June 19, 2024

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9 Destinations in France to Enjoy the Olympics Outside of Paris

7 min read

For sports fans, Paris will be the center of the universe this summer — and with 15 million Olympic and Paralympic visitors expected, it will feel like it, with crowds and high prices. But Paris isn’t the only Olympic site in France: Nine destinations outside the metro region are also hosting events, giving travelers a way to catch some action without getting caught up in the crush.

In places like Bordeaux, Marseille and even Tahiti, you can watch top athletes compete in soccer, basketball, sailing and surfing. (Tickets have been added in batches, so if the ones you want aren’t available, keep checking the ticketing site, tickets.Paris2024.org. If all else fails, the official resale platform opens on May 15.)

And when you’re not watching sports, you can take advantage of museums, parks, design centers, and fresh food and wine options. In Nantes, you can even ride a mechanical elephant.

Here are some ideas for planning your own alternative Olympic trip.

Basketball: July 27 to Aug. 4; tickets from 50 euros ($54).

Handball: Aug. 6 to 11, tickets from €45.

Start with a stroll around Vieux-Lille and a coffee in the Grande Place, taking in the colorful facades of this city near the Belgian border. Head over to the St.-Sauveur area to see the Art Deco belfry and exhibitions at Gare St.-Sauveur, a former train station. On Sundays, at the rambling Wazemmes market, about 400 vendors offer produce, fish, plants, fabrics, textiles and leather goods. Head out to Parc du Héron, east of the city, to see the LaM museum (€7), with works by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Joan Miró. Lille is better known for beer than for wine, and the Brasserie Gobrecht offers brewery tours every Saturday (reservations recommended).

Where to stay: Hotel de la Paix (€354 per night); Hotel Carlton (€406).

Soccer: July 24 to Aug. 2; tickets from €24.

Capital of a region best known for its wine, this small southwestern city sells local wine-walk maps at its tourist office. Stop by the Marché des Capucins, a local indoor market that also houses Bistro Poulette, a slightly chaotic and very delicious spot serving moules-frites, or mussels with fries. In the afternoon, check out the Bassins des Lumières (€15), the largest digital art center in the world, and the Cité du Vin (€21), which offers wine-tasting experiences. To wind down in a quiet wine bar, try Yarra, or for a cocktail, Symbiose. If you have time for side trips, spend a day in St.-Emilion, about 27 miles away, where you can sample great wines. Or check out the nearly 340-foot-high Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe — about 37 miles southwest of Bordeaux, near the beach town of Arcachon.

To stay: Les Chambres de Marie (€170); La Maison Galiène (€259); Yndo Hotel (€355); Le Palais Gallien Hôtel & Spa (€419).

Soccer: July 24 to Aug. 8; tickets from €24.

The street signs in Nantes are in both Breton and French, reflecting the city’s historical ties to Brittany. Start at Talensac Market for picnic supplies, especially radishes, local cheeses and strawberries. Pick up local delicacies like Gâteau Nantais (almond poundcake) and Far Breton (flan with Armanac-soaked prunes). Take your picnic lunch to the courtyard of the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, a medieval castle and museum (courtyard is free; museum is €9). On the Île de Nantes, a former shipyard has been transformed into a wild mechanical theme park. The Machines de l’Île mixes Jules Verne’s stories with Leonardo da Vinci’s designs in the form of a ridable mechanical elephant and sea creatures (€9.50 for the elephant ride or gallery visit). The Mémorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage (free) covers Nantes’s history as the most active slave-trading port in 18th-century France. The artists behind the glass-and-concrete memorial, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Julian Bonder, aimed to create “a metaphorical and emotional reminder of the primarily historical, but also very current, struggle for the abolition of slavery.”

To stay: Hotel Voltaire Opéra (€103); Hotel de la Cité (€120).

Shooting: July 27 to Aug. 5; tickets from €24.

The small city not far from the Loire Valley is named for Château Raoul, the 10th-century castle that’s now part of a local official’s private residence. The best view of the château is from the Gütersloh Bridge. Follow the “coulée verte” — or green corridor — along the banks of the Indre River, stopping by Parc de Belle-Isle, which has a lake for swimming, with kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to rent, as well as a beach, playgrounds and camping. The Franciscan Cordeliers Convent (free), which dates to the 13th century, today offers contemporary art exhibits and miles of gardens, and the Bertrand Museum (free), a former 18th-century townhouse, showcases diverse collections in each of its 26 rooms, including the plaster original of the Camille Claudel sculpture “Sakuntala.”

To stay: Au Lys Blanc (€138); Les Rives du Château (€210 for a two-bedroom apartment).

Soccer: Lyon, July 24 to Aug. 9; tickets from €24. St.-Étienne, July 24 to 31; tickets from €24.

It will be easy to catch soccer matches in either Lyon or St.-Étienne, only an hour apart by train or car in east-central France. In Lyon, often called the gastronomic capital of France, visit the majestic Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica, then savor an ice cream at La Fabrique Givrée. Explore the city’s network of covered passageways, called traboules — originally for workers to transport textiles and later used during World War II by the French Resistance for clandestine meetings. Then climb up to the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse neighborhood, with its tiny streets, shops and views of Lyon below. On a clear day, you can even see Mont Blanc. The Lugdunum museum (€7) and the nearby Roman theater (€4) take visitors back to 43 B.C., when Lyon was known as Lugdunum, and La Maison des Canuts (€9.50), covers the city’s history as a capital of silk.

Between Lyon and St.-Étienne, Pilat Regional Natural Park offers more than 900 miles of rocky terrain for hiking and biking, culminating at the summit of 4,700-foot Crêt de la Perdrix, with views of the Alps and Massif Central range.

St.-Étienne, about 40 miles southwest of Lyon, is transforming its historical industrial identity into one of design and innovation. At the heart is the Cité du Design (€4.50), the former site of a weapons factory, which has served as a center for art and research since 2010. The complex, now a key economic force in the city, is open to the public year-round and hosts art and design exhibitions.

To stay in Lyon: Fourvière Hotel (€189); Hôtel du Théâtre (€323).

To stay in St.-Étienne: Le Parc 42 (€113); Le Golf Sauna (€269).

Sailing (including windsurfing, kitesurfing and more): July 28 to Aug. 8; tickets from €24.

Soccer: July 24 to Aug. 6; tickets from €24.

This Mediterranean port city mixes urban grit and natural beauty. Start by visiting Le Panier, the village-like oldest part of the city. Try navettes, a traditional orange flower biscuit, and sample some sardines or panisses, traditional chickpea fries, on a sunny terrace. Detour through the touristy but pleasant Old Port on the way to Mucem (€11), the first major museum dedicated to Mediterranean civilization and cultures. Have a pick-me-up at Deep Coffee Roasters, a specialty roaster tucked away between touristy shops. At sunset, climb up to Cours Julien, a hip neighborhood with beautiful views for your apéro. Don’t miss the Cité Radieuse, a UNESCO-listed apartment complex that shows off the architect Le Corbusier’s Modernist mastery (you can stay at the hotel in it). And just southeast of the city, the Calanques, a series of small, narrow coves, offer miles of oceanside trails and rocky scrambles along turquoise water.

To stay: Hotel Le Corbusier (€229); Maison Juste (€300).

Soccer: July 24 to 31; tickets from €24.

Summer is peak season in Nice, the queen city of the French Riviera, where the mountains meet the Mediterranean. Run, bike or in-line skate along the Promenade des Anglais, a four-mile seaside path. Then climb up to the Colline du Château, a rocky hill east of the promenade with views of Nice and even as far as the Alps. For a longer walk, follow the trails from Coco Beach to the Cap de Nice along the coves. Then head to Cours Saleya, a pedestrian section of the Old Town, with flower stands, antiques and local food like the socca, a chickpea pancake. The Musée de Préhistoire Terra Amata (€5), constructed on top of an excavation site, reveals what Nice was like up to 400,000 years ago. Or just enjoy one of Nice’s pebbled beaches in a lounge chair.

To stay: Hôtel Rossetti (€186); Yelo Mozart (€238).

Surfing: July 27 to 31 (events could shift through Aug. 4, depending on surf conditions); fan zones free.

For surfing’s second Olympics since its debut in Tokyo, the competition takes place far from mainland France in Tahiti, part of French Polynesia. Since the wave is offshore, there will be two ticket-free fan zonesTaharu’u Beach and Paofai Gardens — to watch the events on large screens. A third fan zone at PK0 beach in Teahupo’o will have free tickets but limited access. Tahiti offers white sands and turquoise lagoons in addition to near-perfect waves. For snorkeling, try the lagoon near Maui Beach, five miles from Teahupo’o. For black volcanic sands, head to Taharu’u Beach, about 20 miles northwest of Teahupo’o. About 45 miles from Teahupo’o, Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, with a population of about 26,000, offers a variety of local delicacies like poisson cru: raw fish with lime juice and coconut milk, served with rice. Sample local fare, including steak frites and skewered veal heart, from food trucks, called roulettes, at Place Vai’ete, on the waterfront, near the Papeete Market.

To stay: Kia Ora Lodge (€265, seven miles from Teahupo’o); Punatea Village (€73, six miles from Teahupo’o).

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2024.

Sophie Stuber

2024-04-29 09:01:09

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