The first thing that would come to your mind when you hear the name Saint-Etienne is the AS Saint-Etienne football club (nicknamed The Greens) which has won the Ligue 1 a whopping 10 times.
This French industrial city is taking steps into becoming “the design capital” of the 21st century, for its life-span, Saint-Etienne was always known as the city of “weapon, cycle and ribbon”.
In the past decades, it has become a Town of Art and History in 2000. Since enter into the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2010, the city has been shifting to become a City of Design and its old Arms factory has been tuned into a design center called Cité du Design.
This French city in Eastern central France has progressed in importance over the years. As it was mainly known for the arms manufacturing industry from the 16th century.
Later in the 17th century it developed the manufacture of ribbons and passementerie. Not long after the mining industry found its way through the town followed by the bicycle industry as well.
The weather in Saint-Etienne is as you’d normally expect, it has warm humid summers with some of the heaviest snowfalls in France during winter season. This beautiful weather makes it worth a visit if you’re in the area, whether during the summer or holiday seasons.
Getting to Saint-Etienne
- Fly in:
The nearest airport to the city of Saint-Etienne is the Saint-Étienne – Bouthéon Airport which is located about 12 kilometers north-west of Saint-Etienne.
If you’re in Paris, for example, the fastest way to get to Saint-Etienne is by plane where you would travel the whole 410 kilometers from Paris to the city. A flight of about an hour and 5 minutes will usually cost you around 130 Euros. The most popular flight company is AirFrance.
- Travel by train:
An alternative to flying but doesn’t take the same long time as traveling by a bus. You can get a train ticket for around 38 Euros.
The trip is close to three hours in time, which isn’t an issue if you don’t want to splurge on a flight ticket, got some time on your hands and would like to get to Saint-Etienne faster than a bus.
The train will mostly leave Paris from Gare de Lyon and will arrive at the main railway station of Saint-Etienne which is called Gare de Saint-Étienne-Châteaucreux.
This railway station also offers high speed services to Paris, Lyon and other cities. The train service from Paris to Saint-Etienne operates three times a day, though it is better to check the availability of such services while planning your trip.
- By bus:
If you’re looking for the cheapest alternative to get to Saint-Etienne, via bus is definitely the way. For the average ticket price of 15 Euros, you will take the ride from Paris to Saint-Etienne in about 7 hours.
The bus will mostly leave from Paris, Quai de Bercy (Bercy Seine) and arrive in Saint-Étienne, Gare SNCF. A notable bus company you can book a trip with is Flixbus.
While you can find good price deals for these travel options like a week prior to your travel from Paris to Saint-Etienne, it’s more advisable to book months in advance; to get the best price deals, if your trip itinerary is all planned.
How about we get to know Saint-Etienne together?
A lot of questions are circulating wondering if Saint-Etienne is worth a visit, it might be surprising to know that many people don’t perceive Saint-Etienne as a tourist destination. However, this design pinnacle city has a wide variety of museums, monumental buildings, an agenda of events and natural sites to lure you in.
La Cathedrale Saint-Etienne (Saint-Étienne Cathedral):
This construction of this neo-gothic style cathedral has been forcibly stopped several times. Dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo which was an indirect appreciation of the then King Charles X. The idea was originally born in 1830 to accommodate with the city’s growing industrial importance.
A small chapel was built at first after which secularist authorities continued to obstruct the plans for a bigger church. The first stone of the great church was blessed in 3rd of November, 1912 only for works to stop due to the start of the First World War and set to begin in 1919.
The funds assigned for the project were downsized because of the war and inflation that hit the country. The original cathedral built is much less extravagant than what was first planned. Until this day, it remains unfinished though it was elevated to cathedral status in 1970.
Eglise Sainte Marie:
A neo-Byzantine church, it was built on the site of the ancient convent of the Visitandines in 1622. It once acted as a prison then as a depot, it went back to its original purpose at beginning of the 19th century. Preserved in this church is a relic of the Holy Thorn of the Crown of Christ.
Chapelle de La Charité:
This chapel that displays amazing woodwork is part of the buildings known as La Charité which were created in 1764 to keep the destitute out of the city.
Built to venerate Saint Jean-François Régis who was a 17th century missionary, he was nicknamed “The Apostle of Velay and Vivarais” Three churches precede the current one, all dedicated to Saint François and were built in the same spot.
The first one was built in 1858, was demolished in 1924 for being too small with plans to build a bigger one. The second one was built in 1910 but most of it was destroyed by bombs in 1944. The bell-tower and the sacristy survived and were included into the construction of the third church which was demolished in 1972.
Saint-Pierre (Saint Peter):
Was initially designed as a Roman Catholic church, it is located in the town of Firminy which is 13 kilometers southeast of Saint-Etienne by train. It is a one of a kind concrete building with its walls looking up at the sky.
Construction initially began in 1971 except that due to political conflicts, works were halted from 1975 to 2003 when the building was declared architectural l heritage. The local government finished the construction of the building that has been used to several purposes such as a secondary school, a shelter and is now used as a cultural venue.
In the World Architectural Survey held by Vanity Fair magazine in 2010, the building was voted to be second of the top structures built in the 21st century.
Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art):
Also known as MAMC, this museum has one of a kind collection in the whole of France. Taking place on Rue Fernand Léger, the museum is a stunning 3,000 square meters of show space. It consists of 10 show rooms that display the museum’s collection and 14 other show rooms that are used every year for temporary exhibitions following certain themes or known artists.
There are more than 19,000 works of art housed in this museum, mostly from the 20th century with some pieces from the ancient times. To list a few examples, there are works by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, some iconic pieces and series by Pierre Soulages to name one.
Collections such as Minimalism and German Art of the 1980s are a couple of the collections showcased in the museum. Since many important pieces can get loaned to other museums around the world, 600 works each year, it’s not always possible to seem them. The museum has a restaurant that is open at midday.
Saint-Étienne Mine Museum:
Since Saint-Etienne gained significant importance from the mining industry, the existence of a mine museum in the city is sort of a given. The museum was founded in 1991 on the site of the last coal mine in the city and was registered as a historical monument in 2011.
In December 2014, the inauguration of the three exhibitions of the museum took place to showcase a part of the museum’s collections. These exhibitions are The Figure of the Miner, The Great History of Couriot and Six Centuries of Coal Adventures.
The museum is a show mine, meaning you can visit a reconstructed gallery and historical buildings of the mine. Rooms such as The Grand Lavabo; the main washroom, and the compressor room are among the sites you get to visit.
Musée d’Art et d’Industrie (Museum of Art and Industry):
This museum is to discover the three ways of the city of Saint-Etienne; weapons, cycles and ribbons. You can explore the evolution of ribbon making since the 16th century, the preparatory work of silk and the intricate art ribbon makers produced.
In six main themes, you will get acquainted with the history of bicycle which is a witness to human practices and social developments. The history of small arms production in the city of Saint-Etienne is explained through highlighting the social function of the object and multimedia is used to make the process much easier. The course is marked by developments in firing systems and by weapons representative of the design of each era.
The museum is open every day except Mondays from 10 am to 6 pm. The ticket offices close at 5 pm while the theaters close from 5:45 pm. A guided tour will cost you 7.50 E or 5.50E for a reduced price. The museum offers the possibility of booking your ticket up to 15 days prior to your visit except that reservation closes the day before the visit.
If you’re a group together wishing to spend the day at the museum, you can request a picnic room to be set which you request at the time of making your reservation. On the 29th of April, 2018 the Musée du vieux Saint-Etienne or The Museum of old Saint-Etienne was permanently closed, all arts and artifacts from it were transferred here to the Museum of Art and Industry.
Place Jean Jaures:
Has been the square of the center of the city of Saint-Etienne since the 19th century. The square is partly located on the gardens of the nuns of Sainte-Catherine and partly on the land once belonged to Saint-Etienne’s former mayor. This beautiful square is adorned with flowers, has a pool, games, fountains, statues, a merry go-round and even a band-stand created by Louis Mazerat.
Due to its majestic buildings and local shops, it is considered one of the most upscale districts of the city. Beside Saint-Charles Cathedral, there are several buildings outlining this square that are worth noticing. The Hôtel de la Préfecture which currently houses government offices, was inaugurated in 1902.
Many sculptures and a helmeted bust of the goddess Athena adorn the building while the south façade summarizes the great moments in the history of the Loire. The Condition des Soies building which is a registered historic monument since 2002 while its construction was finished in 1910. Until 1962, technical and regulatory operations pertaining to the ribbon industry were performed in this building. Building Loire Republican which was built as a headquarters for the newspaper La Loire Republican.
La Cité du Design:
Built on the former arms factory of the city in 2009, this design biennale is the largest of its kind in France. For two weeks, a vast array of architectural works and exhibition galleries are put on display every two years.
The architectural structure of the building is an example of the industrial era architecture. The museum has exhibition halls, libraries, auditorium and a restaurant. You can walk the distance from the Town Hall Square to this exhibition fiesta in about 15 minutes.
Now wouldn’t you want to check this massive building nicknamed Le Chaudron or The Cauldron? You can literally imagine how intense the atmosphere can be during a game inside. It is one of the most notable buildings in Saint-Etienne, home to the city’s football team AS Saint-Etienne.
The stadium is built on a land purchased by Geoffroy Guichard and is also known by name “The Green Hell” as a reference to the green color worn by the football team. Opened on 13th of September 1931, AS Saint-Etienne’s first game was on the 17th of September of the same year. The stadium is house to “Musee des Verts” or Museum of the Greens, which tells the history of Saint-Etienne. Guided tours are available to book as well.
The museum opens from Tuesday to Sunday 2 pm to 6 pm, also on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays 10 am to 12 pm. Tours run multiple times a week and about three times a day. The ticket to the museum is 7 E that goes up to 15 E for the guided tour and visit to the museum.
In addition to football matches, several tournaments were held there. The 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup were held there.
It’s worth noting that for a ticket of 20 Euros per year, you can have free access to Cité du Design, Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Saint-Étienne Mine Museum and the Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain.
Being the capital of the Loire department, Saint-Etienne has nature running right through it. You can relax and meditate in one of two nature sanctuaries.
1. Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat (Pilat Regional Park):
Situated on the road between Lyon and Saint-Etienne, this countryside that is full of mountains is the perfect gateway from the city. You would want to grab your camera as you spend the day cycling through using the cycle trails or enjoying the view through a car ride.
A sweet taste of adrenaline and adventure will fill your lungs as you hike up the 1,430 meters to get to the top of Crêt de la Perdrix. As you look down from the peak, you are guaranteed to lose yourself in the vastness of the meadows and hills.
2. Gorges de la Loire Nature Reserve:
This breathtaking piece of nature that was created in 1988 was declared a natural reserve in 1999. Through your time there you will get to explore the vast landscape, the villages tucked away in the folds of nature and the architectural heritage around which this nature reserve was created.
Many activities allow you to explore the beauty of this privileged environment. You can go hiking in different landscapes, you can discover local villages with their churches and castles. You can relax on the beach of St. Victor and forget about everything.
Events and Festivals in Saint-Etienne
There are several events that take place in Saint-Etienne which you can catch if you desire a change from sightseeing all day. Almost every month, a new event takes place in the city.
1. Winter Jazzeries Festival (January):
This festival is for all jazz lovers where the Gaga Jazz association offers quality programs to entertain lovers of this form of music.
2. Arcomik Festival:
If laughter is what you seek, this festival is the one for you. It is one for comedians, both famous and amateurs, to have a try at bringing a laugh out of you.
3. Spring of the Poets (March):
Poets from various cultural backgrounds come together in the same poetic dynamic to design a rich program that would draw people in. Poetry comes to you from the bends of the streets, bookstores, museums, cafes and many other public venues.
4. Festival Pass Musiques (March):
For fairly low prices, the Office Musicale of Saint-Étienne tries to bring you quality concerts. From classical to contemporary vocal music to French and foreign folklore. This festival is mainly for amateur musicians.
5. Curious Travelers Festival Trotting (March):
This festival will teach you how you can travel our beautiful globe while still keep our earth safe.
6. Massenet Festival (March):
A musical festival that takes place every two years, it is dedicated to the French composer Jules Massenet and takes place near the location where the composer was born. This festival might have officially began in November 1990 and the two famous operas, Cléopâtre and the oratorio La Vierge were played.
But the fact is that an unofficial festival was held in 1988 where Massenet’s Amadis was played received huge success, organizers decided to seek funding for a more permanent festival. A piece of good news is that all the festival performances that took place before 1995 were released on audio CD.
7. International Biennale of Design (April 6th to 31st July – odd years only):
This festival takes place in the building of the former arms factory in Saint-Etienne. The boutique in this place is open from Tuesday to Friday from 10 am to 12:30 pm and from 1:30 pm to 6 pm. This boutique offers a colorful array of books, creations from young designers, objects from designers, creators and innovative companies.
Resting on the shelves are editions from Cité du design and journals such as Azimuts , edited by the postgraduate students of the establishment. These editions and journals you can order from their online shop.
8. Museum Night (May):
This festival allows you to discover more of the charms of the museums in Saint-Etienne. The Museum of Art and Industry, the Museum of Modern Art and Saint-Étienne Mine Museum. This discovery trip is for free and you are taken on a journey that offers a different perspective to heritage.
9. Lyrics and Music Festival (June):
Young artists join famous artists to bring to you concerts sponsored by the Stéphanois meeting place for French song. Writing workshops and concerts are set up at Maison d’Arrêt. Musical meetings are held in primary schools and readings take place all around the city.
10. Trax Festival (June):
If you want to bust a move, this festival is for you. It is dedicated to the lovers of hip hop dance in all its forms. Performers gather from all over France to perform and compete.
11. Les Before de Couriot (July/ August):
Every Wednesday and Friday in the summer, the city turns into a music festival. Different forms of music are played at concerts everywhere.
12. 7 Hills Festival (July/ August):
The perfect mix of theater, dance, music, cinema and circus are on display in this colorful festival.
13. Roches Celtiques A (Festival of the Celtic – July/ August):
A celebration of the Celtic music and dance, this festival takes place for a weekend in Saint-Victor-sur-Loire, Saint-Etienne and Rochetaillée.
14. BWD12 Festival:
For five days, musicians and the public share the intimacy of chamber music and its treasures around instrumental compositions ranging from duet to sextet, in the enchanting setting of the green theater of Saint-Victor-sur-Loire.
15. European Heritage Days (Third weekend in September):
Every year, at the same time, places of history and heritage that are otherwise closed to the public, are open offering guided tours.
16. Book Festival (3rd weekend in October):
For three days, all the city of Saint-Etienne transforms into one vast open-air bookstore. The festival began in 1986 and it is a safe haven for all book lovers to mingle and get to know the authors who like to participate in the festival.
17. Fête de la science (October):
This festival has a national dimension to it, many scientific workshops, events are held. After this event you will never look at science the same again.
18. Village des Sciences (October):
This event is organized by the City of Saint-Étienne, the City of Saint-Chamond and La Rotonde. This event offers a playful and participatory discovery space that offers young and old alike, an abundance of workshops and meetings, shows, inventive scientific meetings.
19. Pléiades, Digital Arts Festival (5th to 9th of November):
The Sainté Shopping merchants association, in partnership with the City of Saint-Étienne invite you to discover digital and interactive sound and visual works. The multiple works presented will amuse you, amaze you and invite you to rethink our world and its connections.
20. Positive Education (November):
This festival is one that fills the city of Saint-Étienne with electronic music, jungle, bass music and techno.
21. Sainte-Barbe (Every Saturday in December):
Saint-Étienne keeps its tradition with this festival where the young and old join the parade from the Place de l’Hotel de Ville to the Puits Couriot / Parc-musée de la Mine which hosts a great pyrotechnic show. On this occasion, the Mine Museum is open for free.
During the whole of December, all through to the holiday season, Christmas markets are set all around the city of Saint-Étienne. You wouldn’t want to miss visiting this evolving city in any season of the year.
With lively and most definitely enjoyable festivals all year round, how about you add home of “The Cauldron” to the list of cities to visit?