Top 10 reasons for visiting Lyon
Jan02

Top 10 reasons for visiting Lyon

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...

Read More
France by Train
Jun03

France by Train

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. Lyon 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 Nice 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 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...

Read More
Lyon between the Rivers Saone and Rhone
Jan21

Lyon between the Rivers Saone and Rhone

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...

Read More
Paris: Five in the Fifth
Mar01

Paris: Five in the Fifth

I had a few hours. It was late summer; almost autumn. It was a glorious day and I was in Paris. I didn’t want to dive underground, taking the Metro to see some of the city’s iconic sights; the day was too good for that. I wanted to stroll around the neighbourhood and discover some of the lesser known places. Loaded on to my iPad was the Insight Guide Paris which has a rather handy feature that gives you the 10 nearest sights to your location. It immediately detected that I was just off Place Monge in the Fifth Arrondissement and pinpointed 10 places closest to me. One was a hotel, another a bowling centre so I eliminated those. Of the remaining eight these are the Five in the Fifth I chose. Mosquée de Paris This mosque was built in the Moorish style in 1922 to commemorate the part North African troops from the french colonies played in World War 1. The mosque is open to visitors with regular tours. A large patio is reminiscent of the Alhambrra in Granada with its fountains and planting. It’s a real haven of peace from the bustle of Paris. Around the far side from the patio is a public Turkish bath and a delightful shaded cafe serving some wonderful North African sweet pastries. Jardin des Plantes Across the road from the mosque’s cafe is one of the entrance’s to the Jardin des Plantes. The garden was originally used to supply medicinal herbs to treat the family of Louis XIII. The garden was redesigned, added to and expanded during the 18thcentury. A maze amphitheatre a and display galleries were all added; the latter becoming the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle. After the Revolution a small zoo was added which remains today. The gardens themselves are now used to display planting schemes and extend all the way to the Seine. Rue Mouffetard This street is all that remains of the Roman road that led to Lutèce, town that later grew into the Paris we know today. Its cobbled streets are closed to traffic and as a result the food shops and cafes spill out onto the street. Market days the street is full of stalls and is a delight of sights, sounds and smells Arènes de Lutèce In a small park north of Place Monge I suddenly came across a Roman amphitheatre. Discovered during the construction of Rue Monge it solved the mystery as to why the sourrounding neighbourhood had always been referred to as les Arènes. The amphitheatre  held upto 15,000 spectators and was used for both combat and theatrical productions. Panthéon The dome of the Panthéon is an...

Read More