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Sunday 20 August 2023

France puts out the welcome mat for rugby fans

It might just be one of the longest major sports events ever held.

The Tour de France and the Olympic Games games stretch over three weeks; the World Cup soccer tournament extends well over a month.

But this year's Rugby World Cup in France will run for seven weeks from September 8 to October 28.

There will be 48 matches featuring 20 national teams in France.

This will be the10th in a tournament series played every four years since 1987. I've been lucky enough to attend four of them: the opening event in New Zealand/Australia, in South Africa, in the British Isles and France, and in Australia.

While Paris will be the main stage - hosting the opener between France and the New Zealand All Blacks and the final - nine other cities will also host games.


During the almost six years I lived in France I visited seven of the host cities. Sorry Toulouse and St Etienne.

Here are my brief thoughts on the cities rugby fans will be descending upon.

Paris will be in the spotlight and is always a city of surprises and joy. The opening will be played at the Stade de France (top image), the largest stadium in the country.

The 80,000-seat arena will also host the two semi-finals and the third-place playoff.

Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Bordeaux, Nantes, Toulouse, Lille-Villeneuve d’Asq and St Etienne are also in the host line-up.

Marseille’s Orange Vélodrome is usually the home of football team Olympique Marseille. 

Be careful where you go at night in Marseille. The port city is my least favourite destination in France and in my experiience the locals the least welcoming.

In contrast, a French city that screams art and culture, is Bordeaux, with over 350 UNESCO-listed buildings in its historic centre. Wine lovers will want to explore the vineyards and visit the Cité du Vin wine museum on the banks of the Garonne. Dine at quirky La Tupina if you get the chance.

Toulouse, called  the ‘Ville Rose’ (Pink City) is known for its aerospace industry and is rugby heartland. Try the local sausages.  

Lyon is the gourmet capital of France, a delightful city with narrow streets and secret passageways, hidden staircases and stylish courtyards. Head to one of its ‘bouchons’ (traditional restaurants) for a casual gastronomic experience.

Lille's Pierre-Mauroy stadium in the suburb of Villeneuve d’Asq is an unlikely venue - football is king in the his region of France. Visit LaM (the Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Art Brut) set in large park full of sculptures.

Nice, surprisingly chosen ahead of rugby-crazy Toulon, is home to many of the highlights of the Côte d’Azur. Visit the local markets and walk the Promenade des Anglais.

In Nantes, the Beaujoire stadium is best known for its football team than rugby. Visit the ‘Machines de l’Ile’ site: former shipyards where you can climb aboard a giant carousel of extraordinary sea creatures. And have a seafood meal at La Cigale - one of my personal favourite restaurants.

St Etienne is another city much better know for football than rugby. It is the gateway to the Auvergne, with its gentle sloping mountains, dormant volcanoes and beautiful countryside.

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