Northampton Saints this weekend travel to Clermont-Ferrand for the second time this season to take on ASM Clermont Auvergne at the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin.
As the European Challenge Cup enters the knockout rounds, Saints face a daunting task to go and claim a final-four berth against the French giants, who currently sit second in the Top14 standings.
Thanks to the Club’s official team travel supplier, Thomas Cook Sport, Northampton supporters have the opportunity to travel alongside the men in Black, Green and Gold across Europe – but what else is there for visitors to take in while visiting Clermont-Ferrand?
Dates: Saturday 30th to Sunday 31st March, 2019
Travel time: Flight from Birmingham airport directly to Clermont-Ferrand takes approx. two hours
Currency: Euros (1 Euro equals approx 0.90 pound sterling)
Time difference: France is an hour ahead of the UK (GMT)
Weather: With temperatures set to be between 14°C and 18°C on Sunday evening for the match, with mostly sunny skies overhead, travelling Saints supporters can look forward to optimum conditions for rugby.
With a population of over 150,000 people, Clermont-Ferrand is one of France’s oldest settlements and is situated around 150km west of Lyon – sitting in the shadow of the Chaîne des Puys volcanoes.
The 25-mile range is home to more than 50 peaks and gives the ancient streets a spectacular backdrop.
Famous for its international short film festival and the headquarters of the tyre company Michelin, this is a bustling city bursting at the seams with industry, culture and history.
But rugby is also at the very heart of the place, and the city's boisterous residents – or 'Clermontois' – will welcome you with open arms.
What is there to see and do?
Towering over the centre, the Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption’s almost completely jet-black exterior makes for a remarkable sight. Made entirely from the volcanic rock found just outside the city’s reaches, the two 108-metre tall spires stand almost four times higher than any of the surrounding structures. Make sure to head inside for some spectacular views.
Famed for its parks and squares, Clermont is the ideal place to wander winding streets; the lanes are laden with restaurants and bars so you’ll never be far from refreshment.
Jardin Lecoq is the city’s main garden and perfect for an explore, while the Place de Jaude is home to the Statue équestre de Vercingétorix. Modelled by Frédéric Bartholdi, who sculpted the Statue of Liberty, the depiction of an ancient king on horseback tells the story of the city’s ancient significance.
The historic square itself was recently redeveloped and is an ideal spot to socialise and take in all the sights and sounds of the city.
Head out of the city centre to take in some of Clermont’s best attractions. L’Aventure Michelin, a museum to the region’s most successful company, is a fantastic trip through Europe’s automotive past.
Alternatively, hike the dormant volcanoes just a few miles outside the city centre. Take a two-hour hike and you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views back across the city or out into the countryside.
But if time is pressing, Parc Montjuzet is just a 25-minute walk from the city centre and offers a spectacular panorama of the whole city.
Currently sitting second in the French Top14 league, there’s no doubting ASM Clermont Auvergne’s pedigree.
Three-time winners of the Champions Cup since 2013, the men in yellow are certainly amongst the favourites in this year’s competition, having won the Challenge Cup in 1999 and 2007.
Franck Azéma’s side sit in pole position to add to their two Top14 titles this term, boasting the likes of Morgan Parra, Camille Lopez, Peter Betham, Rabah Slimani, Damian Penaud and Alivereti Raka amongst their ranks to name just a few.
The Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin has been Clermont’s home since its opening in 1911, named for the founder of the Association Sportive Michelin (ASM), Marcel Michelin, who was the son of the founder of the Michelin tyre company.
Clermont have enjoyed the most successful era in the club’s history since the turn of the millennium, and the recent refurbishment of the 19,022-seater stadium reflects that growth. The ground is 4km from the city centre and takes 30 minutes to reach on foot from the Place de Jaude.
Did you know?
THE place to either watch Clermont play or soak up some pre-game atmosphere is Le Rimbaud. Filled with boisterous Clermontois enjoying the saucisson, bread and butter, the bar is a local institution with a terrace that stretches out over half the square.
The world-renowned ‘Volvic’ water is sourced just north of Clermont-Ferrand.
The last volcanic eruption within the Chaîne des Puys was 8,000 years ago, and scientists say it could be time for another one. How’s that for living dangerously?
If you love cheese, there’s no better place than Clermont-Ferrand. The Auvergne region produces some of the best cheeses in France; Saint Nectaire, Bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal…the list goes on.
Clermont-Ferrand was the home of mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who devised Pascal's triangle and probability theory. He also invented an early digital calculator and a roulette machine. The Université Blaise-Pascal is located in the city and is named after him.
Noted French actress and model Audrey Tautou – star of Amélie, The Da Vinci Code, and Priceless – was also born in the city.
And for rugby fans, French international Aurélien Rougerie has to go down as Clermont’s most famous son. The centre retired in the summer having donned the famous yellow jersey an astonishing club-record 418 times in a 19-year career, and is now part of the club’s coaching staff. A one-club man revered as a king, an effigy of Rougerie was unveiled outside the Marcel Michelin Stadium in October.