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Featured Lyon Rhone-Alpes Towns and Cities

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.

The Fourviere Basilica
The Fourviere Basilica

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.

Lyon
Lyon’s Gallo-Roman amphitheatre

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.

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The Traboules of Lyon

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.

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Mur des Canut

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.

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One of Lyon’s many murals

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.

From here you can tour the many other murals of Lyon. A leaflet from the tourist office has all the information on each mural and a suggested route. See also Murals of Lyon 1 and Murals of Lyon 2) on this blog’s sister site www.travelunpacked.co.uk.

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This was designed by the same artist who designed the Statue of Liberty

6. Place des Terreaux

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.

Lyon
Place Bellecour

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.

Lyon
Confluence, a place of cutting edge architecture

8. Confluence

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.

Parc de la Tête d'Or
Parc de la Tête d’Or

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.

Lyon
Another of Lyon’s murals

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.

Lyon
Lyon is not called the Gastronomic Capital of France for nothing

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


Categories
Featured Rail Travel Towns and Cities

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.

TGV - France by Train
TGV-Duplex Paris” by Sese Ingolstadt. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

France by Train
Lyon, first stop on the Eurostar London to Marseille route

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.

France by Train
Used with permission sncfvoyages.com

Heading south from Lyon on the TGV and we eventually reach the Cote d’Azur

Nice on the Cote d'Azur
Nice on 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.

France by Train
Strasbourg is one of the prettiest cities on the French Rail network
© Didier B – Wikimedia commons

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 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.

Bordeaux

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.

France by Train
Fontaine des Girondins on Place des Quinconces – Bordeaux  by Patrick DespoixOwn work. Under licence CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

France by Train
© www.depositphotos.com

Not far south of Bordeaux is the elegant resort of…

Biarritz

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.

France by Train
Hotel du Palais, Biarritz – formerly the residence of Empress Eugenie. Licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

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

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.

Tours - historic centre
The well-preserved historic centre of Tours
© CDT Touraine – ADT Touraine

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.

Rail tickets to all the above can be purchased from Voyages Sncf UK (£).

Categories
Featured Lyon Regions Rhone-Alpes Towns and Cities

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.

The River Saone, one of Lyon's two rivers
The River Saone, one of Lyon’s two rivers

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.

Rejected by Bordeaux accepted by Lyon.
Rejected by Bordeaux accepted by Lyon.

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
The Opera

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.

Contemporary reflecting the Old
Contemporary reflecting the Old

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.

La Bistro de Lyon
Le Bistro de Lyon

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 Bellcour
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 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.

Mur de Canuts
Murs de Canuts

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.

The Swiss Cheese building
The Swiss Cheese building

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 elegance reflected in its architecture
Lyon’s elegance reflected in its 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.

Lyon Tourist Office and Convention Bureau

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.

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