We spent almost a year in Saint-Etienne (2011/12), so this blog entry will be more on the lines of a city description than a short trip.
For starters, Saint-Etienne is a small city close to Lyon. It is located in the Rhône-Alpes region and is the capital of Loire département. It is well connected with both Paris and Lyon and easily reachable by train - 3 hours from Paris and 45 mins from Lyon. There are also buses connecting Lyon to Saint-Etienne (the buses usually run between the train stations).
Saint-Etienne railway station
A few days in the city and you feel like you have reached the most idyllic city in the world. One of those places where you feel like relaxing and writing a poem may be (:wink:) - the sort of place where writers go to solve their 'writers block' - the place where you get up, take a stroll in the pleasant morning breeze, spend the next hour in a french cafe enjoying croissants/coffee and then daydreaming about work (not actually working, of course :)) till lunch. If you are the foodie like us, you should try the local Pâtisserie (bakery) - each region has its own customized cakes/pastries. Unfortunately, we were there for work and hence the lack of any poems in this blog :(
One might argue that a lot of European cities are like this. Well we have been to e.g. Innsbruck in Austria where most shops close at 5pm. Still somehow even that did not ignite the "laid back" feeling we experienced here. To its credit, shops (at least grocery shops) remain open on Sundays here which we really appreciated.
City night life
True to its nature, most of the city seems deserted at night. The only happening place is the area close to the Cathedral (and also close to the Préfecture).
Get down at the stop 'Place Jean-Jaurès' if you are coming by tram. [The easiest way to buy a public transport ticket is at one of STAS kiosks - buy a 1h30m ticket for the 'Grd St Etienne' region - the ticket is valid on both buses and trams.]
Just keep walking a bit and you will find a Cathedral, movie theater, restaurants offering a wide variety of culinary delights (including Indian) in the vicinity. Unfortunately, none of the Indian restaurants we tried here were up to the mark, so would rather recommend that you try something traditional here.
The general cost of living here is quite low (of course, as compared to European standards) - a tram ticket costs 1.30 Euros, a coffee less than 2 Euros, same goes for taxi and hotel rates. So you can think of spending a few more days here - a slightly longer trip.
Shoppers' tip (Soma's special recommendation :)): The shops here are really nice (from a fashion point of view) and if you combine that with the low(er) cost of living here - you have a real bargain in your hands. Further, if you are here in June/July, almost all shops offer a 50-60% discount - something that will save you a lot of money while buying French gifts for all the nice people back home in India.
Saint-Etienne Trams (STAS)