How to plan a trip to see the Olympics this summer—without going to Paris | Travel

How to plan a trip to see the Olympics this summer—without going to Paris | Travel

This year, millions of sports enthusiasts will make their way to Paris as the city hosts its most monumental event in recent history: the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Preparations are well underway, from infrastructural projects such as road and rail improvements within the center of Paris to constructing a new arena at Porte de la Chapelle as well as the Olympic and Paralympic Village. Yet French Transport Minister Clément Beaune has been issuing warnings that transport conditions during the Games will be “hardcore,” while Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that the city will fail to meet its deadline to upgrade and boost service to the metro before the competitions.

Bordeaux: This elegant city on the Garonne river, two hours southwest of Paris by high-speed train, is better known for the wine country surrounding it than the exceptional urban transformation it’s seen over the last 15 years. (Freepik)

Adding to that is the challenge of finding available and reasonably priced accommodations in the capital. Even renting an apartment via Airbnb, an official Olympic partner, is likely to come at a steep cost, as prices in the Greater Paris region have already grown by 300%.

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There is some good news, however: It’s entirely possible to take in the Olympics without setting foot in Paris. Outside the host city, 11 venues in other French destinations and overseas territories will host full tournaments, qualifiers and finals. Below, some of the events to catch and where to stay along the way.

Versailles

It may be located within an hour of Paris by train, but the royal grounds of the Palace of Versailles will still feel removed from the core action of the Olympics. Here, the Etoile Royale esplanade—located at the heart of the palace’s gardens—will serve as the backdrop for several disciplines, including equestrian competitions and most of the modern pentathlon. (The fencing round will take place in the North Paris Arena, in Seine Saint-Denis.)

Horses will be a prominent part of any trip here this summer, whether or not you’re ticketed for related events. Inside the château, for instance, a special exhibition called “Cheval en Majesté” will display 300 works dedicated to the role of the horse in European civilization. And among several new guided tours meant to highlight the links between art and sports, one will focus on equine creatures, while another will look at the athleticism of gods and heroes.

To mark the grand occasion of the Summer Olympics, several restoration projects on the grounds of Versailles will reach completion by spring, including Apollo’s Fountain, the gilded 17th century architectural marvel that sits between the Grand Canal and the Great Lawn.

Where to stay: The over-the-top Grand Contrôle, the first hotel within the gates of Versailles, is the most central and luxurious place to stay by far, but the rates—from around €3,500 ($3,800) a night in July—are an investment that’s only worth it if you’re spending your time on the spectacular grounds. If you’d rather be in the stands at sporting events, consider the Waldorf Astoria Versailles-Trianon Palace, which sits at the edge of the Château de Versailles gardens.

Bordeaux

This elegant city on the Garonne river, two hours southwest of Paris by high-speed train, is better known for the wine country surrounding it than the exceptional urban transformation it’s seen over the last 15 years. The latter is thanks to then-Mayor Alain Juppé’s marquee renewal projects, which added trams and widened pedestrian access to the newly cleaned-up historic city center.

For the Summer Olympics, Bordeaux will host seven matches in the men’s and women’s football (soccer) tournament, including the quarter finals, at the Bordeaux Stadium north of the city. This makes for an opportune moment to get reacquainted with Bordeaux and its Cité du Vin, a modern museum devoted to the history and culture of winemaking that opened in 2016, along with the city’s booming natural wine and craft cocktail scene, which is at its best at bars like Symbiose and Soif.

Where to stay: For someplace central, the InterContinental Bordeaux–Le Grand Hôtel is hard to beat. Le Grand Hôtel has loomed large and luxuriously over the Place de la Comédie, at the heart of the city, for 200 years. It now features Gordon Ramsay’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Pressoir d’Argent and a Guerlain spa. A thirty-minute drive outside the city puts you at Les Sources de Caudalie, a much more relaxing stay; an offshoot of the beauty brand Caudalie, its spa is known for its “vinotherapy” (or wine-inspired) spa treatments.

Marseille

Besides serving as the starting point for the Olympic Torch Relay route, France’s second-largest city will play host to football and sailing competitions—its constant winds and sunshine make the coastal hub ideal for regattas. Expect those to take place in the Roucas-Blanc Marina, located between the city center and the fishing village of Les Goudes, on the edge of the Calanques National Park. Football matches, meanwhile, will be held at the Stade Vélodrome; it’s France’s second largest stadium (with a capacity of 67,394) and home to the city’s legendary team, Olympique de Marseille.

Beyond the sports, visitors will find that the city has been thriving since the pandemic, surging with new projects from Parisian chefs, artists and entrepreneurs who’ve moved south to create new opportunities. It’s never been a more exciting time to visit (and eat in!) Marseille.

Where to stay: Some of the best properties in Marseille have very few rooms, so it’s worth booking now. Les Bords de Mer has 19 rooms and sits right on the Corniche (a 3-mile stretch along the waterfront), overlooking the Catalan beach. Close to Les Goudes is Tuba Club, a tiny, nautical-themed guesthouse in what was formerly a free-diving school. And in proximity to the Vieux Port at the city center (and with more accommodations), there’s New Hotel Le Quai, complete with 48 spacious rooms.

Lille, Lyon and Nantes

Not only are these three secondary cities easy to get to via train from Paris, they are each hosting events—football in Lyon and Nantes, and handball and basketball just outside the center of Lille—and likely to see thinner crowds. That means more opportunity to explore in the moments you won’t be watching the competitions.

Lyon is already a fairly well-known French city—the country’s third largest—with several Unesco World Heritage Sites and a storied culinary tradition that comes to life in the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie de Lyon. This gastronomic museum sits on the banks of the Rhône at the Hôtel-Dieu, a magnificently restored former hospital that contains boutiques, restaurants, gourmet food stores and a five-star InterContinental Hotel.

Lille and Nantes are less mainstream destinations but just as compelling. The former is a charming northern city on the French-Belgium border that is known for its Flemish influences, while the latter is one of France’s greenest and fastest-growing hubs, with a thriving culinary scene and an annual culture and art festival, Voyage à Nantes, that runs throughout the city each summer.

Where to stay: In Lyon, with its river views, the InterContinental Lyon Hotel Dieu is the most spacious option. Slightly removed from the tourist track but still in Vieux Lille, the Clarance is a five-star boutique property with a Michelin-starred chef and stunning 18th century bones. And in Nantes, the four-starred Radisson Blu keeps you at the center of it all, while the Château de Maubreuil, part of the Relais & Châteaux collection, sits just beyond the city limits.

Tahiti

If you’re looking for a very different kind of French getaway during the Summer Olympics, head to Tahiti Iti, a small peninsula on the southwestern coast of the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. Teahupo’o, a small village, and its legendary namesake waves—which are considered to be some of the world’s most challenging and dangerous—are perfectly suited for the men’s and women’s shortboard competitions. There will be a 600-person standing viewing area, but otherwise, the black sandy beach of Papara, 45 minutes from Teahupo’o, will serve as a fan zone equipped with screens to watch the action on the waves.

Where to stay: You can really go as modest or as luxe as you’d like—Tahiti is full of bungalows, guesthouses, luxury villas and entire beachfront resorts. But aside from the three bungalows at Vanira Lodge, most won’t be located on Tahiti Iti: There are no hotels there, and none will be built for the Games. A 25-minute drive from Teahupo’o in Afaahiti is Villa Mitirapa, a collection of villas with lagoon views and plenty of privacy. For larger and more luxuriant stays, you’ll need to book in the capital of Papeete, roughly 90 minutes by car, where you’ll find Hilton and other big-name resorts among the options.

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