rush to modernise, notably via the economic and architectural regeneration of La Confluence, at the southern end of its Presqu’ile district, Lyon remains a city dedicated to the French art of good living, be that in food or nightlife.

Drink. In summer, Lyon’s youth gathers along the Rhone to drink on the numerous barges that line its banks. Star Ferry beer garden is the most sought-after spot, with its tasty burgers and beers from all over the world. Another favourite destination is the fashionable slopes of the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood, jammed with bars and music venues. The most recent is La Grooverie, dedicated to black music in both its acts and its retro, soulful decor. But the socially and ethnically mixed La Guillotiere district is the city’s nightlife hub. Livestation DIY is a gay- and electronic-friendly bar, whose Berlin vibe and themed nights would not be out of place in a sitcom.

Eat. For several years now the only way to eat for Lyon foodies has been bistronomie – high-end cuisine served in informal surroundings at affordable prices. Japanese chef Katsumi Ishida is the pioneer and undisputed master in this field. His restaurant En mets fais ce qu’il te plaît (a pretty untranslatable pun) opened in 1999. Traditional Lyonnais food – the kind served in the city’s bouchons – is kept alive in institutions such as Café Comptoir Abel in the middle-class Ainay district, serving quenelles, andouillette sausages and other specialities under 300-year-old beams. In the old town, the cafe on the top floor of the Gadagne museum (which until 4 September has an enthralling exhibition about the sociology of football) has a pretty, peaceful garden ideal for brunch.

If you see one thing. Unless its status as a landmark has been usurped by the Musée des Confluences, the Fourvière hill is still emblematic of the city. Its 19th-century basilica is Lyon’s answer to Paris’s Sacré-Coeur, complete with view. And the Roman amphitheatre at little way down the hill is well-enough preserved to host one of the region’s most important music festivals, the Nuits de Fourvière: headlining this year are Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Tame Impala and the Pixies.

Toulouse
Russia v Wales, 20 June


At a glance. “La Ville Rose” is the heart of south-west France’s rugby country, but for football fans there is much to appreciate. The Place du Capitole is one of the liveliest squares in France, and there’s also the shady towpath of the Canal du Midi to stroll along.

Eat. Toulouse is the gastronomic capital of the region, and even the rugby stadium has a Michelin-starred chef serving up the half-time grub in his brasserie. Head to the rue des Blanchers for a huddle of great restaurants: try the shredded lamb shank confit at Du Plaisir à la Toque (€26 for two courses), or cram in for lunch at one of the five restaurants on the first floor of the Victor Hugo market – most offer a three-course meal for around €25, and L’Impérial does an excellent cassoulet Toulousain.

Drink. Watch matches on the giant screen at Pub St Pierre beside the Garonne river, before moving to Le Wallace Café for a glass of the local Gaillac wine, or a “fraisoffee” on their huge terrace. Late-night live bands perform at Breughel L’Ancien – you can hear the sound-checks from the Romanesque Saint Sernin Basilica nearby.

If you see one thing. Make it the boat-free waterskiing at the Sesquières quarry in the north of the city.

St Etienne
England v Slovakia, 20 June


At a glance. The city at the heart of France’s industrial past has reinvented itself and is now a centre of design innovation, with striking architecture (Zenith music hall, La Cité des Affaires), an enormous modern art museum and a host of smaller galleries and studio spaces showcasing work from local artists. The city’s stadium, Geoffroy-Guichard, is nicknamed Le Chaudron and seats 42,000.

Eat. The great-value Insens boasts a Bib Gourmand award from Michelin. For a sociable soiree, indulge in a meat or cheese fondue at Chez les Fondus. For a slap-up steak dinner, try La Java Bleue, a charming little restaurant with a 50s vibe.

Drink. Enjoy drinks and tapas at Les Contrebandiers wine bar, or join the in-crowd at the Café Saint-Jacques.

If you see one thing. The Musée de la Mine offers a fascinating insight into the city’s coalmining heritage, with clever displays and a guided tour of a recreated mineshaft.

Lille
Italy v Ireland, 22 June


At a glance. Lille began reinventing itself when it was European Capital of Culture in 2004, and has never looked back. The old medieval town centre, Vieux Lille, boasts ornate guild houses and renaissance palaces, but there are also cutting-edge art venues like the Tripostal and Maison Folie Wazemmes. Above all, the welcoming Lillois have a deserved reputation for enjoying themselves, which visitors quickly discover in the city’s numerous bistros and pubs.

Eat. In a backstreet behind the train station, A La Renaissance (29 place des Reignaux) is a raucous cantine serving Lillois cuisine, such as delicious pavé de rumsteak topped with a tangy Maroilles cheese sauce and a mountain of frites for €13. Bistros here are traditionally known as estaminets, and at the redbrick Chez La Vieille little has changed – from the regional dishes to the cosy decor– since it opened a century ago. There’s a large selection of ales, and don’t miss the €13 carbonnades flamandes, a rich beef and beer casserole.

Drink. Walk out of the Eurostar station and there are half a dozen tempting pubs to choose from. Les 3 Brasseurs is actually a microbrewery with most of the beers made on the premises, and they serve tasty pub grub, like the speciality Le Welsh, a burger topped with cheese melted with brown ale. La Capsule specialises in artisan and abbey-brewed beers, plus a wide selection of whiskies and the local Flemish firewater, genievre, brewed from juniper berries, which is like gin but drunk neat. As Lille has become more fashionable, there are now cocktail and wine bars to choose from, too. The tiny Chez Paulette combines a wide choice of wines with classic cocktails, while a plate of foie gras can be had for €10.

If you see one thing. French provincial cities often boast exceptional fine art museums, none more so than Lille – the palatial belle époque Palais des Beaux-Arts exhibits masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet.

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