Friday 24 October 2014

Travel: A tale of two cities in the Six Nations

Published 02/02/2014 | 02:30

Over for the match
'Bazille's Studio' at the Musee d'Orsay
Liberty London

The RBS Six Nations kicks off today, with Ireland's away games scheduled for London and Paris. Pól Ó Conghaile has the inside track for travelling fans

LONDON
4pm at Twickenham on Saturday, February 22

England is the host nation for the Rugby World Cup 2015, so Ireland will be hoping to put a dent in Chris Robshaw and Co's preparations. But whatever happens on the pitch, London offers loads to do for rugby fans and phobes alike

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK:

Follow the herd

Just as rugby began with William Webb Ellis, rugby matches begin for countless supporters with a pint at the William Webb Ellis pub in Twickenham (24 London Road; jdwetherspoon.co.uk). Leicester Square is another option for sports fans seeking big screens – give the Zoo Bar or the Carlsberg Sports Bar a shot.

If you're looking for a nosebag, the Big Easy Bar.B.Q & Crabshack is opening a Covent Garden branch (12 Maiden Lane; bigeasy coventgarden.co.uk) soon. A sister of the Chelsea institution, the new restaurant promises a serious evolution of the concept in a more urban, West End setting. Check it out for a reliable mix of American fresh-smoked barbecue fare, seafood, cocktails and drinks.

Dodge the crowds

Ziferblat (388 Old Street; london.zifer blat.net) is a cafe with a difference. The Shoreditch space opened in January and it charges by the minute, offering pretty much everything for free, except your time. Customers receive a clock when they arrive and can work, read, chat and drink as much tea and coffee as they want for 3p a minute. You are encouraged to wash your own dishes, however.

While Paul O'Connell and Co carve up Les Rosbifs at Twickenham, foodie fans can tuck into cutting-edge British cuisine at St John (26 St John Street; stjohngroup. uk.com). Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver's Smithfield creation is famous for its nose-to-tail approach. While dishes such as grilled ox heart (£16.60), crispy pig's skin with dandelion (£7.20) and pheasant and trotter pie (£34.50, for two) won't be for everyone, this is still a seminal London restaurant.

Twickenham isn't just home to the English rugby team. It also has the World Rugby Museum (rfu.com/microsites/museum; £15/£9) and its collection of memorabilia. Highlights range from historic caps, flags and match tickets to the original Calcutta Cup (it even has Mike Gibson's No 12 jersey), so a visit is bound to enhance your Ross O'Carroll Kelly-like reputation as a student of the game. Did you know that the USA is the reigning Olympic rugby champion, for instance? That's helped in no small part by the fact that rugby last featured as an Olympic sport in 1924.

Dodge the crowds

Bailey's Stardust, a landmark exhibition of David Bailey's photography, runs at the National Portrait Gallery from February 6 to June 1 (St Martin's Place; npg.org.uk). It includes a new portrait of Kate Moss, together with previously unseen work and images from Bailey's 2012 travels to the Naga Hills in India. The show is also one of the gallery's largest photography exhibitions, with more than 250 portraits occupying the ground floor.

WHERE TO SHOP:

Follow the herd

If you're after some killer boutiques, indie labels and one-off stores that can't be found anywhere else on Earth, you should give Oxford Street (oxfordstreet.co.uk) a miss. If you're interested in mega-brands, high street shopping and enormous stores such as Selfridges, on the other hand, then this is undoubtedly the king. Topshop Oxford Circus (214 Oxford Street; topshop.com) was voted London's best shop by 'Time Out', with the magazine noting the added bonus of the store having, "the only spacious and well-maintained loos that you'll find in retail land".

Dodge the crowds

February is Food Month at both the Westfield London (uk.westfield.com/ london) and the Westfield Stratford City (uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity) shopping centres. The centres will be brought to life with interactive events, tastings, foodie discounts and live food demonstrations from high-profile chefs. For more information contact Hannah Stalder at hannahstalder@portasagency.com

The Liberty emporium (liberty.co.uk; Regent Street) is a department store with a difference. It dates from 1875, but it was rebuilt in mock-Tudor style during the 1920s. It's a magical space full of bags, clothes and beauty products, as well as being a stationery trove and a nook for French publisher Assouline. Afterwards, pop over to Other/shop (21 Kingly Street; other-shop.com) in Soho for a good browse through pieces by hotshot designers such as Christophe Lemaire, MM6 Maison Martin Margiela and Etudes.

  • For more info see visitlondon.com

 

PARIS

France vs Ireland, Stade de France, Saturday, March 15, 6pm

Presuming he stays injury-free, this is probably the last time that Brian O'Driscoll will line out in a green jersey. Can Ireland give him a send-off to remember in the concluding game of their 2014 championship? And can BOD produce a performance to match his hat-trick of tries against France in 2000? Whatever happens, it's a win-win for fans travelling to one of the world's great sporting cities. After all, we'll always have Paris

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK:

Follow the herd

The area around the Stade de France (Saint-Denis) isn't exactly postcard- pretty, so do your eating and drinking in the centre before catching the metro. French fans traditionally fortify themselves with a beer near Gare du Nord metro station, and Kitty O'Shea's (10 Rue des Capucines; kittyosheas.com) is one of the best-known Irish pubs in the city. It's guaranteed to be packed for matches, so if your plan is to watch on screen rather than in person, be sure to get in early.

If the idea of flying to France to visit an Irish pub appals you, try brunch at one of the great Parisian brasseries. Bofinger (7 Rue de la Bastille; bofingerparis.com) has been serving seafood and sauerkraut since 1864. It was also the first brasserie in the city to offer beer on draught.

Dodge the Crowds

It's no secret that Parisian food has shed some of its mojo. Ironically, however, foreign chefs such as Daniel Rose (Spring, 6 Rue Bailleul; springparis.fr) and Braden Perkins (Verjus, 2 Rue de Richelieu; hkmenus.com) has re-injected imagination and enthusiasm into the scene.

Californian Jody Williams is another. La Buvette (28 Rue Henri Monnier; ilove buvette.com) is a laid-back take on a local bistro, with cracked tiles, pressed-tin ceilings, cute chalkboards and a menu of French comfort food slotting nicely into the heart of the Ninth Arrondissement. It's tiny and pricey, but any place serving cocktails, cakes and cassoulet has my vote.

WHERE TO SHOP:

Follow the herd

"An obvious choice are the grands magasins, or big department stores," says Yvette Dolan, an Irishwoman and very savvy traveller living in Paris. "Less obvious is the fact that foreign visitors can enjoy a 10pc discount on almost all merchandise."

Both BHV (36 Rue de la Verrerie) and Galeries Lafayette (40 Boulevard Haussmann) offer discount cards to visitors who present a European passport at the information desk, Dolan reveals, and discounts are available at Printemps (64 Boulevard Haussmann) if you bring branded maps from your hotel room.

Dodge the crowds

The Haut Marais area, in the Third Arrondissement, has been hailed as Paris's "next great neighbourhood" by 'Travel + Leisure' magazine. Given its collection of chic restaurants, boutiques and food stalls, it's certainly hard to argue – it's a world away from the ribald rugby buzz of the Stade de France and Saint-Denis. Must-sees here include a store by the princess of Parisian chic, Isabel Marant (47 rue de Saintonge; isabelmarant.com); Merci (111 Boulevard Beaumarchais; merci-merci.com), a concept shop which donates money to charity and Eleven Paris (citywide; elevenparis.com), a bijou boutique with a rock 'n' roll vibe, popular with aspiring hipsters for its jeans (every pair comes with a plectrum in its fifth pocket). Trendy mums will love Finger in the Nose, diagonally opposite (60 Rue de Saintonge; fingerinthenose.com).

WHAT TO SEE:

Follow the herd

Looking for an art fix? The Musee d'Orsay (1 Rue de la Legion d'Honneur; musee-orsay.fr; €11/8.50) is smaller and less crowded than the Louvre, yet is still home to a beautiful explosion of art. The fifth floor Impressionist Gallery is a particularly big hit, as are the huge clocks framing the cityscape on the way in. Queues can be frustrating, so beat them by booking in advance online.

Dodge the crowds

The Jardin des Tuileries (Place de la Concorde) blossoms with as many visitors as flowers in the spring, so why not skip the tourist grind with a stroll through the gardens of Les Archives Nationales? This green space is one of Paris's most magnificent hidden gems, accessible from Rue de la Perle, Rue des Archives or Rue des Francs-Bourgeois between 8am and 5pm.

  • For more details on Paris, pay a visit to uk.rendezvousenfrance.com

 

PLAY IT SAFE

The best packages sell out fast, so check out Club Travel (clubtravel.ie), the official agent for the contest in Ireland.

  • More info at visitengland.org /rugbyworldcup

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