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FOOD AND DRINK

French gastronomy faces logistical Olympics challenge

France's vaunted gastronomy will be put to the ultimate test when organisers of the 2024 Paris Olympics have to feed 15,000 athletes.

French gastronomy faces logistical Olympics challenge
French Olympic medalist and dieticien Hélene Defrance is consulting on catering for the 2024 Olympic Games. (Photo by PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP)

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) inscribed the “gastronomic meal of the French” on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

“The gastronomic meal emphasises togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature,” UNESCO said. “The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an aperitif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert.”

Realistically, the restaurants run by French catering giants Sodexo might not offer such a complete experience – and doubtless few athletes in the prime of their lives would take on such a culinary bonanza given they will be in Paris on tight schedules focused more on competing than indulging themselves.

Around 40,000 meals a day will be served during the Paris Olympics, using produce largely sourced in France.

Sodexo, through its subsidiary Sodexo Live!, already has experience of catering high-profile sporting events such as the Super Bowl, tennis’s French Open and the Tour de France cycling race.

But it will have its work cut out feeding participants at the Olympie Games July and August, 2024, and then the Paralympics that follow in August and September.

Some 6,000 people will be employed to help in the restaurants, Sodexo Live! managing director Nathalie Bellon-Szabo said on Tuesday.

In addition to the Olympic Village, Sodexo will also cater for 14 other Olympic sites and eight Paralympic venues throughout France.

Games organisers have made no secret of what they will be serving up: more vegetables than usual with an emphasis on locally-grown products.

Of the estimated 13 million meals that will be served during the Olympics and Paralympics, from a snack right through to a dish cooked by a top chef, the goal is to have produce that is 80% French.

It is a “huge logistical challenge,” said Philipp Wuerz, project manager for catering, cleaning and waste on the Paris 2024 organising committee.

Avoiding queues, providing food that is healthy, varied and of good quality, with 25% of produce sourced “from within 250km” of each site, is challenging. “We’re used to managing this type of event, but not over such a long period of time,” said Stephane Chicheri, chief executive of Sodexo Live!.

There will be a necessity to remain “adaptable” over potential supply chain issues and price hikes for certain produce, Maxime Jacob, the organising committee’s catering project manager, told AFP.

The athletes can choose from 500 recipes, which are currently undergoing fine-tuning before menus are signed off by the end of this year.

It is impossible, however, to be 100% local, Wuerz said. “The athletes will eat around three million bananas and they don’t grow in the Paris region!”

Bananas, exotic fruits and rice will nevertheless be “organic or fair-trade certified,” Wuerz said.

All meat and dairy products will be 100% French, while seafood will be from sustainable fishing.

The recipes have been drawn up after consulting athletes and nutritional experts, including Helene Defrance, a dietician who won a sailing bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“There are no set menus” because organisers have to adapt to the food habits of every athlete, Defrance said, be it light meals or carbo-loading.

During their stay at the village in the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris, athletes will also be treated to haute cuisine.

A trio of French chefs will have their own space next to the main Olympic food hall.

Amandine Chaignot will serve up guinea fowl with langoustines or gnocchi in chicken sauce. Akrame Benallal has come up with a crispy quinoa muesli, while you can expect Alexandre Mazzia to produce a herb-packed chickpea pommade.

The main food hall will have 3,600 seats and offer up dishes that are not just French-themed but also from around the world, as well as halal food for Muslim athletes, Jacob said.

In a bid to help make the Games more sustainable, water fountains will be installed to reduce single-use plastics, while the kitchen equipment and cutlery will all be reused after the Paralympics brings an end to a colossal logistic challenge.

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PARIS

Travel deals to take advantage of as prices drop ahead of Paris Olympics

After many warnings about expensive travel and booked-up hotels in France this summer during the Olympic Games, prices have begun to drop as the event nears, with some bargains to be had.

Travel deals to take advantage of as prices drop ahead of Paris Olympics

After some soaring prices earlier in the year, costs for both accommodation and travel are now back to roughly seasonal norms.

In certain cases, train and plane tickets have fallen well below their summer averages.

As for lodging, the French press has reported that occupancy rates at Paris hotels are “gradually falling” as the event approaches, with many hotels and Airbnbs available. 

What’s going on?

Around 15 million people are expected to visit Paris between late July and early September – considerably more than the 6.2 to 6.4 million visitors who came between July and August in 2023 or the roughly 10 million summer visitors Paris saw in pre-pandemic days.

As such, many predicted that prices would skyrocket ahead of the Olympic Games, but there are a few other factors to consider aside from large volumes of tourists.

A survey in March 2024 found that almost half of Parisians planned on leaving the city during the Games period. On top of that, over half (64 percent) of Olympics tickets were sold to French people, many of whom are planning to stay with friends and relatives in the capital and thus have not booked accommodation.

As of late May, almost half of the French ticket holders had not reserved any hotels or Airbnbs during the Olympic period.

Many property owners in the capital also listed their homes on Airbnb with the hopes of earning some extra money during the Games. However, this led to an over-saturation of the market. 

French daily Le Monde reported that there were more than 145,000 properties on offer on Airbnb during the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, compared with 65,000 in normal times.

When it comes to hotels, UK online newspaper The Independent reported that hotel occupancy rates are expected to be “between 60 and 70 percent during the Games.”

The deals to look out for

Eurostar

According to reporting by The Independent, Eurostar tickets during the Olympics have declined by 11 percent in the last two weeks alone. The UK online newspaper found that the average Eurostar ticket price had dropped by €30 (or £26).

At the time of writing, The Local found that the cheapest one-way tickets on the day of the Opening Ceremony (July 26th) were €126, dropped to €112 the following day. 

For a round trip ticket from July 26th to August 2nd, the lowest price was €169 – around average for the summer holiday period.

Flights

If you are flying from the UK, as of mid-June, Google Flights placed London-Paris flights in the ‘Typical’ price range. The cheapest round-trip tickets were with budget airline Vueling, at €139 for one week (July 26th to August 2nd).

However, flights from other cities in the UK were significantly cheaper, particularly if you are willing to change the dates slightly. 

For example, five-day (July 29th to August 2nd) round-trip tickets from Bristol from cost €99 with Easyjet, and one-week (July 27 to August 3) round-trip tickets with Ryanair from Belfast cost €59.

For those flying from the US, prices had dropped significantly for a 10-day trip (July 26th to August 5th) from NYC to Paris, when compared with December 2023.

At the time, tickets were in Google Flights’ seasonal norms with average prices around €821. However, as of mid-June the same round-trip tickets were available for as low as €523. 

The flight planning tool also ranked tickets during the Olympic period between LA and Paris as ‘low’ compared to seasonal norms.

Hotels and accommodation

As mentioned above, there were still many hotel options still available in and around Paris as of mid-June. 

At the time of writing, Airbnb offered over 1,000 options for the first week of the Games, with options around €150 for an entire apartment for two people in central Paris, and possibilities closer to €230 for a family of four. 

When it comes to hotels, many were still above seasonal norms, but prices were lower than initial estimates.

For example, in December the Paris deputy mayor in charge of tourism Frédéric Hocquard had estimated that the average price of one night in a hotel in Paris would be €699 during the Olympic Games, compared with €169 in July 2023, an increase of 314 percent. 

At the time of writing websites such as Booking.com and Kayak still had several rooms available for around €200 per night. 

Other costs

Those visiting during the Games will also pay a higher price for public transport.

Between July 20th and September 8th, the price of a single ticket – which can be used on the Metro, buses, RER trains or trams – will go up to €4, in contrast to the €2.10 it costs currently, and purchasing a 10 tickets at once (a carnet) will increase from €16.90 to €32 during the Games.

This does not affect residents with a travel pass or monthly card, or people who buy tickets in advance.

READ MORE: How to avoid public transport price hikes during Olympics

Are Olympics tickets still available?

Yes. While many have already secured tickets, there are still opportunities on the official resale platform – full details HERE. Games organisers are also releasing a limited number of new tickets every Thursday on the official ticket platform here.

Meanwhile there are ticket available for the Paralympics via the ticketing website here.

The Olympics/Paralympics website is the only official channel for ticket sales, so you should be extremely cautious about any tickets offered for sale on any other websites or forums. 

But should I visit Paris during the Olympics?

If you were hoping for a last-minute Olympics trip then this is very much still on the table.

But if you want to enjoy a more typical tourist visit, you should expect larger than normal crowds and you should be prepared to reserve early. You should also keep in mind that there will be security zones across the city, as many of the matches and events are taking place in central Paris.

READ MORE: Paris Olympics QR codes – your questions answered

Eiffel tower – Be aware that the Tower is close to a Games venue. It will remain open during the Olympics period apart from the day of the Opening Ceremony (July 26th). However between July 18th and July 25th the Tower is in a security zone so you will require a QR code to enter – more info here. From July 27th onwards no QR code will be required for visitors – the Tower will be in a red zone, which has restrictions on vehicles, but which pedestrians can enter freely.

Louvre – During the Olympic Games, the Louvre will remain open to visitors, except for July 25th and 26th. However, all visitors from July 1st to September 8th must book a ticket ahead of time. As for the Tuileries Garden, it will be closed on August 28th and throughout the Games it will be in a security zone, meaning vehicular traffic will be severely limited – although pedestrians can still access it.

You can find more info about Olympics related disruption/changes for the Louvre HERE.

Versailles – The château, as well as the gardens will remain open to the public throughout the Games, with normal visiting hours.

The rest of France

Just because you’re taking a train or a plane to Paris, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay there – the capital is connected to all of France’s major cities – Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and more – by high-speed TGV trains, as well as many smaller cities and towns. 

Of the millions of people who visit France each year, 80 percent of them visit sites within just 20 percent of the country; largely Paris, the Riviera and certain well-known Alpine towns.

However, there are many other options – here is our guide to off-the-beaten-track places.

READ MORE: 19 alternative places to visit in France to avoid the crowds

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