Paris is (still) the world’s best playground for travellers


Grandstand with a view ... Eiffel Tower Stadium.

Grandstand with a view … Eiffel Tower Stadium.Credit: Getty

The central venues are a group of temporary structures to the west of the city that orbit the Ecole Militaire end of Champ de Mars. During London 2012, the beach volleyball stadium was impishly placed on Horse Guards Parade, creating a delightful juxtaposition with the beautiful Palladian architecture; a celebration of how sport can create unexpected continuities between different places. The French have gone one better by setting it underneath their capital’s most enduring yet still utterly compelling urban artefact: the Eiffel Tower. In the first of many echoes of the past, it’s worth bearing in mind that the structure was built for a very different but still comparable global event, the Exposition Universelle in 1889. More than any other city, big shows helped build Paris.

Le Grand Palais

Le Grand Palais will be partially reopened.

Le Grand Palais will be partially reopened.Credit: Getty Images

The historical echoes continue at the Grand Palais which was also built for the Exposition Universelle and hosted events for the Olympics in that year. The partial reopening of Le Grand Palais is welcome as it has been closed since 2021 – though it won’t be fully open until 2025. However, the nave of the Palais is complete and is more than enough: 13,500 square metres in size with a glass roof, and due to host the fencing and taekwondo events.

Champs de Mars Arena

The Grand Palais Ephemere becomes the Champ de Mars Arena during the 2024 Games.

The Grand Palais Ephemere becomes the Champ de Mars Arena during the 2024 Games.Credit: Getty

Only one brand new venue has been built, with this one nestled behind the Grand Palais and with its curved timber structure echoing those of the older building it almost adjoins. The Champ de Mars Arena has been used as an alternative space while the Grand Palais is being refurbished and will be kept in place for a few more months to host judo and wrestling.

La Concorde

Pegasus, Place De La Concorde.

Pegasus, Place De La Concorde.Credit: Alamy

One of the most imposing public spaces in Paris has had a makeover, and during the Olympics will be graced with several temporary stadiums designed to host some of the newest Olympic sports. On a site first cleared to house a statue of Louis XV, various modern events – including skateboarding, 3×3 basketball, BMX freestyle and, for the first time, breakdancing – will be played. It may seem incongruous, but putting relatively new sports in temporary venues in historic areas is a tried and tested strategy for the Olympics, reifying the qualities of the European city in particular: ancient and modern simultaneously.

Les Invalides

Esplanade des Invalides will be the backdrop for archery and para archery events.

Esplanade des Invalides will be the backdrop for archery and para archery events.Credit: Getty

Whoever chose to host the archery near the Hotel des Invalides, now a French military history museum and monuments, was on to a winner. Typical of the first group of venues, Les Invalides is in the heart of Paris, with the Esplanade, one of the city’s preferred leisure destinations, a place where Parisians and tourists go to promenade and play. In 2024, it will be an area dedicated to the Games, a mixing place for athletes and spectators.

Madame Brasserie on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.

Madame Brasserie on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.

DETAILS

  • Stay One of a new era of jazzy luxury hostels, Yooma Urban Lodge Eiffel is a great and affordable place for families, located 15 minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower along the Seine. Great thought has gone into its facilities, including the kitchens but there’s still plenty of room for Parisian flair with a rooftop market garden and slick-as-you-like interiors. See yooma-eiffel.com
  • Eat Guy de Maupassant used to have his lunch in a restaurant at the base of the Eiffel Tower as it was the one place he couldn’t see the structure he so despised. You don’t have to hold a position on the aesthetic merits of the Tower to eat at Madame Brasserie on its first floor. Go for the Gustave menu. See toureiffel.paris
  • Do The Musee de l’Armee at Les Invalides has undergone a major refurbishment and will open again, fully refreshed, in June 2024. The tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte stands at its heart in the Baroque church by Hardouin-Mansart, who also designed the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. See musee-armee.fr

IN AND AROUND PARIS

Stade de France and Centre Aquatique Olympique

Saint-Denis is fascinating. One of the enduring frontiers of French society is the line between it and Paris proper. The Stade de France sits at the edge of an area that has the highest poverty rate in mainland France, and the highest proportion of immigrants. The stadium itself is a marvel of modern architecture: a truly adaptable multifunctional structure that will host athletics and rugby. The adjacent Aquatic Centre, where Australia’s swimmers will represent our foremost medal hopes, is the only new permanent venue to be built during the games and will host the diving. A stunning structure, particularly inside, it will be converted into a community pool afterwards.

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles will host equestrian events in a temporary arena on the Royal Star site.

Chateau de Versailles will host equestrian events in a temporary arena on the Royal Star site.Credit: Getty

It is incredible to think that before Louis XIV, Versailles was little more than a hunting lodge. The Palace of Versailles is one of the grandest palaces on Earth; a monument to the end of monarchy as much as its lifestyle. In 2024, in ingenious fashion, the Etoile Royale esplanade at the heart of the Palace’s gardens is being temporarily fitted out to stage several equestrian and modern pentathlon events. The cycling venues are also nearby.

Yves-du-Manoir Stadium

Set in the utterly delightful, if low-key, suburb of Colombes, this stadium was where the events portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, the victories of Britain’s Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, actually happened. It was the main stadium for the 1924 Olympics, and the site of the final of the second La Defense Arena. This multi-purpose indoor arena, home of the rugby union club, Racing 92, lies within the business district of Paris and is surrounded by some of the tallest buildings in the region.

If you  haven’t seen the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, you haven’t lived.

If you haven’t seen the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, you haven’t lived. Credit: Getty

DETAILS

  • Stay Channel your inner Louis XIV and go for a suite at L’Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay. The complex of buildings was begun in the 12th century and, for another 600 years, slowly expanded. It’s now a large hotel. In the La Defense district, try the affordable Aparthotel Adagio Access Colombes La Defense or Hotel Courseine See abbayedesvauxdecernay.com; adagio-city.com; hotelcourseine.com
  • Eat In Versailles, La Perle de Saint-Louis is a perfect little fish restaurant right in the heart of the old Saint-Louis district, which stands to the east of the palace. Colombes has lots of lovely places to eat, but the best is the singular Local Bear, run by two brothers, Cameron and Brett, from Virginia. See localbear.fr
  • Do Basilica of Saint-Denis is the final resting place of French kings as well as where, under the mercurial Abbot Suger, Gothic architecture was first conceived and executed. Long disregarded, it is slowly being restored. If you haven’t seen the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, you haven’t lived and if you can’t find something fun to do in the Bois de Boulogne, the parklands to the south-east of Saint-Denis, there is no hope for you. See saint-denis-basilique.fr; en.chateauversailles.fr; parisjetaime.com

WESTERN PARIS

Parc des Princes and Roland Garros Stadium

Court Philippe-Chatrier at Roland Garros.

Court Philippe-Chatrier at Roland Garros.Credit: Getty Images

Now home to the pre-eminent football club in France, Paris Saint-Germain, the Parc des Princes, is steeped in sporting history, having hosted games during the 1938 World Cup of soccer. It will be one of seven football venues across France for Paris 2024 with Australia’s beloved Matildas having qualified for the women’s competition. Roland Garros is, of course, home to one of tennis’s Grand Slam tournaments – the French Open. The venue may lack the rambling charm of Wimbledon or the modernity of Melbourne Park but its avenues of trees and public spaces make it feel like an integral part of the city.

The Jean Dubuffet sculpture … “part graffitied lump, part medieval tower”.

The Jean Dubuffet sculpture … “part graffitied lump, part medieval tower”.Credit: Alamy

DETAILS

  • Stay The relatively affordable (well, this is Paris) Hotel Botaniste in nearby Auteuil is one of the city’s loveliest boutique hotels, capturing the spirit of a district which was a rural retreat for the nobility in Louis XV’s time. See hotelbotaniste.com
  • Eat Roland Garros’s food offering is perhaps one of the best of any sports venue in the world. Try the Food Court, in particular the stall that sells rougail saucisse, a rich tomato stew, made with sausages and aromatic spices. Football fans meet before matches in nearby Aux Trois Obus if that’s your vibe. See auxtroisobus.com
  • Do La Tour aux Figures stands at the tip of the delightful Parc Departemental de l’Ile Saint-Germain on an island in the Seine. This strange monumental sculpture, designed by Jean Dubuffet and later constructed in the 1980s, is the acme of art brut; part graffitied lump, part medieval tower.

SOUTHERN PARIS

South Paris Arena

The Paris Expo Porte de Versailles is more than 35 hectares in size, and was built in 1923 to host the Paris Trade Fair (Foire de Paris). It has been redeveloped over the years – and not always sensitively – although the decorated columns of the original exterior are still discernible. It’s a bit of a behemoth to be honest, but with plenty of room for weightlifting, handball, volleyball and table tennis.

Hotel Moderniste .

Hotel Moderniste .

DETAILS

  • Stay The Hotel Moderniste on Rue de Langeac plays on the history of the Expo site, with beautiful posters from the halcyon days of trade shows on display throughout its stylish rooms. See hotelmoderniste.com
  • Eat Oui Mon General is closed on weekends, but offers up a good and relatively cheap example of how French dining, in Paris at least, is (at painfully slow pace, admittedly) incorporating flavours from other Mediterranean cuisines. See oui-mon-general.com
  • Do One of Paris’s greatest secrets is La Petite Ceinture, a former elevated railway line that long predates the similar transformation of New York’s High Line. The section in the 15th arrondissement, not far from the Expo, is arguably its finest. Don’t expect a designed space: just genuine wilderness and a very un-Parisian stillness and calm. See parisjetaime.com

EASTERN PARIS

Bercy Arena

The Palais Omnisports Paris-Bercy Arena.

The Palais Omnisports Paris-Bercy Arena.Credit: Getty Images

After the Pompidou Centre was built in 1971, carte blanche was given for some frankly bonkers Parisian edifices to follow in its wake throughout the following two decades. The Bercy is one such building: a delightfully goofy pyramid surrounded by metal trusses and crazy fountains. A music venue at normal times, it will host basketball and gymnastics during the Games.

DETAILS

  • Stay The area around the Bercy Arena sums up all that is bad about Parisian hotels: bland chains or stuffy, expensive one-offs. It’s why hostels – albeit hostels that offer double rooms – are a better option. The bargain-priced (for Paris) The People Bercy has a superb roof garden and bar. See thepeoplehostel.com
  • Eat There is a great stretch of bistros and bars to the north of the Arena. Anco is huge but very popular, invariably full at lunchtime. Further to the west are a couple of more boisterous bars if you want refreshment before the events. See ancoparisbercy.fr
  • Do A side trip to the Velodrome de Vincennes is a must. Stroll there through the Bois de Vincennes and then appreciate this quaint monument of Olympics past. This charming old track with wrought-iron columned stands was the main stadium for the 1900 Summer Olympics. The restaurant attached to it, La Cipale, is top notch too. See restaurant-la-cipale.fr

PARIS 2024: THE NUMBERS

  • 13.4 million tickets
  • 15.3 million visitors
  • 206 nations
  • 32 Olympic sports
  • 22 Paralympic sports
  • 869 events
  • 15,000 athletes
  • 44,500 volunteers
  • 4 billion television viewers

Source: parisjetaime.com

PARIS 2024

Dates
The Paris 2024 Olympics will be held between July 26 and August 11. The Paralympics will be held between August 28 and September 8.

Tickets
While most of the prestige sports are sold out, there are plenty of decent ones to see, with ticket-holders who can no longer attend the Games able to resell their tickets through the Paris 2024 secure platform and at their original value.

No tickets
If you are in the centre of Paris, sans tickets, Les Invalides is worth a visit with the best spot being Parc de La Villette that will become the home to Club France, where French athletes and fans alike will come together on the big screens.

Fly
Qantas, just in time for the Games, will next month resume direct flights to Paris, for the first time in two decades from Sydney and Melbourne via Perth. These seasonal services, with a duration of 17 hours and 20 minutes between Perth and Paris, will operate up to four times a week both ways during and after the Olympics. See qantas.com; sncf-voyageurs.com

This story is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph UK. Nine Entertainment is the owner of this masthead, its Nine Network is the official Australian broadcaster for Paris 2024. See nine.com.au; paris2024.org



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