Saint-Etienne: from industry to design

What are we looking for on our travels? Fashionable districts, the latest trends in cuisine, astonishing nature, heritage, and more. In Saint-Étienne, a town of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region, you can find all of this and it has also transformed its industrial past to become the only French city in the Unesco Creative Cities Network.

Industry in Saint-Etienne

Up to a few years ago this was the capital of the Department of the Loire, 60 kilometres from Lyon, and a very important mining (coal and metal) and industrial town, especially for the manufacture of arms, bicycles, textiles and belts for the whole of Europe. So the first stop on your visit should be the Museum of Art and Industry, located in the heart of the city, where various collections of these products are presented through the history of Saint-Étienne. This museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, activities and workshops suitable for everyone.

Some factories are still continuing in business today and others have changed to give way to new creations. Nowadays there are over fifty local companies that are world leaders in their sector, such as pedals for bicycles supplied to the Tour de France, among other clients, teats for babies’ bottles and curtains that adorn such important places as the White House in Washington, in the United States.

Location: 2 Pl. Louis Comte

City of art and history

After your visit to the Museum of Industry continue your walk around the historic centre of the capital of the Loire. In the year 2000 Saint-Étienne received the title of "City of art and history" from the Ministry of Culture in recognition of its heritage from relics of Antiquity to twentieth century architecture. You can see the Droguerie Tower, the Labour Exchange, the City Hall, the Prefecture, the Opera, the churches, great houses, squares and the oldest railway bridge in continental Europe, classified a historic monument.

To make your route even more convenient you can stay at the City Lofthotel, a historic building completely remodelled internally with apartments, established in the most famous and liveliest shopping street in Saint-Étienne (the street has several different names according to which section you are in and the number 1 tram travels down it from north to south), surrounded by the most pleasant of pedestrian areas and cafe terraces.

Location: Historic centre of Saint-Étienne

City of design

Now we come to the central strength of this French city, because it is the living example of how any place in the world can be given a second chance. After almost thirty years of industrial decline, Saint-Étienne is looking to the future with optimism and has seized the world of design to become a leading-edge city.

The City of Design is taking the lead, a huge space of several hectares, buildings and industrial premises that in its day was the Royal Arms Manufacture. Here old buildings sit alongside new, under the slogan of "less smoke and more culture".
The City of Design is one of the most iconic "districts" of Saint-Étienne because not only was it planned to give space for artistic expression, but to involve the whole of society. In fact, it contains a school for the youngest children, and areas for start-ups, and a college for adolescents is currently being built. You can also eat in La Fabuleuse Cantine, enjoying fresh local produce, cooked with much imagination.

In the old factory every aspect of design can be studied: in the architecture and engineering as well as in the urban and domestic areas, something that UNESCO recognised when it named it "First French City of Design" in 2010.

In the surrounding area you can see some of the landmark buildings such as the Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium, the Fil, the Zenith and the Comédie and in other areas you can find the Puits Couriot mining museum, Le Camion Rouge multiplex, Amicale Laïque Chapelon culture and leisure centre, the Ilot Grüner administrative building and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It is worth planning a route to see as much as possible.

Location: Historic centre of Saint-Étienne

International Design Biennial

Thanks to the initiative that created the City of Design, plus the organising of the International Design Biennal, Saint-Étienne has welcomed design as an agent of urban transformation and economic development. Small and medium local businesses and civil society in general take an active part in the Biennal, which receives over 200,000 visitors every year, to innovate and improve the quality of life of its environment, taking account of sustainability and solidarity.

Streets, squares, parks and green spaces (especially Place Jean Jaurès, Place de la gare Chateaucreux, the Jardin des Plantes, the Parc d’Europe, the Park Montaud and the Parc de la Perrotiére) are filled with sculptures, works of art and street furniture which change every two years according to the results of voting by the local people. Examples are the benches and the recreation areas where children play. Shops and restaurants involved can also receive recognition, like Le Verre Galant which recently won an award for its decoration and home-made gastronomy.

Location: 6 Rue François Gillet

Everything is better on a full stomach

Saint-Étienne and the surrounding area has a great culinary tradition. If you like eating well, the gastronomy and cuisine of this area of France will be a great attraction of your trip.

You can enjoy a wide selection of quality cheeses like the Fourme de Montbrison, the Fourme d’Ambert or the Fourme d’Yssingeau, among others. There are also products from the river as the Gorges of the Loire are only 15 kilometres away, products of the land such as watercress, lamb’s lettuce and potatoes, and all pork and chicken products. Don’t forget to try the Rapée (a potato cake), the bugnes (a type of doughnut) and the exquisite Weiss chocolate.

We can recommend La Pampille for lunch and Un Eléphant dans un Jeu de Quille for dinner, two very central restaurants, with much charm and excellent produce from this French department.

Location: La Pampille (10 Rue Denis Escoffier) and Un Eléphant dans un jeu de quille (16 Rue Léon Nautin)

Le Corbusier in Firminy

Another visit you must make during your stay in Saint-Étienne is to Firminy, a dormitory town ten kilometres away, to see the work of Le Corbusier, an internationally famous architect who is considered one of the founders of modern architecture. It will take your breath away.

The enclave of the master of architecture begins with a block of apartments built in the 1960s, with 414 homes arranged in 20 floors he called 'streets'. Over one thousand families had the benefit of them and many continue to do so today. The last level was for the school and leisure areas for the neighbouring community. Everything was very carefully thought out (light, dimensions, position, colours, windows, bedrooms, communal areas, etc.) for the convenience, efficiency and comfort of everyone.

The accommodation building is the last of only five such constructions in the world; the others are in Marseille, Nantes Rezé, Briey-en-Foret and Berlin.

Your visit should continue to the Maison de la Culture, the centre of the neighbourhood of Firminy Verde - the name of the district - for leisure, music and theatre. It also functions as an information centre to find out about and understand the philosophy of the famous twentieth-century architect. Then look over to the sports stadium and the swimming pool and finish at the Church of Saint-Pierre. This religious building has a square base and then evolves into a truncated cone, 33 metres high, with classical Le Corbusier elements such as the three “cannons of light” set into the ridge.

Location: Boulevard Périphérique du Stade, Firminy