On the ground during the action, Rugby World saw the best of Sainté hospitality
To quote Rugby World contributor Mark Palmer as he looked around Saint-Étienne’s Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, “France is absolutely stuffed with class sporting venues.”
And as you scan the famous ground you can understand why this is one of the writer’s favourite venues. But perhaps what makes the place pop – as well as the passion for top-level sport – is the flat-out love of hosting. Saint-Étienne is a city with open arms.
Which makes it the perfect spot to stage Rugby World Cup action. And while they have been blessed to have such enthralling fixtures as Australia versus Fiji (one of those matches that may well go down in Rugby World Cup history), the more time you spend in town, the more you realise that there’s just something about the Sainté and sport.
The rugby vibe in Saint-Étienne
Get off the train at Saint-Étienne Châteaucreux station on a match-day and two things hit you. One is sense of joy around the small square, with quaint karaoke-style singing, flags and colour and tourist information, with locals ready to point you in the right direction.
Related: Visit Sainte-Étienne
Not that it’s needed because of point two: the tram stop is right there, in front of you, and hop on that, and you’ll be at the stadium in no time. Or there’s a fanwalk that gets you there in no time.
What you find on site is a precinct with ease of access not just to the stadium but to fellow revellers. It’s easy to navigate – outdoors, if you want to soak up the atmosphere right away, or at the Orbital taproom right beside the site.
Of course this is the home of AS Saint-Étienne (les Verts) and is akin to a cathedral of footballing history – a quick whizz around the club’s museum will tell you as much. Through the incredible Wallabies and Fiji match you could feel that fizz, while Samoa and Argentina presented a real physical spectacle fit for such a venue. Ooft.
But the sporting charm isn’t confined to just the ground.
For example, head to the Six Nations pub at Place Jean Jaurès on a match day and you’ll get just the same vibe – spilling out into the square in the best possible way. In fact, the whole area is in on it, caught up in the sporting moment.
That jolt carries through the fan village too, though the live DJ sets and big screens help with that as well.
Much more than that
And while this is something you want to grab onto for every moment the Wallabies, Pumas, Lobos, Azzurri and Welwitschias are in town, what’s amazing is that you can get away from it easily.
Let me explain: It’s not that these moments are all too fleeting – a daunder down Rue des Martyrs de Vingré let’s you know that hospitality is a mainstay of this city. It’s just that there’s compact brilliance here, and just a short jump out of town, say 25 minutes by car, and the scenery changes quickly, breathtakingly into something else. Quickly confronted by the best of nature, there is plenty of activity out there for you…
Of course, this is just life through the lens of a rugby fan. What you’ll find in our other pieces about Saint-Étienne is the cultural and culinary side of the city, as well as the broader attractions of the area. Keep your eyes open for those.