The Lowdown on France’s Euro Host Cities

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Nice is one of the host cities of Euro 2016

Demola Ojo

For the next few weeks, France will be home to Europe’s elite footballers and millions of adoring fans as the world’s most visited country hosts the European Championship across 10 cities.

For residents living in the city, life in Paris has mostly returned to normal since last year’s November 13 terrorist attacks. However, the number of visitors to the city, vital to its economy, has gone down, and the effort to entice tourists back has been hampered by a recent wave of social unrest against proposed changes to France’s employment law.

Interestingly though, this might be the best time to experience summer in France as a tourist, regardless of your interest in the world’s most popular sport or not. This is because anyone planning a holiday in France can find plenty of good deals. This flies against the prevailing logic that the influx of sports fans would drive prices up. The reverse is the case. Millions of “traditional” tourists are actually staying away during the tournament.

The French authorities expect 2.5 million football fans from abroad to visit during the 31 days of the tournament. Yet during a “normal” summer, France would expect to welcome at least that many foreign visitors each week.

Euro 2016 is one reason tourists and business travellers are staying away; the perception is that flights, trains and roads will be filled with football fans, and that travel tickets will be either very expensive or simply unobtainable.

Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tour Operators’ Association, is a respected tourism voice in European circles. He told The Independent: “There is always a disparity between what destinations hope for and what is delivered, particularly as demand for Paris will be sporadic.”

He warned that Euro 2016 would prove “hugely disruptive, enormously expensive and with benefits only apparent to those directly involved, such as ticket sellers, bars and match souvenir salesmen.”

Jenkins said: “In general, the decision to hold events such as these has no tourism justification, neither in the short, medium nor long term. It is a party: it displaces normal business, and replaces it with sports fans. They are there largely because of the sport, not the destination.”

This means that as long as travellers avoid match venues – which is easy to do, given the size of the country – extremely low fares are available.

The 51 matches of Euro 2016 are spread across 10 French cities and towns, from Lille in the north to Nice in the south. Below is a low-down on them. It isn’t too late to plan a visit to one or more and experience the famed French summer. If you’re there for the football, it’s a great opportunity to see more of the city.

Paris

Paris is the French capital, seat of government known as the “City of Light”. It’s France’s largest city with a population of 2.3 million. It’s famed for romance, museums, gastronomy, architecture, the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks.

Stadium: Parc des Princes; home of French League One champion Paris Saint-Germain; built on former royal hunting ground; architect Roger Taillibert’s distinctive concrete structure opened in 1972; capacity expanded to 45,000 and renovated for Euro 2016.

Claim to fame: Engineer Gustave Eiffel’s 324-meter (1,063-foot) tower of wrought iron was the world’s tallest man-made structure when it opened in 1889.

Local dish: With thousands of restaurants, including 92 with coveted stars in the famed Michelin Guide, Paris promises culinary adventure for all tastes.

Saint-Denis

This is a multi-cultural northern suburb of Paris. Forty two kings, 32 queens and 63 princes or princesses were laid to rest on the site of its magnificent cathedral. In 1793, four years after the French Revolution, workmen crowbarred open the coffins and tossed royal remains into mass graves.

Stadium: Stade de France; capacity 80,000; built for 1998 World Cup; hosted final where France beat Brazil 3-0.

Claim to fame: Stadium will host first and last matches of Euro 2016.

Local dish: Saint-Denis’ market, open three days a week and with 300 stands, is a colorful riot of dishes, flavors and ingredients.

Marseille

Marseille is a Mediterranean port and France’s second-largest city after Paris with a population of 864,000. It had a foul reputation in the 1970s for “French Connection” heroin-trafficking mafia. The local team, Olympique de Marseille, won the first edition of the Champions League in 1993.

Stadium: Velodrome; built to host 1938 World Cup; capacity increased to 60,000 for 1998 World Cup; capacity further increased to 67,000 and modernized for Euro 2016; France’s second-largest stadium, after Stade de France.

Claim to fame: Childhood home of Zinedine Zidane , former star turned coach of Real Madrid.

Local dish: “Bouillabaisse” stew made with at least seven different varieties of fish, served with garlic-flavored toasts called “croutons” and “rouille” mayonnaise with saffron.

Lyon

Lyon is France’s third-largest city with 509,000 people. It straddles the Rhone river, in east-central France between the Alps and Massif Central mountains. The city was founded by the Romans and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Stadium: Stade de Lyon; 59,000 capacity; newly built; opened in January; replaced Gerland stadium, Olympique Lyonnais’ home since 1950.

Claim to fame: Lyon won a French-record seven consecutive League One titles from 2002-2008.

Local dish: “Quenelles ,” soft-dough dumplings shaped using two spoons, served with creamy sauce.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is home to a world-renowned wine industry which traces its roots back to Roman times. The southwestern city of 248,000 people straddles the Garonne River that flows into the Atlantic. The city has stunning architecture, with more protected buildings than any other French city outside Paris.

Stadium: Stade de Bordeaux; newly built; inaugurated May 2015; capacity 42,000; home of FC Girondins de Bordeaux, which last won League One in 2009.

Claim to fame: Wine industry produces 720 million bottles annually and says that every second, 22 bottles of Bordeaux are sold around the world.

Local dish: Fresh oysters from the 315 farms in pristine waters of the nearby Arcachon basin, enjoyed with a squirt of lemon or dash of red-wine vinegar.

Toulouse

With a population 466,000, Toulouse is in France’s rugby-loving southwest and home to France’s most successful rugby union club, Stade Toulousain. Toulouse Football Club is a three-time champion of League Two but has never finished higher than third in League One.

Stadium: Stadium de Toulouse; 33,000 capacity; built for 1938 World Cup; extensively repaired after nearby chemical factory exploded in 2001; renovations for Euro 2016 completed in January.

Claim to fame: Headquarters of aerospace giant Airbus .

Local dish: “Foie gras,” flavorsome pate from the livers of force-fed geese.

Lille

Lille is France’s former industrial center near its northern border with Belgium. It has a population of 238,000 and was a former garrison town besieged multiple times. It’s flea-market on the first weekend of every September claims to be Europe’s biggest, attracting 2 million visitors.

Lille’s team — known as LOSC, initials for Lille Olympique Sporting Club — last won League One in 2011.

Stadium: Stade Pierre Mauroy; capacity 50,000; opened in 2012.

Claim to fame: Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle , World War II leader who later was president from 1958-1969.

Local dish: “Carbonade,” rich stew of beef marinated and slow-cooked in beer.

Lens

A former coal-mining center, Lens is the smallest Euro host. It’s stadium can hold the town’s entire population of 32,000.

Stadium: Stade Bollaert-Delelis; capacity 35,000; built by unemployed miners, extensively rebuilt ahead of Euro 2016.

Claim to fame: Razed during World War I and again severely damaged in World War II.

Local dish: Pungent Maroilles cheese extensively used in regional cuisine.

Nice

Nice is a pleasant vacation spot and port on the French Riviera with a population of 346,000. Nice is the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast and the second-largest city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region after Marseille. Nice is about 8 miles (13 km) from the principality of Monaco, and its airport is a gateway to the principality as well.

Stadium: Stade de Nice; 35,000 capacity; opened 2013. Stadium houses National Museum of Sport.

Claim to fame: Vacation spot renowned for pristine white beaches.

Local dish: Aptly named “Socca” pancake made from chickpea flour.

Saint-Etienne

Saint-Etienne is a South-central city of 175,000 and a former center of heavy industry and mining. AS Saint-Etienne was France’s dominant club from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, winning seven League One titles and five French Cups from 1967-1977.

Stadium: Stade Geoffroy Guichard; capacity 42,000; opened in 1931; built on old mine tunnels.

Claim to fame: Hasn’t won League One since last title in 1981, with Michel Platini in midfield.

Local dish: Grated potatoes mixed with eggs and fried.