The Breton seaport of Lorient, destroyed by Allied bombing in the war, is home to hardy FC Lorient, Les Merlus – the Hakes.
FCL were late developers in the Breton football scene but have recently been relatively established in Ligue 1.
Their story begins in a fishing-tackle shop on the Lorient quayside, run by a certain Madame Cuissard, originally from Saint-Étienne, and her son Joseph. Seeing the need for a local sports club, in 1926 they arranged a meeting in the Café Eon on rue Carnot.
FC Lorient were duly formed. Another Cuissard, Saint-Étienne born Antoine, later played for and coached the club in the post-war period when Lorient were a big fish in the Breton regional football scene.
Breton-born Christian Gourcuff was a 27-year-old local Maths teacher when he became player-coach in 1982. Lorient hadn’t long been declared bankrupt, rescued by their own supporters and playing in the sixth level of French football.
Gourcuff changed all that. Leading Lorient to a debut campaign in Ligue 1 in 1998, Gourcuff would make the club a viable force in French football in his three terms at the Stade du Moustoir.
The most recent one dated back to 2003, after Gourcuff had taken Lorient back up to the top flight in 2001. Though not at the helm when Lorient won their solitary French Cup, in 2002, Gourcuff had made Lorient a serious top-flight proposition during his last decade in charge.
In May 2014, Gourcuff left a club that had just finished eighth in Ligue 1, ahead of Toulouse, Montpellier and Nice. His erstwhile assistant, Sylvain Ripoli, was quickly named chief coach – though he found his former boss a hard act to follow in 2014-15.
A train from Paris-Montparnasse should take 3hr 45min, the cheapest online tickets €20.
Local transport consists of an extensive bus network. Tickets are €1.35 or €3.80 for a day pass.
The Lorient Tourist Office deals more with holiday rentals but has a list of hotels.
As the centre of Lorient is compact, most hotels are an easy distance from the stadium. Perhaps the closest is the Central Hôtel, a modest two-star. Also nearby is the Mercure Lorient Centre, standard for this mid-range chain.
Near the waterfront, the Hôtel Les Pêcheurs is cheap, with a bar attached. Elsewhere in town, the Hôtel d’Arvor Lorient has been a family-run business since 1936 and offers half-board deals. The Hôtel Victor Hugo Lorient is a tasteful and affordable two-star, with a range of rooms and rates.
Lorient doesn’t want for bars, some pleasantly situated near the harbourfront. The Café Leffe Lorient in the same building as the tourist office pulls out a big screen on match nights.
Also close to the water, the Quay Street Bar (18 rue Poissonière) is more pub-like. One of the oldest Irish pubs in France, the Irish-run Galway Inn also shows games on a big screen, and stages regular live music. La Table Ronde (120 rue Paul Guieysse) nearby is popular with locals.
The New Pub Gallery (3 rue Olivier de Clisson) has been a fixture on the local nightlife scene for decades, and shows TV sports.