You might know Saint-Etienne as one of the host cities for UEFA 2016. However, the city is home to more than just the ardent green shirt fans of Les Verts. Saint-Etienne’s notable residents once included composer extraordinaire Jules Massnet, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aristide Briand, and the pioneer of contemporary architecture Le Corbusier, whose collection of buildings in the city is the largest anywhere in Europe.
For a city that suffered a debilitating downturn in the 1970s following a manufacturing crisis, Saint-Etienne’s revitalization as a UNESCO “City of Design” already hints at the marvels it has to offer. Here, we show you the best ways to appreciate this multi-faceted, dynamic city.
1. Visit Musée d'Art et d’Industrie
Before it was the City of Design, Saint-Etienne already had a history deeply rooted in technology and industry. Since the 16th-century, it had an armament industry that earned Saint Etienne its reputation as Armeville (Arms Town) during the French revolution. This grew into a booming textile trade, and subsequently a mining industry in the 19th-century with the advent of the railway.
It is this pulse of innovation that Saint Etienne draws on to reinvent itself as the hub of design excellence. The Musée d'Art et d’Industrie has an extensive collection of artefacts and records documenting the centuries-old ingenuity of Saint- Etienne residents. From ribbon weaving equipments to dandy horses (the frontrunner of bicycles!), a trip of the museum is sure to be informative and entertaining.
Musée d'Art et d’Industrie
Address: 2 Place Louis Comte, 42000 Saint-Étienne, France
2. Musée d'art moderne
Originally an annex of the Musée d'art et d’industrie, the sleek museum of modern art was established as a separate museum in 1987 to accommodate its burgeoning collection. The museum was one of the first spaces dedicated to contemporary art outside of Paris.
The 3,000 m2 (32,000 sq. ft) exhibition space has curated works by both local and international artists, and pieces by the likes of Monet, Picasso, Hausmann and Magnelli have also graced the walls of the museum. In fact, the Musée d’art moderne boasts one of the largest collections of its type in France.
Musée d'art moderne
Address: Rue Fernand Léger, 42270 Saint-Priest-en-Jarez, France
Website: Musée d'art moderne
3. Parc-Musée de la Mine
The Parc-Musée de la Mine is an absolute playground for any one interested in Saint Etienne’s mining history. The Couriot pit, where the main exhibits are installed, is recognized as a historical monument for being the largest and most well-preserved coal mine in the Saint Etienne basin.
Visitors can trace the footsteps of the miners who toiled here. Stand before the vast washbasin where workers mingled and changed, or marvel at the beast of an extraction machine that heaved and smoked until it was finally shut down in 1973. A reconstructed gallery further explains in detail the exhausting work of coal-mining. Each of the spaces in Parc-Musée de la Mine have been meticulously maintained to give visitors an authentic foray into the miner’s lives.
Parc-Musée de la Mine
Address: Parc Joseph Sanguedolce, 3 Boulevard Maréchal Franchet D'esperey, 42000 Saint-Étienne, France
Website: Parc-Musée de la Mine
4. Planétarium de Saint-Étienne
The Planetarium of Saint-Etienne is an example of the technological compulsion that characterizes the city. Since its opening in 1993, the planetarium has put on productions showcasing the phenomenas of astronomy, first with simple optical systems, then a digital simulator, and now with a Stereoscopic 3D fulldome. As the first 3D planetarium in France, it is constantly improving its systems to give visitors a more immersive experience.
The planetarium’s extensive database allows it to project hundreds of thousands of galaxies in all its dimensions onto its dome. Its repertoire of documentaries and animations is frequently updated so you can be sure of a fresh experience on each visit.
Planétarium de Saint-Étienne
Address: 28 Rue Pierre and Dominique Ponchardier, 42100 Saint-Etienne, France
5. Site Le Corbusier
Site Le Corbusier in Firminy is a short 20 minute drive out of Saint-Etienne. Fans of the architect will recognize his distinctive style of manipulating geometric forms and symbiosis with nature. Lights and colors interplay with the unorthodox spatial dimensions, and Le Corbusier’s choice of steel and concrete reflects the old mining and industrial background of Firminy.
The sprawling complex includes an Olympic stadium, a cultural center, a residential block, and a church. Apart from being the architect’s largest project in Europe, second only to India’s Chandigarh, the Church of Saint-Pierre at Site Le Corbusier was also the last major work of the architect before his untimely death in 1965. It was only 41 years later, in 2006, that his student Jose Oubrerie saw it to completion.
Site Le Corbusier
Address: Boulevard périphérique du Stade, 42700 Firminy, France
Website: Site Le Corbusier
6. Cité du Design
Cité du Design brings together the city’s crème de la crème to educate, innovate, and present on the evolutions of design. Sitting at the site of a former armament factory, the centre’s magnificent lattice exterior is a landmark at Saint Etienne’s creative district, Manufacture-Plain-Achille. Cité du Design’s facade is pieced together with a staggering 14,000 equilateral triangles. Not only do they make for a stunning visual, the triangles function as both light and heat regulators, a critical component for the eco-friendly project.
The highlight for most visitors is the 32 m (105 ft) high observatory tower, which offers a magnificent panorama of the city.
Cité du Design
Address: 3 Rue Javelin Pagnon, 42000 Saint-Étienne, France
Website: Cité du Design
7. Pilat Regional Natural Park
If you crave for some greens after all that concrete, Pilat Regional Natural Park can be found right on the fringe of Saint Etienne. The 65,000 ha (160,619 acre) park is sanctuary to a diversity of flora and fauna, which thrives under the Mediterranean, continental and oceanic climates that come together at Pilat’s unique coordinates. Its varied landscapes, from undulating meadows to spruce covered hillsides, affords bikers and hikers plenty of paths to choose from.
Moreover, it is not just nature that the park is rich in; Pilat Regional Natural Park is also steeped in history and heritage. Spread over the departments of Loire and Rhône, the park covers 47 rural communes and is home to approximately 50,000 residents. It is little wonder that the natural park is a source of pride for many locals.
Pilat Regional Natural Park
Website: Pilat Regional Natural Park
8. Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez Village
Of the 47 member communes, do make time for Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez in the Loire department. The compound dates back to the 13th-century, and is special in that it was once a Carthusian Monastery. This charter house turned village is the only one of its kind in France!
Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez’s classification as one of the country’s most enchanting villages is self-evident. A grand stone doorway guarded by two towers leads into the two main courtyards. Brown-stone structures unchanged in the passing centuries, and living quarters with their original furnishings offer visitors a rare insight into life under the Carthusian order. Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez is a 40 minute drive away from Saint Etienne, making it an ideal destination for a day trip.
Address: Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez, 42800, France
Website: Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez Village
Modern inventions and time honored traditions
From the fervent cheers of football fans, to the avant-garde designs of the city itself, passion and creativity pulse in Saint Etienne. Through its industrial heyday to the dramatic downturns, and its eventual recovery today, Saint Etienne has been able to reimagine itself ceaselessly, drawing inspiration from its heritage and lessons from its past. Pay a visit to the City of Design, if you wish to be invigorated as its residents are.
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