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Sporting Paris: French Open to All Fans

ico_orbitzParis for the French Open: Plan Trip | Hotels | Flights

ico_orbitzParis for the Tour de France: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight | Tour Guide

Editor's note: All prices are in Euros, so check current exchange rate. Web sites listed have English-language versions, unless otherwise noted.


Action-loving author Ernest Hemingway, who called Paris a "moveable feast,'' would have agreed this beautiful city also offers a sports fan's smorgasbord.

If you're going to Paris during the months of May through October and you're in the mood to attend some international events, along with fine dining and museums, you're in luck. There are plenty of high-level sports — some familiar to Americans and some more exotic.

The banquet begins with the French Open, formally known as Roland Garros, which doubles as the name of the venue that hosts the second of tennis' four annual Grand Slam events and the only one played on clay. The tournament begins May 27 and ends June 10.

The brick-red surface known as terre battue — literally, beaten earth — has been the graveyard of many champions. World No. 1 Roger Federer of Switzerland hasn't managed to win the French Open, yet, and his road to a calendar Slam likely must pass by Spain's charismatic Rafael Nadal, who hasn't lost on clay in two years.

On the women's side, comeback queen Serena Williams hungers for a grudge match against No. 1 Justine Henin of Belgium, who defeated her in a controversial 2003 semifinal.

Roland Garros (2 avenue Gordon-Bennett, Web site), is located in southwest Paris and accessible on the user-friendly Paris Metro subway system, line No. 10, or via numerous bus lines. Advance ticket sales have closed, but beginning May 21 tickets for individual sessions (price range: 8 to 73 Euros; kids under 7 free) will be on sale at the box office.

If you're making last-minute plans, take advantage of the French Open's "evening visitors'' policy. Starting at 5 p.m., you can buy a ticket for 10 Euros that allows you into remaining matches on any court as organizers fill seats vacated by early-departing patrons. There's no night tennis at Roland Garros, but at that time of year the sun doesn't set until well after 9.

If you already have a grounds pass — a ticket that gives you access to the outer courts, but not the two main or "show" courts — you can upgrade for a mere 1 Euro after 5 p.m. There are also bargain tickets available for the qualifying tournament (May 22-26, when lower-rung players try to squeeze into the main draw) and the seniors' tournament (June 6-10). (Consult the Web site for details.)

From June 28-July 1, some of Europe's top golfers will compete at the century-old Open de France in the Paris suburb of St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, a 30- to 45-minute train ride from downtown. (Event information is available at the Web site; click on the British flag for the English-language site.)

Past winners on the par-71 "Albatros" course include Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros. Take the RER C7 line to its terminus. Free shuttle buses run from the train station, and 20 Euros gets you onto the grounds; no charge for kids under 16.

The world's most famous bike race careens to a finish on the cobblestones of one of the world's most famous streets — the Avenue des Champs-Elysées — on July 29. Although the Tour de France peloton's mid-afternoon arrival in Paris is usually described as "ceremonial,'' since the overall winner has already been decided, the 20th and final stage of the three-week race still is hotly contested.
(See our complete Tour de France Guide.)

After the surviving riders complete eight circuits, looping by the Arc de Triomphe at one end and the Tuileries Gardens and Place de la Concorde at the other, sprinters mass at the front of the pack to duel it out for stage honors.

Some areas of the Champs-Elysées are blocked off for sponsor hospitality and media. The arcade-lined rue de Rivoli is a good alternate spot to watch the wheels turning, or you could start there and make your way to the finish. Plan on a healthy hike to stake out your place, as Metro stops underneath the route are closed during the race.

The European club soccer season ends in May and cranks up again in August. The Paris-St. Germain club has fallen on tough competitive times and is struggling to stay out of the bottom quarter of France's 20-team top league.

But PSG is still worth watching if only to see the boxy Parc des Princes (24 rue du Commandant Guilbaut; near Roland Garros), which manages to be intimate despite its 46,480 capacity. Tickets can be ordered online (Web site; French-language only) or purchased in person at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Elysées.

During soccer's summer hiatus, you can still get an inside look at the futuristic 80,000-seat Stade de France, where the 1998 World Cup opener and final were played — and won — by the home team.

The Stade de France is in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis and has its own stop on the RER B line that goes out to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Tours are held year-round, except on special-event days. English-language guides lead groups twice daily from April 1 to Aug. 31. Admission is 10 Euros for adults, 8 Euros for children and 29 Euros for a family pass.

France will play Ukraine at the national stadium the evening of June 2 in a qualifying match for the Euro 2008 tournament. Seats start at 20 Euros and can be purchased online. (Check out www.stadefrance.fr for ticket and tour information.)

From Sept. 7 to Oct. 20, Paris will be the molten center of Planet Rugby as the Rugby World Cup is staged in 10 venues around the country, including two in the capital, at the Stade de France and the Parc des Princes. Two cities in the United Kingdom, Cardiff and Edinburgh, also will host matches.

Fans from all over the world will converge on France, where the natives are arguably as passionate about rugby as their British counterparts. Many matches already are sold out, but the organizers may free up some seats in the coming weeks. (Keep tabs at the Web site.)

The atmosphere in the pubs and cafes in Paris will be electric, as well. If you need other Anglos around you, try the expatriate favorites Coolin (15 rue Clement) or Bombardier (2 Place du Pantheon).

The U.S. rugby team is playing in Group A with England, South Africa and Samoa. U.S. vs. England on Sept. 8 will be a tough ticket. But if you want to join the party, the venue — in the city of Lens — is just more than an hour train ride from the Gare du Nord in Paris. The other U.S. matches are in Montpellier and St. Etienne, which are found several hours south of Paris.

Finally, the more genteel set may lean toward visiting the famous Longchamp race track to watch the horses run clockwise on the shimmering emerald turf course. The annual meet lasts until Oct. 26, with racing mostly on weekends.

Its crown jewel is the prestigious Oct. 7 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, a 1½-mile test for colts and fillies three years and older that was first held in 1920. A total weekend purse approaching $5 million attracts the best thoroughbreds on the continent. (Information on the racecourse and the event is available on Web site.)

Longchamp, on the Route des Tribunes in the enormous Bois de Boulogne forest and park on Paris' western border, was one of Hemingway's haunts. The course features a picturesque windmill and a slight incline that is the equine equivalent of Heartbreak Hill. The most direct public transit is the No. 244 bus to the Carrefour de Longchamp stop, but you also can walk from the Porte d'Auteuil Metro stop.

Admission to the grounds is free and the grandstand is just 4 Euros, which doubles on the day of the Prix.

Check out other international games on our World Sporting Events Guide.