Located in the Furan valley, a stone’s throw from the Pilat massif and Lyon, its great rival, and three hours by train from Paris, Saint-Etienne is a city that lends itself particularly well to a weekend getaway.
This former industrial city, famous in France for being the capital of coal, has bet on culture to find new dynamism and completely renew its image. With its numerous museums, performance halls and modern architecture, Saint-Etienne is now establishing itself as the design capital of France and has been classified as a UNESCO heritage site.
Known in France as the city of arms, coal and industrial exploitation, Saint-Étienne has been trying to revitalise its image since the early 2000s.
Focusing on culture, especially modern culture, design, architecture and its recent history, the city has now become a museum centre of great value, attracting tourists from all over the world.
To visit Saint-Étienne, we advise you to lose yourself in its picturesque and historical streets, passing by its most important buildings: the Town Hall, the Pharmacy Tower, the Labour Exchange and the Prefecture.
In the evening, go for a stroll in the Saint-Jacques neighbourhood, one of the oldest in Saint-Étienne: beautiful 13th-century houses and a festive atmosphere await you. In fact, the area is full of cafés and bistros where you can mingle with the locals and enjoy a glass of good wine.
Like Lyon and Chambery, Saint-Étienne also boasts a dense network of traboules, i.e. covered walkways within the city, which often cross private courtyards and connect buildings in the historic centre.
Many accesses are now closed and special permits are needed to visit them, granted almost exclusively to local tour guides.
Design and art are an integral part of the city: armed with good shoes and a camera, you can go hunting for modern works of art inherent in the urban context. One of the most art-rich places is the Chateaucreax station: on the forecourt in front of the entrance is Philippe Million‘s multicoloured tree, François Bauchet‘s enigmatic cast-iron urban bollards, the blue horses sculpted by Assan Smati1
At Place Chavanelle2, Yannick Vey‘s steel giants, like the cast iron sea pigeons by Ghyslain Bertholon and Maxime Bourgeaux, embellish the space.
A stunning fountain in the shape of a pirate ship decorates Place de l’hôtel de Ville3.
Not to be missed is a visit to the City of Design, so rich and important that it is second only to that of Berlin and for this, listed as a Unesco monument.
Inaugurated in 2009 in the former site of the Manufacture d’armes de Saint-Étienne, it is located in the heart of the Manufacture-Plaine-Achille creative district: the museum hosts magnificent collections and thematic events on design, such as the International Design Biennial, which celebrates creativity in a festive atmosphere, to the rhythm of exhibitions, conferences, symposia, visits, workshops and meetings. The city is transformed into a gigantic laboratory, a veritable cauldron of contemporary creation.
After your visit, be sure to climb the all-metal Observatory Tower. At 31 metres high, it offers a superb panoramic view of the city.
The Mining Museum provides an insight into the history of the town, which developed for decades around mining. An industry of which Saint-Etienne preserves the memory in its geography, with the hills surrounding the city actually being old mining waste heaps.
The museum takes place on the old Courriot shaft, in operation from 1919 to 1973, where 1,500 miners worked at a depth of 700 metres. The visit begins with the discovery of the impressive changing rooms, also known as the hanging room, because the miners’ clothes were hung there. The most exciting part of the visit is of course the descent underground: although the original galleries are no longer accessible, one has been secured especially for the visit and provides an insight into how the miner’s hard and tiring work was carried out. In particular, you will discover how coal mining techniques have evolved over the years.
The Saint Etienne Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, also called MAMC, was founded in 1987. Its collection was originally an extension of the Museum of Art and Industry, built thanks to the passion of a curator, Maurice Allemand, who encouraged modern art after the Second World War.
Today, the museum houses more than 20,000 works, each one more incredible than the last, including 1,500 design pieces, and has one of the most important collections in France of works of art from the 19th to the 21st century. You can admire the rich international art scene of the 20th century with paintings, sculptures, photographs and design objects. It is second only to the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
In addition, the museum is home to spectacular temporary exhibitions that change every year, encouraging exchanges between museum centres in major cities.
The Museum of Art and Industry traces the history of the city through its three leading industries: bicycles, ribbons and weapons. The bicycle collection is the largest public collection in France: it was in Saint-Etienne that the first French bicycle was invented, in 1886. The museum can also be proud to house the world’s largest collection of ribbons, with a tour that also displays machines and tools related to this traditional craft.
Finally, you will find the impressive collection of weapons, more than 6,000 hunting and war weapons, which seeks to highlight the creativity of the gunsmiths of Saint-Etienne. In fact, two centuries ago, under King Louis XV, Saint-Etienne housed a royal factory in the current Cité du Design.
Football and the Green team are more than just a sport in Saint-Étienne. This club and its history are an important part of the culture and soul of the city.
Whether or not you are a fan of the sport, it is worth a visit to Stadium Geoffroy Guichard8 also known as the Cauldron: built in 1930, the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is known for its exceptional atmosphere, sparkling and effervescent, thanks to its devoted supporters, to whom a museum has even been built, Musée des Verts9, the first in France dedicated to a football team.
Built in 1969, the Saint-Etienne Opera House, along with the Paris Opera House, is the only opera house in France to integrate within its walls the carpentry, blacksmithing, sewing and decoration workshops that are used to create the plays. A peculiarity that allows the structure to show great flexibility in the staging of its shows.
Spread over 6 floors, the building covers 36,000 square metres and the hall was completely rebuilt in the early 2000s after a fire in 1998. This renovation provided the Opera with one of the best acoustics in Europe.
The annual programme is decidedly rich and varied: recital, opera, symphonic, dance and performances for young audiences.
Before the Second World War, there were 25 chocolate factories in Saint Etienne, which were able to prosper thanks to the coal industry, which provided the energy needed for production, and thanks to the presence of the railway line, which allowed products to be exported.
Since 1882, the Weiss house has maintained and cherished this tradition: it is an artisan chocolate factory that carries out all stages of chocolate processing, from the bean to the bar. The Weiss workshops are open to the public to show all stages of processing and the skill of modern chocolatiers. You will also have the opportunity to create your own chocolate bar: all you have to do is choose the chocolate base, white, milk or dark chocolate, three additional ingredients to enhance it (e.g. hazelnuts, puffed rice or pistachios) and a master chocolatier will make it in front of you.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
About ten kilometres from Saint-Etienne, the town of Firminy has an architectural ensemble unique in Europe, thanks to the presence of several buildings designed by the famous architect Le Corbusier.
We recommend that you take part in a guided tour of these buildings to understand Le Corbusier’s vision and to discover how behind the cold side of concrete lie extremely well-designed spaces at the service of the daily life of its inhabitants. In fact at that time the city was experiencing a demographic boom: the development of the steel industry generated many jobs and it was difficult to accommodate all the workers. The city authorities therefore decided to design a new neighbourhood that would integrate workplaces, housing and facilities for daily life and Le Corbusier was asked to design housing units, a stadium, a cultural centre and a church.
The housing unit has 20 levels, 7 internal streets that originally served 414 different types of dwellings, a school and a roof terrace: it corresponds to the concept of a ‘vertical garden city’ and a ‘modern Carthusian monastery’ and the piles allow ground space to be freed up to encourage visual contact with the surrounding nature.
The more recent Sain-Pierre Church is hardly identified as a religious place: only the upper part of the building is used for this purpose while the lower part houses an interpretation centre. The interior is atmospheric: the openings play with the movement of the sun that tints the walls with coloured haloes.
The Olympic Stadium has a large capacity of more than 4,000 seats and a 400-metre athletics track, testifying to the ambitious modernisation policy of the city implemented since the 1950s.
Finally, the House of Culture Firminy aims to make the works of human genius accessible to all. The 112-metre-long building stands on a former coal sandstone quarry and has an unusual appearance: the roof rests on a system of cables that give it the profile of an inverted vault. The building houses an auditorium, a performance hall, a plastic arts room, a room for body expression and still stages performances and artistic creations and is home to an associative music school and an interpretation centre.
Like Rome, Nimes or Lisbon, Saint Etienne is also built on seven hills, more than 480 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest cities in Europe.
To identify where to stay in Saint-Étienne, we advise you to understand the different souls of the city, its neighbourhoods with very different atmospheres. The old town, despite what you might think, is still occupied by people with modest incomes, working-class and working-class social classes. There are many weekly markets and the atmosphere is decidedly lively.
The Fauriel and Villeboeuf districts attract an affluent population seeking peace and quiet, especially along the Cours Fauriel. It is an area off the beaten track, between the Parc de l’Europe and the Jardin des Plantes, home to the Opéra de Saint-Étienne, not too touristy without being too far from the city centre.
Crêt-de-Roc, to the east of the city centre, is characterised by a profound transformation from a working-class neighbourhood to a high-end residential area: perched on the old hill where cutters and gunsmiths used to officiate, today the neighbourhood is renewing itself and gaining a reputation as an eco-district with a bohemian and alternative sensibility. A strong point for the choice of accommodation is its proximity to the SNCF station.
The quickest way to get to Saint Etienne is to land at Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport and then continue by bus. In particular, the OUIBUS company offers daily and regular trips between the fourth largest airport in France and the city of Saint-Etienne.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to travel by train, you will always have to pass through Lyon. The main railway station in Saint-Etienne is the Gare de Saint-Étienne-Châteaucreux, served by numerous trains (TGV, TER, Intercités). It has a direct connection to Paris-Gare-de-Lyon via a stop at Lyon-Part-Dieu. The station is also a hub for connections between the TER Alvernia-Rodano-Apli lines.
What's the weather at Saint Etienne? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Saint Etienne for the next few days.
Since 1855, Sainte Etienne has been the capital of the Loire department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.