Three days in Paris and its region during the RWC
The entirety of France has been pumping since the Rugby World Cup kicked off in mid September with Les Bleus beating the All Blacks in the opening match.
But when you arrive in Paris and in Paris Region, the excitement goes to a new level.
Within seconds of hoping off a train at Paris Gare Du Nord, the World Cup is everywhere, with wall art featuring images of the best players from around the world, Les Bleus memorabilia and merchandise all over the place and a scattering of accents that quickly remind you of the truly global nature of our wonderful game.
Rugby News was fortunate enough to be invited to spend three days in Paris and its region with our friends at Paris Je T’aime and Visit Paris Region and we did a lot more than just pick Eddie’s leftover croissants and baguettes.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris and its region, for next year’s Olympics or sometime in the future, here’s a little of what they has to offer beyond the typical tourist trail.
We start the day with a trip in a Caocao, an Uber type car service that exclusively uses converted Black Cabs with electric motors. Not only are they a similar price to taxis or Ubers, but they also feature giant panoramic sunroofs that allow you to gaze up and admire the cities architecture as you move from one point to another.
It quickly becomes apparent how far France is ahead of Australia both on the rugby field, and in their transition to renewable energy.
After a short drive, we arrive at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a beautiful museum surrounded by gardens and restaurants.
The musée has more than 1 million works but we’re here to view a new exhibition on the intersection of fashion and sport in France from the middle ages to the present day.
While the two worlds seem distant, the exhibition explains that famous French designers like Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, Gabrielle Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli revolutionised the sportswear industry then used those experiences as inspiration in their fashion designs moving forward.
It’s little wonder the French typically look as good on the field as they do off it, though I’m not sure the likes of Eddie or Ian Foster could pull off thick glasses as well as Fabien Galthié does.
A few hours at the museum helped us build up an appetite and after another short Caocao trip we arrived at Pouliche, a cosy and beautiful restaurant run by young female chef Amandine Chaignot.
Amandine Chaignot was one of 23 talented French chefs chosen to help design the hospitality menus across the World Cup.
After beginning her career in France, the Parisian local worked under Jean-François Piège at The Ritz in London before returning to open her first restaurant in Paris.
On a Friday afternoon, the restaurant was buzzing as we arrived and the food didn’t disappoint.
For starters, we ate burnt leeks with a caesar sauce, crushed eggs, trout eggs and hazelnuts, a delicious tomato soup and a chickpea hummus with olive tapenade, coriander and plums. The hummus in particular was sensational.
To celebrate the start of the mushroom picking season in France, we then had a plate of porcini cream with roasted porcini and braised sparassis.
For mains, I opted for a perfectly cooked fillet of pork served over the cream of ratte (potatoes), roasted ratte, meat jus and mustard pickles.
Desert was apple sorbet served with honey cream, raw apple and granola.
As the food coma kicked in, Chef Amandine joined us at the table for an espresso and spoke of her plans for the restaurant moving forward. She opened Pouliche a few months prior to the start of Covid and said that grounding experience has prepared her for a lot of what the industry has thrown at her since.
She also spoke proudly about the number of young, talented women in her kitchen and in kitchens around Paris.
After lunch, we visited Brasserie de l’Être, a local craft beer brewery that is proudly Parisian. The beers can be found in bars and restaurants around the city.
Then we were on to the Rugby Village, Place de la Concorde. The French picked up where the Japanese left off when it comes to live sites during the Rugby World Cup.
The atmosphere and the range of activities, for both rugby and non-rugby fans, at all the live sites around France have been fantastic and is proof the French are going to put on a serious show during the Olympics next year.
But the Rugby Village in Paris is next level.
Located in the centre of the city, the Rugby Village features bars, restaurants, stages with live music and four massive big screens showing all rugby matches. 42,000 fans were expected on the night of our visit for France’s pool match against Italy.
The atmosphere was electric and the Rugby Village is surrounded by all of Paris’ major attractions. Look one way and you see the Eiffel Tower peaking out above the crowd. Another turn of the head and you look down the Champs-Elysees all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.
It’s also just meters from the River Seine where the Olympic opening ceremony will be held next year. All the athletes are set to parade down the river in boats as part of the opening ceremony, it’s going to be spectacular.
We were lucky enough to spend the evening on a private river cruise with Green River Cruises. The all electric boats are powered by solar panels and fit 6 to 12 guests comfortably for an evening you won’t forget.
We set off just before 7pm and watched the sunset over Paris as the city lit up while we enjoyed an aperitif and a charcuterie plate. Before long, we gazed over the Eiffel Tower and sat on the river as it lit up spectacularly at 8pm.
While the bigger cruise operators pack hundreds of people onto boats like sardines, we felt like we were the only people in Paris as we watched the city come to life from our small but extremely comfortable party-pontoon like boat. And best of all, you can book the boat and bring your own food and drink.
It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
After the cruise, it was back to the Rugby Village to watch France run rings around Italy. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement and the atmosphere and it certainly led to a mild headache come Saturday morning.
We wake on Saturday in a beautiful hotel in Saint-Ouen, one of a number of newly gentrified suburbs on the edges of Paris.
The Mob House Hotel has a very Brooklyn warehouse feel to it and it’s a refreshing change from the all to typical hotel chain set up. It also has a pool, a gym, a fantastic restaurant and a bar that was still pumping as we arrived late on Friday evening to check in.
Our guides, Ines and Catherine, tell us that a few years ago, very few people wanted to stay in Saint-Ouen. But the suburb has changed completely and is one of the new hot spots of Paris. It’s also still retained its charm and character and makes the short trip north from the centre of Paris all the more worth it.
Saint-Ouen is also home to Paris’ flea markets, which according to the French was the first of its kind found anywhere in the world. The Puces de Saint-Ouen features more than 1 700 vendors spread across 15 markets and the surrounding streets and it is packed with both locals and tourists on Saturday, Sunday and Monday each week.
The flea markets is the world’s largest antiques market in the world, made up of 14 different markes with over 2,000 stalls and shops spread over 7 hectares.
The markets sell everything, from antique maps to high-end art and everything in between. They say anything you can see in Saint-Ouen is for sale, if you’re willing to pay enough.
Unfortunately, I’m not and after a few hours stumbling around several different markets, all with extremely different atmospheres and clientele, we head to HaSalon on the edge of the markets for lunch.
We shared a charred beetroot carpaccio to start, along with a serving of the “best hummus in the world” according to the menu and it didn’t disappoint.
We then ate a girolles pasta, yellowfish sashimi with tomato seeds, olive oil and green chilli and an aged rib eye steak cooked to perfection.
Desert was a platter of lemon tarts, cheesecake, baklava, chocolate and fruits and suddenly, our clothes were starting to feel a little tighter.
After lunch we began our journey towards Stade de France for the Pool match between Ireland and Scotland.
When we reached Saint-Denis, another gentrified and trendy suburb of Paris Region, we visited the Basilica of Saint- Denis, one of the first gothic cathedrals built in Europe and the last home of the Kings and Queens of France.
The Basilica partially collapsed in the 19th century and not unlike anyone trying to build or renovate a house in Australia at the moment, the locals of Saint-Denis have been waiting close to 150 years for the rebuild to begin.
Fortunately for the Saint-Denis locals though, their wait is almost over. When Cathedral Notre-Dame burnt down a few years back, more than €800 million was raised to fund the reconstruction of the famous cathedral in the centre of Paris.
It was far more than what was needed, so Notre-Dame decided to throw a cheeky €20 million to their friends in Saint-Denis and finally plans are underway for the rebuild to begin.
The Basilica, built largely of stone, will be reconstructed in the exact style of the original building using only tools that were available when construction began in the 10th century.
To kickstart the project, workshops, or labour camps – depending on how you look at it – are being held at the Basilica to teach locals and tourists the basics of stone carving.
We spent the afternoon learning to carve the emblems of various rugby nations into small stones.
By this stage of the tournament, the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign wasn’t looking great and it certainly wasn’t helped when I chipped off half of Wally’s head by mistake in a disgraceful attempt of craftsmanship.
But we rallied on and continued to walk towards Stade de France via Street Art Avenue, an open-air street art gallery on either side of the Saint-Denis canal.
In an effort to brighten the streets, the local authorities invited street artists from around France to paint beautiful murals along walls and buildings in the streets surrounding the stadium.
If you’re up for it, you can also join a guided tour and learn the history of street art in Paris Region before trying your luck with a can of spray paint. My attempt was as successful as my stone carving, but it was an interesting afternoon and a very unique pre-match experience.
After a few pints with Irish fans in a small bar/corner store/TAB/coffee shop, we arrived at Stade de France for the Ireland v Scotland match.
The 82,000 seat stadium couldn’t be more different to Homebush. There’s not a bad seat in the place and the atmosphere, dominated by the Irish, was electric from the moment we arrived through to the early hours of the morning.
Scotland either didn’t know the match was on or didn’t want to know the match was on and as a result the stands were a sea of green. I can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like when Les Bleus play in the knockout stages.
The Irish were fantastic but the other really enjoyable part of the matchday experience was the friendliness of the French rugby fans. The moment a local here’s a different accent, they jump at the chance to talk rugby and for us, there were plenty of questions on what the hell Eddie was up to.
They’re also extremely proud to host the tournament and of the rugby their national side is playing. It’s impossible not to have a soft spot for Les Bleus after spending time with their supporters.
In the end, Ireland were far too good for Scotland and their fans sung late into the night. An injury to Australian born Irish winger Mack Hansen early in the match was a slight dampener but overall it was easily one of the best sporting atmospheres I’ve been lucky enough to experience.
Some of us may have been led astray by some friendly Irish fans after the rugby and the start to our final day in Paris Region is a little tough.
But after a croissant and a coffee, we jumped back in a CaoCao and headed to Versailles. The town itself is beautiful and has a quiet, small town feel to it, despite being only 20 odd minutes out of Paris by train.
It’s also not far from Le National Golf Course, which hosted the Ryder Cup back in 2019.
We arrived at Château de Versailles around 10am and conveniently skipped a line of whinging Americans. We then took a private tour around the Palace which is spectacular and steeped in history.
Each section of the Château is different but you can spend hours wandering the royal flats, the Hall of Mirrors, the Chapel, the Royal Opera and the Museum of French History.
Again, we’d worked up an appetite and our trip ended with a wonderful meal with our guides Ines and Catherine at Ore by famous French chef Alain Ducasse inside Château de Versailles.
Once again, the food was spectacular. I started with a poached egg served with spinach leaves and wild mushrooms, then had a roasted corn-fed chicken breast with creamy polenta and a tartan-style confit apple pie with three vanilla ice cream for dessert.
I can’t keep eating like this, but boy I want to.
After three days traveling with our friends at Paris Je T’aime and Visit Paris Region, I was reminded that Paris and its region offer far more than the obvious tourist attractions.
The food, the people, the culture and the atmosphere are impossible to fault and that’s something you may not experience fully during a short stay or a stopover.
When you plan your next Europe itinerary, give yourself time to discover Paris and its region properly.
The place doesn’t disappoint.