Collioure has attracted artists since the beginning of the 20th century when it was “discovered” by a group known as the Fauve artists. They were attracted not only by the subject matter but by the quality of the light. Henri Matisse and Andre Derain established their base in Collioure and were soon followed by the likes of Dufy and Picasso.
Until tourism had an impact, Collioure was a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast close to the Spanish border. Like many quaint fishing villages, it grew once tourists began arriving in large numbers. Thankfully though it still retains much of its charm.
Collioure was not always French but was ruled over by the Kings of Mallorca until it eventually became French in 1659. The quaint little harbour is dominated by the Chateau Royale de Collioure, built by Vauban as a defensive measure against Spanish expansionism.
The artists, attracted by the clarity of the light and the ample subject matter, needed a place to stay. The Hotel des Templiers became their base and meeting place. A heady mix of fact and myth in local storytelling tells us that the poverty-stricken artists had little money to pay for their lodgings so they offered their paintings instead as a means of payment.
Whatever the truth behind this story there are original paintings and sketches by artists well known and unheard of adorning the walls of the cafe and bar. Until they were stolen there were even original sketches by Picasso hanging on the wall, now only copies are there.
According to the granddaughter of the owner at the time the paintings were gifts from the artists who became firm friends with the owner. Perhaps some were payment, but as she points out the business would not have survived if all the artists paid in paintings. Whatever the truth it is a wonderfully atmospheric place to enjoy a coffee.
A wander around Collioure’s steep and narrow streets away from the tourist crowds reveals a plethora of artist studios. It seems Collioure still attracts artists.
Many of these artists paint the same scenes the Fauve artists chose to put on canvas. The local tourist office has put up helpful signs at the locations where the artists set up their easels. These include a copy of the painting and a frame. The later is more for photographers wishing to convert the scene to several million pixels rather than brush strokes.
Wandering the harbour front, the streets and the three small bays you can see why the artists loved Collioure. It is so picturesque with colourful lateen boats bobbing in the harbour, a lighthouse converted into a church, a citadel and bougainvillaea bedecked lanes and courtyards.
I may not be a painter but I consider myself an artist with a camera as my tool of choice. I was continually framing and composing, pressing the shutter and taking photographs. Collioure is just so inspiring.
The Lure of Collioure is still alive and well among artists and photographers… and not a few tourists too. Certainly, the Lure of Collioure has called me back on more than one occasion and I will no doubt be returning again.
Do you have a special place in France that you like to return to again and again? Do tell us about it in the comments below.
Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, fly daily from my home city of Southampton to Lyon in France. Lyon is a city I have come to love and the fact that it is now connected by air without having to go through London and Paris means I will probably visit more often. Eurostar now have a service to Lyon from London without the need to change trains thus making Lyon more convenient to get to.
They say Paris is the heart of France and Lyon is the stomach. Lyon is awash with restaurants with many holding Michelin stars. Certainly Lyon is the gastro-capital of France. However, there is more to Lyon than food as you will see from the list below. They are not ranked but rather listed according to approximate geographical location.
1. The Fourviere Basilica
The Fourviere Basilica, perched high above the city on Fourviere Hill is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Lyon. It is fortress on the outside and palatial place of worship on the inside. The large terraced area around it makes a great viewpoint for looking across the city of Lyon and getting your bearings.
Directly below is Vieux Lyon with its narrow cobbled streets and old houses. Beyond and between the Rivers Saone and Rhone is Renaissance Lyon with long boulevards and large open squares. Beyond the two rivers is 19th and 20th century Lyon.
2. Gallo-Roman Archaeological Park
To the south and out of sight from the Fourviere Basilica is theGallo-Roman Archaeological park. This contains a large Roman theatre built around 15 BC that seated 11,000 spectators and a smaller second century odeon which was used mainly for music and recitations. Between the two and above the theatre is a well preserved Roman road lined with the ruins of shops and other buildings. Today both amphitheatres are used for performances during “Les Nuits de Fourviere”, a summer festival.
3. The Traboules of Vieux Lyon
In Vieux Lyon, which itself is worth exploring (see Five in the Fifth), are the traboules. Traboule comes from the latin words trans ambulare meaning “to cross”. The geography of the land meant the streets were constructed parallel to the river Saone. The traboules are passageways through houses connecting one street with another and were constructed intitially for people to fetch water and goods from the river. As the silk trade grew, the traboules were used to move goods around the city more easily.
Traboules run through the houses which gives you the feeling of entering a private, almost secretive world. Not all are open to the public and even those that are are difficult to find. The best way to visit them is to take a guided tour.
4. Croix Rousse
Between the River Saone and the River Rhone is an area known as the Presqu’île. Croix Rousse is an area in the northern part of the Presqu’île and was where the silk weavers moved to from Vieux Lyon. Croix Rousse has it’s own unique atmosphere and often feels like a village rather than part of a grand metropolis. It is much sought after neighbourhood and has a bohemian ambience.
Croix Rousse is best explored on foot. Steep passageways and steps take you through small parks and shady squares, gardens and along well kept boulevards. A good place to start is the Place de Sathonay, a shady neighbourhood square were the locals play pétanque. A good place to end is the Murs de Canuts – the silk workers mural.
5. Murals of Lyon
La Mur des Canuts is the largest of the Lyon’s murals. It’s very deceptive being painted in the trompe l’oeil style; and difficult to see where reality begins and ends. The mural is a study of Croix-Rousse itself and includes characteristics of the district such as the long flights of steps on the slopes of the hills on which it is built. Each time it is repainted it is also updated with the same characters growing older.
The most striking feature of this square is the great fountain of a female charioteer and wildly straining horses. This magnificent statue was rejected by Bordeaux before Lyon gladly accepted it. Its creator, Bartholdi, went on to create the Statue of Liberty.
Opposite the statue is the Museum of Fine Arts with several pieces by the sculptor Rodin. Some of his statues are displayed in the shady courtyard of the museum which is a great place to rest and cool off.
7. Place Bellecour
Place Bellecour is the largest square in Europe. In the centre of the square is a large statue of Louis XIV on horse back. The south of the square is filled with gardens, cafes and a children’s play area and is a great place to relax and people watch while taking a break from sightseeing or some retail therapy. The view across the square to the Fouvière Basilica is one of the classic views of Lyon.
Where the Saone and Rhone meet is the appropriately name Confluence district. This was the city’s docklands full of warehouses, wharfs and an SNCF shunting yard. Now, like many docklands areas in other European cities, it is being redeveloped. There is a large shopping complex, apartments and offices, marinas and other leisure facilities. There is some cutting edge architecture here too which includes a museum and a bright orange cube, has been christened by the Lyonnais “La Emmental” because it’s facade was designed with so many “holes” it resembles Swiss cheese.
The Musee des Confluences has become one of the most popular sites in Lyon. This Uber modern building sits on the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone and tells the story of our world. It presents a journey through time and across the globe to introduce the visitor to the world around them. There are also a continual rotation of temporary exhibitions too.
The old sugar warehouse, La Sucrière, is the main venue for the modern art Biennale de Lyon but serves as a space for art exhibitions at other times.
9. Parc de la Tête d’Or
Beyond the Rhone is the 19th and 20th century Lyon. Follow the river north and you reach the Parc de la Tête d’Or. At 117 hectares this is the largest urban park in France.
It is home to the Botanical Gardens with large glasshouses and four rose gardens. The botanical gardens are one of the largest in France and entry is free on weekdays.
The park also houses a zoo which in 2006 created an extensive Plaine Africaine where 130 species of native African animals roam free and together. The zoo is home to the rare Barbary lion; an animal extinct in the wild.
10. Tony Garnier Urban Museum
Tony Garnier was Lyon’s best known urban architect and created a housing project in the city for industrial workers in the 1920s. The museum that bears his name is in the district he helped create either side of the Boulevard des États-Unis. The museum is fairly small and shows much of his ideas in the exhibits including a reconstruction of a 1930s room.
However, his work is best seen in the urban landscape he created. Wander round or take a tour and you will see the murals on the ends of the apartment blocks of his ideas for an urban landscape. See the post Murals of Lyon (2) for more details.
The top ten list ends here but there will be some readers who will wonder why I have not included Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. I plan on following up this post with the top 10, in my view, places to enjoy the gastronomy of Lyon. For those who still think it should be included in the top ten places to see in the city I have included a brief note below.
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
If you love your food you will love Lyon. If you love Lyon you will love Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. This is Lyon’s gourmet covered market where all the Michelin chefs do their shopping; it is even named after the most influential of them all Paul Bocuse. Not only can you buy local ingredients but also products made locally such as cheeses, macaroons, quinelles and desserts that are works of art.
Have you visited Lyon? Are any of your favourite places to visit missing from this list? Do share with us your top Lyon spots in the comments below.
This article first appeared on www.travelunpacked.co.uk, the sister blog of www.franceunpacked.co.uk. Several of the links will take you to the Travel Unpacked website
I like nothing better than picnic on a hot summers day in France; along a river bank, beside a lake or the sea or enjoying a mountain vista. Generally speaking the south of France is hotter than the UK and it is more of a challenge to keep the picnic cool. Enter the Arpenaz 26, a cooler bag developed by Quechua for the French company Decathlon. I was recently sent one to test and review.
When the package containing the Arpenaz 26 arrived I was more than a little sceptical. How could anything that small contain a picnic for a family let alone keep it cool for any appreciable length of time?
OK, I knew from the information sent out that it was expandable so it would undoubtedly be bigger than it first appeared. However, cool boxes or bags are bulky due to the insulating materials and the Arpenaz 26 gave the appearance of not having enough bulk to do the job properly.
Unpacking the Arpenaz 26
The first thing I noticed was the weight; or rather the lack of it. At less than 1kg it and no more than 30cm x 40cm x 12cm when deflated it could easily be stored without taking up too much space. This is especially advantageous if I stay, as I often do, in mobil homes or small apartments. An elasticated strap, fixed at one end so you don’t lose it, keeps the cooler compact.
One of the innovations of the Arpenaz 26 is the self-inflating technology. The strap is removed before inflating and the air valves opened. There are two valves, one on the lid and one on the front of the cooler. I followed the instructions and left the cooler to inflate itself. It took almost four minutes to inflate, enough time to brew a coffee. However it was not quite fully inflated and, as suggested in the instructions, needed to be inflated manually. All it took was one long puff through the front valve. The valves are then closed and the cooler is ready for use.
The science behind the Arpenaz 26
Now for the technical bit; non-techies can skip this bit.
Apparently the material on the inside, the silver lining, is designed to keep the cold in. The material used on the outside deflects solar radiation and reduces the impact of heat. Between the two the Arpenaz 26 makes use of the wonderful insulating properties of air. Although the technologies used in the materials are advanced the principle of keeping cold in and heat out is simplicity itself and in various forms what most coolers use.
Fully inflated the dimensions are 30cm x 40cm x 42cm which means the capacity of the Arpenaz is 26 litres.
The Arpenaz 26 in use
I needed to try out the Arpenaz 26 so it was the perfect excuse for a picnic. Ice blocks and picnics were put in and the zip lid closed. Despite a picnic for two, several water bottles and the ice blocks it was far from full. There was ample space for picnic supplies for a couple of friends or children (ours have flown the nest).
An adjustable shoulder strap is firmly fixed to the sides but I found the bulk a little awkward to carry and I would not want to carry it too far.
The Arpenaz 26 cooler was left in the car, in the shade while we spent three hours enjoying the countryside. When we returned the shade had vanished and the car was in full sun. It would be a real test for the cooler. Our experience with rigid cooler was that the interior would be only marginally cooler than the inside of the car so I was not, despite the marketing blurb, expecting too much from the Arpenaz 26.
I have no idea what the temperature inside the car was but it was like a furnace. Taking the cooler out I was surprised at how cool the outer surface felt. Obviously it was doing what it was designed to do and deflecting solar radiation. Opening up the lid I felt the chilled air waft past my face. This all looked, or rather felt, rather promising.
The picnic inside was as chilled as when it had been put in. The drinks were wonderfully and refreshingly cool; the picnic itself was fresh; the salads were cool; and the butter for the rolls was still to solid to spread. I found it difficult to believe that anything could have been kept cool in the furnace of a car left in the sun.
Without the use of thermometers it was not possible to give temperature lost over time data for my “in the field” test. However the independent test technical data of the Arpenaz 26 shows it takes 11 hours for the interior temperature to rise by 10°C in ambient temperature of 32°C.
The results of my test and the test under laboratory conditions are very impressive. This is certainly a product I will be taking to France when I head off on camping/caravanning holidays.
Do I have any gripes? Yes, there are a couple of minor ones in addition to the awkward to carry gripe mentioned above. The pale colour of the exterior (which I realise is necessary) does mark very easily. I am also worried about the possibility of puncturing either by sharp objects on the outside or sharp implements such as knives and the cutlery stored inside. A puncture would render it less effective.
However despite these minor issues it is a top class product. It is well made and looks durable; I haven’t had it long enough to test the durability but I will come back to that in a few months. At £32.99 it is great value for money if you like the outdoors or just the occasional picnic.
The Arpenaz 26 is made by Quechua for Decathlon. It can be purchased in store or online at www.decathlon.co.uk. The following embedded video from Quechua demonstrates the innovative Arpenaz 26.
This review was originally posted on France Unpacked’s sister website www.travelunpacked.co.uk and has been edited for this website.
Declaration: The Arpenaz 26 was supplied by Decathlon for review by me. I value my editorial independence as do my readers. As such any review will be an honest appraisal of the product as I see it. This is not a sponsored post (any sponsored post will be clearly marked as such).
France is blessed with a plethora of rivers that, over the millennia, have shaped its landscape. They have carved out gorges, laid down flood plains and provided wetlands and marshes for a variety of wildlife.
Rivers were used as trade routes even during times of pre history and as such towns and cities grew up on their banks. Some of the cities in the estuaries of the major rivers still operate as ports. Less trade is done along the river routes now as goods are moved by road and rail much more efficiently.
Today the rivers satisfy the demand for leisure and adventure. Fishing, cruising and watersports form the bulk of what is sometimes referred to “tourisme fluvial”
How well do you know your French rivers? Can you name the any of the major rivers in France? Which cities are on which river? The following is a quiz to test your knowledge of the rivers of France.
How did you do? Did you have to refer to a map or Wikipedia?
Photographs that were not taken by me are from www.commons.wikimedia.org; www.dreamtime.com; www.depositphotos.com all used with the appropriate permissions
On 1st May this year Eurostar launched a direct no-train-change service to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille from London. France will become even more accessible by high speed trains with out the changes at Lille or Paris. Even without the new service France was already very accessible by train using both the TGV and more regional SNCF trains.
The mountains, the coasts, the chateaux, the wine producing areas, the WW1 battlefields and the cities are all connected by train. In this post I look at six cities served by trains that I have visited. There are of course more and over the time I will cover more cities easily reached by train.
We’ll start with my top French city.
They say that if Paris is the heart of France then Lyon is its stomach. It certainly is a gastronomic destination and you cannot visit Lyon without sampling some of its many restaurants from the simple fayre served good in the bouchons to the Michelin starred restaurants.
Wandering around Old Lyon exploring the hidden passages or traboules is a great way to spend an afternoon. There are numerous murals right across Lyon and searching them out is a great way to explore the city. Lyon surprises; it has plenty of wide open squares and parkland and a thriving cultural scene, both classic and contemporary. It is a destination in its own right and not just a stop on the route south.
Heading south from Lyon on the TGV and we eventually reach the Cote d’Azur
Swanky classic hotels to stay in, the Promenade des Anglais to wander and be seen and great places to eat are all part of the stereotypical image of Nice. Always popular with artists Nice has museums devoted to Matisse, Marc Chagall and modern and contemporary art. For those wanting to explore a little more Vieux Nice is the place to wander. Wandering up to the chateau, and area of parkland and ruins noted for its extensive views, takes you through narrow cobbled streets with great little cafes, boutiques and shops and restaurants serving and selling the olives that bear the city’s name. The Flower Market is one of the best known in France and is best visited early in the morning when the flowers are at their best and most numerous.
Still on the eastern side of France is…
Strasbourg is well-known for being the headquarters of a number of European institutions, most notably the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights. It is also famous for its historic centre on the Grande Île with the half timbered houses typical of Alsace region of France and its towering cathedral. The district known as Petite France is home to some of the prettiest and most photogenic narrow cobbled streets especially from spring onwards when the half-timbered houses are bedecked with flowers. A great deal of Strasbourg is pedestrianised and is easily explored on foot or by bike.
In the south-west of France there are more cities to visit. First up is a city known more for its wine than anything else.
The region around Bordeaux is famous for its wines and indeed the port on the River Garonne grew rich on the wine trade. Much of the city’s architecture reflects this. The Grand Theatre du Bordeaux is an indication that the arts found wealthy patrons. The ornate and magnificent Fontaine des Girondins is also an indication of the wealth enjoyed by Bordeaux. There are several wide open squares and sweeping boulevards to explore as well as smaller older streets with unique boutiques and shops.
Bordeaux may have made its name on the back of the wine trade but the port also traded in other goods, mostly from the Americas and the Caribbean. Cocoa was imported in large quantities and as a result confectioners began making chocolate. Bordeaux is a chocoholics paradise with more chocolatiers per square kilometre than anywhere else in France. The three best are within a short walk of each other.
Not far south of Bordeaux is the elegant resort of…
The resort of Biarritz was a favourite with the royal families of Europe at the end of the 19th century. Napoleon built a palace here for his wife Eugenie which is now the grand Hotel du Palais. Biarritz is at the southern end of France’s long Atlantic coast where the Pyrenees begin to dip their feet into the sea. Its many beaches, casinos and the bracing sea air are what attracted the nobility a century ago and still appeal today. The clientele may have changed but Biarritz still offers the feel of elegance by-the-sea and is much more laid back alternative to the Mediterranean cities currently in vogue.
Among the places to visit is the wonderful chocolate museum. Not only does it chart the history of chocolate and its introduction to French soil in nearby Bayonne by expelled Spanish Jews but also displays numerous chocolate sculptures. On the subject of chocolate it is worth sampling the chocolate drink Empress Eugenie loved; a slightly spicy thick hot chocolate served in the sumptuous surrounds of the lounge in the Hotel du Palais.
Head west from Paris and you will travel along the Loire Valley. The next city is the gateway to Chateaux country.
Tours is often seen as the gateway to the chateaux of the Loire Valley and most visitors pass quickly through. It is a city worth visiting in its own right. The city has a well preserved historic centre with half-timbered houses on the Place Plumereau with plenty of cafes to relax and soak up the atmosphere. Also in the centre are the cathedral, the Basilica and Tours own 11th Century chateaux. There are a number of gardens to visit including the Botanical Gardens and among the many summer markets on the banks of the Loire is a flower market. A couple of museums worth visiting are the unique Museum of Journeymen and the Musee des Beaux-Arts.
These are just a few of the cities readily accessible by train in France and with Eurostar now connecting the UK to both northern and southern France these and other cities have become accessible in just a few hours from London or Paris. Over time I will be looking at other train-accessible cities of France.
Have you travelled by train in France? What were your experiences? Do share them in the comments below.
Which city sits on the banks of the Garonne? Where are Airbus Industries located? In which city would you find the Moulin Rouge? If you know the answers to any of these then try the French cities quiz below.
How did you do? Which question did you find most difficult?
Here’s one more question: Where would you find this cafe? Write your answers in the comments below. You might find this post helpful – Five in the Fifth.
Here’s something to puzzle over. The photograph of this French city has been distorted into a “planet”. Can you identify the city? It is a view of the city often seen in photographs in guidebooks and brochures as it illustrates a particular characteristic of the city and one from which it gets its nickname.
Can you identify this city? Any idea “Where in France…” it is? Do you know the city’s nickname. You can leave your answers in the comments below or on my Twitter feed (@lethers) with the hashtag #WIF01. If we mutually follow each other on Twitter then you could send me a direct message with your answer, not forgetting the hashtag #WIF01. Alternatively you can also click the contact tab above and send me an e-mail with the answer. Good luck.
Answer next Wednesday 16th July 2014 at 10:00pm [BST]
Brittany Ferries operate cruise ferries to France in the Western Channel. Each vessel in the fleet is a well appointed luxury ferry (read a review of one of their ships) with a full range of facilities and a choice of eateries. It was a surprise to learn that since my last crossing with them they have introduced a budget crossing known as Brittany Ferries Économie.
Brittany Ferries use The Etretat on the Portsmouth-Havre crossing. So how “no frills” is the Économie service on the Etretat? Would I be travelling on a freighter with just a nod to fare paying passengers?
I sailed on the Portsmouth to Le Havre route which operates Thursday to Sunday The crossing takes five and a half hours and departs Portsmouth at 12:00 midday. The return is an overnight crossing and takes a little longer. The same vessel is used on the Portsmouth-Santander route when not sailing to Le Havre.
Check-in at Portsmouth was smooth with the usually friendly Brittany Ferries staff making me feel welcome before I had even boarded the ship. Almost immediately boarding commenced and I was surprised to be directed to an open deck as I have always travelled on the inside of ferries to France safe from the elements. This might be a bit of an issue in rough weather as salt water spray and vehicle bodywork do not mix well.
Instead of the utilitarian decor I had expected the interior was all glass, chrome, faux wood and a marble style floor. It was a modern maritime theme with curved lines and wave patterns on many of the glass panels. Seating was mostly faux leather whether it was the chairs at tables, couches along the walls or the paid for lounge chairs.
Although you get the same excellent service from the staff on board it is in the facilities available where the economy experience is most notable. There is a single self-service restaurant with a limited choice on the menu and only one bar.
The Etretat ‘s duty free shop is small by any standard. Anymore than two people shopping and it is crowded. There is a small cinema and two lounges where for £5 you can use one of the reclining lounge seats. There is a seating area in front of the bar and another adjacent to the restaurant; both are basic table and chairs seating with couches along the walls. There is a small soft play area for children.
The only way to get foreign currency on board is to use the ATM, which I discovered was experiencing a technical malfunction on the day I was crossing. Make sure you change your money before you leave home or you could end up with no cash when you arrive in France.
Although it is small the self-service restaurant has a good, though limited selection of food and drink. The “economie” concept does not extend to the quality of the food which was great. For main course there was a choice of two fish dishes, a vegetarian option and three meat dishes. Snacks are available from the bar and from vending machines. The latter also dispensed hot or cold drinks.
Like the “no frills” airlines you can purchase extra comforts. Basic cabins (ensuite but not carpeted) for four people can be booked or purchased on board or online when booking your ticket. Reclining seats in one of the two lounges are also available.
The “economie” experience was not immediately obvious even though I had travelled on the cruise ferries Brittany Ferries operate in the Western Channel. Those who prefer al la carte eateries, bars with a larger selection and even onboard entertainment will be disappointed. If you are content with less choice of shops, bars and restaurants then you will find the Économie service more than adequate. For the budget conscious or those who would like to spend their money on other elements of their holiday there are great savings to be made.
I had expected a maritime version of the budget airlines but it is far from that. Continuing with the aviation industry comparison the Brittany Ferries economie service is more like the difference between travelling economy class instead of business class. However you look at it the service is pretty good for something labelled economy. The usually excellent Brittany Ferries service does not suffer.
Lyon is a city I passed through several times either on the A6 Autoroute heading south or on a train heading towards the Mediterranean coast. I have used its airport as well when heading to other parts of Rhone-Alpes. Such contact with Lyon gave the false impression it was a city of dreariness and heavy industry. It was time therefore to have more than a fleeting glimpse of the city.
I have already explored Vieux Lyon on the west bank of the Saone in a previous post on France Unpacked’s sister website Travel Unpacked. In this post I will explore that part of Lyon between it’s two great rivers the Saone and the Rhone; an area known as the Presqu’île. It is quite a compact area and is where the Lyonnais come to shop, eat and be entertained. Most of it can be explored on foot. However, all the city’s transport systems pass through or terminate in the Presqu’île so it is easy to get around.
The Place des Terreaux is a good place to start as it is the de facto transport hub both above and below ground. The most striking feature of this square is, for me, the great fountain of a female charioteer and wildly straining horses. Rejected by Bordeaux this fountain was eagerly accepted by Lyon. Its creator, Batholdi, later went on to create the Statue of Liberty.
The fountain faces the Museum of Fine Arts which is housed in the Palais St Pierre. The courtyard is a cool secluded place where sculptures are displayed, some of which are by the sculptor Rodin. The Hôtel de Ville with its elegant 17th century facade also overlooks the square and its many cafes.
The Opera on Place de la Comédie behind Hôtel de Ville was built in 1826 but was completely redesigned in the 1990s. Externally the facades were left pretty much intact but a glass vaulted roof was added giving it, in my opinion, the appearance of a London mainline railway station. Contemporary sculptures and fountains fill the squares around it.
Lyon is twinned with Birmingham and the two cities share a contemporary and controversially designed department store. In Birmingham the store is covered with silver discs and in Lyon it is reflective glass. Both modern structures are surrounded by older buildings but in Lyon at least these are reflected in the facade.
Rue Mercière is the only significant Renaissance remains in the Presqu’île. There are a few traboules or secret passageways here connecting it to the bank of the River Saone. Restaurants, bistros and cafes line the street. Le Bistrot de Lyon serves great food and is worth stopping at for the breathtaking interior. At the end of Rue Mercière is Place Jacobin with its newly renovated fountain depicting four Lyonnais artists: painter Hippolyte Flandrin, engraver Gérard Audran, sculptor Guillaume Coustou and architect Philibert Delorme.
Place Bellecour is the largest square in Europe. In the centre of the square is a large statue of Louis XIV on horse back. The view across the square to the Fouvière Basilica is one of the classic views of Lyon. The south of the square is filled with gardens, cafes and a children’s play area. In one corner is a bell tower, all that remains of the Hôpital de la Charité which was demolished in 1932.
Croix Rousse is the area in the north of the peninsula. This was where the silk weavers moved to from Vieux Lyon. Some of the features such as the traboules they brought with them. The houses they built had rooms with high ceilings that could accommodate the new weaving machines. Croix Rousse has it’s own unique ambience and often feels like a village than part of a bustling metropolis.
Being built on a hill means you get a good view of the layout of the city of Lyon. Although Croix Rousse can be reached by metro it is better to explore the steep passageways and steps that take you through small parks and shady squares on foot. A good place to start is the Place de Sathonay, a shady neighbourhood square were the locals play pétanque. A good place to end is the Murs de Canuts – the silk workers mural. This is the largest of Lyon’s famous murals. It’s very deceptive being painted in the trompe l’oeil style; and difficult to see where reality begins and ends.
Where the Saone and Rhone meet is the appropriately name Confluence district. This was Lyon’s docklands full of warehouses, wharfs and SNCF work yards. Now, like many docklands areas, it is being redeveloped with large shopping malls, apartments and offices, marinas and other leisure facilities. One of the more recent buildings, a bright orange cube, has been christened by the Lyonnais “La Emmental” because it’s facade was designed with so many “holes” it resembles Swiss cheese.
The old sugar warehouse, La Sucrière, is the main venue for Lyon’s modern art Biennale de Lyon but serves as a space for art exhibitions during time when the Biennale is not in residence. The Confluence area is still under development and is the best place to go to see some of Lyon’s modern, cutting edge architecture.
Lyon’s two rivers have shaped its history and development as a city. The natural barriers of the river mean much of the elegance of Lyon is contained in a very walkable area. My visit to Lyon changed my perception of a city from one of heavy industry to one of grace and beauty.
Have you visited Lyon? What did you think of the city? Let us know in the comments below.
Declaration: I visited Lyon as guest of the Lyon Tourist Office and Convention Bureau. However, as always I maintain full editorial control over the content and my opinions, positive or negative are my own.
The sun was heading towards the western horizon. It was late in the afternoon and shadows were lengthening and we were preparing for a canoe trip down the river. Being issued with head torches was a little unnerving as it meant we would be canoeing after dark; a completely new experience for most of the group. There would be rapids to negotiate and rocks and shallows to avoid; difficult enough in daylight.
A group of us were heading out on a beaver safari along the River Tarn downstream from the village of St Enimie The beavers are most active when the sun is low enough for no direct sunlight to reach the foot of the gorge. That an early evening start.
After a brief but comprehensive safety talk and some details about what to expect and how to best observe the beavers we launched the canoes.
Before we saw any beavers we encountered our first rapids. The word rapids conjures up a maelstrom of water and foam but these “rapids” were little more than an increase in water flow as the current was forced through a narrow section of the gorge. Nevertheless care had to be taken to avoid the very real dangers of submerged rocks and no one wanted to capsize this early on.
Although we spotted no beavers along this first part of the river as yet but we learned a great deal about them and how the European beaver (Castor fiber) differs from its North American cousin (Castor canadensis). They don’t build dams for a start. Along the banks there were plenty of signs of beaver activity. Stripped twigs and a few chewed branches showed where they had been eating.
After paddling for a couple of kilometres and still no sign of the beavers we pulled onto a pebble beach. Grass grew from between rocks and the place was littered with the detritus of the seasonal floods.
Beavers are shy creatures and will quickly disappear at the first sign of danger. Canoes and their occupants could conceivably be considered as danger so we spent a short while on the beach quietly watching the water down which we had just paddled.
Our patience was rewarded as one and then another beaver put in an appearance along the distant bank. Armed with binoculars we could see two large rat like creatures in the water. I was, at this point, slightly disappointed as I had expected closer encounters than this.
We were soon back in the canoes and negotiating a series of rapids. These were a little more exciting and required our full attention if we were not to end up in the water. Where the river widened and the water was calmer we pulled the canoes up onto a small sandy beach. Climbing up a steep path our guide led us in to a large cave. A few metres in and our guide suggested we switch our head torches on.
What we saw was not the beavers we were looking for but cave paintings. It was almost like we had just discovered them. The cave was only accessible from the river; no other path led to the cave. No visitor centre or interpretive notices; no entry ticket; no souvenir kiosks; and no barriers between us and the paintings.
The paintings showed animals and men pursuing each other across the cave walls. It was obviously a hunting scene. I wondered how long these paintings had survived. The floodwaters obviously did not reach this high. Paintings like these were usually discovered by shepherd boys or goatherds looking for their lost animals not canoe guides. This was quite a find and must rank with Lacavaux Caves I thought.
Just as we were getting excited about these off the beaten track cave paintings our guide told us they were less than 20 years old. Apparently a university professor had produced them using the tools and paints that would have been used four thousand years ago as an experiment. Even though they were an academic exercise very few people know of these paintings so it is still something special and worth stopping off for.
Back on the river dusk was closing in. The canoe up front spotted a beaver only metres from the canoe. As the beaver realised the proximity of the canoe it slapped its tail and disappeared.
We continued in silence often just drifting with the current. We began switching the lead canoe to give everyone a chance to see a beaver up close and personal.
After another set of rapids a beaver swam alongside our canoe. Less than two metres separated canoe and beaver. I just allowed the canoe to drift with the paddle across the gunwales. Being in the shadow of the gorge meant the canoe itself was not casting a shadow and, as far as the beaver was concerned, presented no danger.
This was the experience I had hoped for; a close encounter with a beaver.
Just as the canoe began to pick up speed prior to entering another small rapid the beaver headed off to the riverbank and the roots that hid the burrow that was its home. Darkness was rapidly approaching but the next fifteen minutes was like paddling down Beaver Alley. There were a dozen or more. Some encounters were close others further away. We just drifted along while beavers, sometimes in pairs, swam alongside the flotilla of canoes. Even our guide became excited as he confided that he had never seen so many on a single trip. What a bonus.
While there was still light we stopped for an evening snack. From the small promontory we could see the beavers swimming in the calmer water upstream and in the fading light could make out one or two foraging on the banks.
Being evening and close to water the mosquitoes were out in force. Attracted by our head lamps they were soon buzzing irritatingly around our heads. Back on the river the onslaught continued unabated. Then like a squadron of stealth fighters bats flew up the river feasting on inflight meals of fresh mosquitoes and moths, attracted by our lights, for dessert. How they avoided us, each other and low branches while pinpointing their meal with accuracy that would be the envy any Top Gun fighter pilot was amazing. It was all done by echolocation not sight.
Next came the ultimate paddling test of the evening. Darkness came suddenly in the foot of the gorge. The lead canoe’s lights some distance in front started bobbing erratically. There were rapids ahead.
“Keep to the middle,” our guide called, “and keep paddling”
This was easier said than done. In the light of the headlamp I could see the looming shape of the bank and a tangle of tree roots. Close to the bank light reflected off the maelstrom of water and foam. That could only mean an obstruction, probably rocks. The canoe slithered past, the side scraping on the stones, we fended off the bank and paddled like crazy as the canoe bucked and turned in it’s effort to dump us in the water.
Then just as suddenly we floated along in calmer, deeper water. Moments later we pulling the canoes up on the bank.
It had been a great evening. Excitement and adventure with beavers and bats with rock art, even if it was a facsimile, thrown in as an extra. Have you experienced a wildlife excursion? Tell us about it here.
Didier Azema, our naturalist and guide, leads many adventure excursions. The beaver excursion is just one of them. He can be reached on +33 4 66 44 25 10 or mobile +33 6 72 10 41 71. Canoes can be hired from ISPA Canoe for departures from St Chely du Tarn which is where we started our trip. They return you to your point of embarkation at the end of the trip. Suggested accommodation: Gites de Pougnadoires – three award winning gites on the banks of the river not far from St Enimie.
Declaration: I travelled as a guest of the Lozere Tourisme and SunFrance (Languedoc-Roussillon Tourisme). All my opinions are my own as I always maintain complete editorial control.