As La Rochefoucauld quote says on the official UEFA Euro2016 site, “everything happens in France” and that was certainly true during the month-long tournament. European footie fans cheered their hearts out, shed tears of frustration and discovered that small countries can play big football.
But what went on beyond the Euro2016 pitches? In this blog post we go outside the stadiums and take a look at where the triumphant teams trained and played to reveal some very happening destinations in France.
Where Euro2016 all began
The smallest country to take part in the Euro Cup ever began their historic trip to the Euro2016 quarter finals in the lakeside town of Annecy. The Viking training camp enjoyed some of the loveliest mountain scenery in France in this picturesque town crisscrossed with canals and known as the Venice of the Alps.
As well as the stunning surroundings, another must-see in Annecy for the Icelandic footballers and fans was the Palais d’Isle, the central point in the historic Old Town and home to history and art exhibitions. For welcome relaxation from all the excitement of making their mark in football history, the players may have headed for the grassy Plage des Marquisats beach on the lake shore.
When it comes to food, this is cheese and chocolate country, and one of the best places to try the delicious local chocolate is at Patisserie Philippe Rigollot (1 Place Georges Volland). As well as chocolate truffles and bonbons, this cake shop sells cakes and of course macarons. The perfect souvenir to take back on the triumphant return to Iceland.
The Portuguese team began their journey to 2016 Euro Cup glory in the small town of Marcoussis, some 30km to the south of Paris. In the quiet and very green countryside, they found inspiration to come back from third place in the qualifying groups to take victory from France in the final.
Off pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and co may have found time to visit some of the many stunning chateaux nearby. One of the loveliest is the Domain de Saint Jean de Beauregard, a 17th century masterpiece whose highlight is the Remarkable Garden that includes one of Europe’s finest kitchen gardens.
A much more modern take comes in the eateries at Marcoussis, although this one has a decidedly vintage vibe. Le Sixties Café (2 Rue Jean Duboscq) serves burgers and salads while Elvis, Marilyn and Chevrolets look on.
The Dragons reinforced their stronger-together team at their Euro2016 training ground in Dinard where state-of-the-art facilities and pitches helped the Welsh team to their epic semi-final position. While they weren’t busy training, Gareth Bale and his teammates had time to enjoy the stunning Saint Malo Bay.
Top attractions here include sea kayaking, getting up close and personal with the historic forts out at sea. Les Corsaires Malouins provides guided tours for all levels and ages. Find them at 7 Rue de la Clouterie in Saint Malo.
Back on dry land, the best of Breton cuisine can be sampled at Le Comptoir Breizh Café (6 rue de L’Orme) whose selection of crepes and galettes combine the best of local tastes with Japanese and Italian flavours. All washed down with the quintessential Breton brew, cider. The over 60 varieties on the menu are perfect for toasting football triumphs (or drowning sorrows).
Where 2016 footballing history was made
After two confidence-boosting draws against Portugal and Hungary, Iceland made history at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis when they beat Austria. The giant stadium with room for 80,000 fans regularly hosts the best in football – France beat Iceland in the quarter finals in which the Vikings scored two noble goals. Les bleus couldn’t quite do the same against Portugal in the final whose first ever major tournament win was a fitting tribute to one of Europe’s finest stadiums.
Outside its hallowed pitch, Saint Denis offers Euro2016 football fans several things to do such as visiting the giant Parc de la Villette with its lakes, 26 follies and giant geode. Lots of open-air events during the summer months provide an extra boost to winners (or welcome consolation for losers). Fans in search of some serious retail therapy can head for the centre of Saint-Denis where you can shop till you drop.
For pre or post-match food, fans loved Le Mets du Roy (4 Rue de la Boulangerie) where there’s a good choice of French staples and light snacks. The outside terrace provides perfect al fresco dining on warm summer evenings.
Despite indifferent play in their qualifying group, Portugal went on to win against Croatia in the final 16 before facing Poland in the quarter finals in Marseille. This match at the Stade Vélodrome saw Portugal’s championship hopes soar after they won on penalties. Outside the historic stadium there’s just as much action since Marseille oozes history and is the largest port on the Mediterranean.
Top of the must-see attractions in Marseille is the extraordinary MuCEM, the Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Even if you don’t have time for the exhibitions inside, don’t miss the outside. Combining the old (the historic Saint Jean fort) with the strikingly modern, the mineral cuboid of the J4 façade is one of the finest buildings in southern France.
To get away from the bustling city and the Euro2016 mania, take a trip to the Calanques National Park, a coastal paradise for hikers, climbers and scuba divers. A great (and less strenuous) way to see the brilliant white cliffs and deep blue rocky inlets is by boat. Icard Maritime runs trips all year round and those in summer include a welcome dip in the sea.
For some fine Marseillaise food, head for Le Café des Épices (4 Rue du Lacydon). Here you’ll be vying with locals to sample delicious local dishes based around fresh fish and vegetables inside the cosy restaurant or outside on the terrace in the pretty square.
The Stade de Bordeaux, opened just last year, has seen plenty of Euro2016 action. The 42,000 spectators here experienced triumphs by Wales in the group phase.
Must-sees for Euro2016 visitors beyond the giant Stade de Bordeaux include the Old Town with the picturesque Place de la Bourse and its stunning Water Mirror, great for cooling off in the hot summer heat. For city sightseeing after the matches, the Rive Droite, the recently restored Right Bank of the River Garonne, offers panoramic views of Bordeaux and its monuments, all lit up at night.
There are lots of great eateries where you can enjoy delicious food washed down with excellent Bordeaux wine. Some of the best is served at Bistrot de France (1 Rue de Bearn) where you can try regional and French cuisine at very reasonable prices.
Where Euro2016 history was set in stone
The Viking onslaught was completed in Nice where the Icelanders knocked England out of the competition giving Euro2016 its most memorable result and the Stade de Nice a place in football history. As well as fine football, Nice also offers plenty for visitors – not for nothing is it the second most visited place in France.
At the top of the list of things to see in Nice and a must for fans of French modern art is the Matisse Museum. Housed in a striking terracotta 17th century villa, the museum traces the artist’s different painting styles. While you’re there, take a stroll round the adjacent Cimiez Gardens, an oasis of peace and tranquillity in this busy tourist resort.
Nice cuisine is famous throughout Europe for its classics such as Niçoise Salad, pissaladière and ratatouille. A great place to try these Provençal dishes is at La Cuisine de Lulu in the centre of town (26 Rue Alberti). Traditional Nice recipes with fresh local produce are cooked as you watch from your table.
For Wales and Portugal
The third largest city in France and the country’s gastronomic capital saw Wales lose to Portugal in an epic semi-final clash between two small countries and Real Madrid team mates, Bale and Ronaldo. The brand-new 59,000 capacity Stade de Lyon also hosted five other matches, making the city one of the main focal points of the Euro2016.
Beyond the stadium, Lyon offers a wealth of attractions, both old and new. History fans will love the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and the climb up the hill to reach the Neo-Byzantine monument offers panoramic views of the city. On a clear day, you can spot the Alps in the distance.
For something more modern, head for La Confluence via the shuttle boat along the River Saone and admire the modern architecture. For street art, visit the États-Unis district with one of the best collections of murals in Europe rivalled only by Berlin.
As the foodie centre of France, Lyon has lots of great restaurants. To sample a choice of local cuisine, head for Les Halles indoor market where you can try before you buy at the produce stalls or go upstairs to the specialist restaurants serving the best of Lyon food.
And if you didn’t manage to experience much of this during your Euro2016 trip at least we hope we’ve given you good reason to return.