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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.

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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.

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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


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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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Food and Drink Regions Rhone-Alpes water

Pairing Food and Rhone-Alpes waters

Water is the new wine” and the Rhone-Alpes region has plenty of it. Apart from snow and ice, numerous lakes and innumerable streams and rivers the region has over 30 sources of mineral water both still and sparkling.

If you thought water had no taste then think again. I spent time discovering some of the sources and was introduced to the water tasting in St Galmier, home of Badoit mineral water. To read more about it visit France Unpacked’s sister website www.travelunpacked.co.uk

I discovered that in Rhone-Alpes alone there is such a variety of tastes; from the salty, slightly bitter Badoit though the meadowy sweet Thonon to the almost neutral Evian.

Water 002

The following is a brief summary of the tastes and aromas of some of the better known and more readily available mineral waters of the Rhone-Alpes.

The still waters:
Thonon: Slightly lemony with a fresh meadowy scent; sweet taste
Evian: Light marine aroma; a neutral balance between salty and acidic taste
Aix: Dry earthy scent: no dominant taste, well balanced
The sparkling waters:
Badoit (verte): Little discernible aroma; salty, sweet and bitter, well balanced taste between the three
Badoit (rouge); A hint of woodiness; taste is salty and slightly bitter
Vals: Little discernible smell; salty and bitter in taste
Saint Alban: Lightly metallic scent; sweet and salty, well balanced
Cesar: aromatic notes of almonds and lemon; an acidic and bitter taste
Vernet: Slightly metallic aroma with an earthy note; an acidic and salty taste
Parot: Complex scent, flowery, vanilla with a note of leather; a dominant salty taste

If you think it is beginning to sound a lot like the terminology used by wine tasters you would be right. Much of the vocabulary and the classification of taste and feel is borrowed from wine-tasting. Water, just like wine, can be paired with different foods. Of course it is all down to personal taste but the characteristics of the different mineral waters pair well with certain meals or courses.

Mineral water from Aix-les-Bains is great for an aperitif
Mineral water from Aix-les-Bains is great for an aperitif

The light but aromatic Aix is ideal as an aperitif as its slightly woody scent would be lost during the meal.

The more intense scent of wood and almonds and the slightly lemony bitter taste of Cesar would go well with a salad particularly one with a vinegar based dressing.

Arcens has a lively effervescence with an acidic salty taste and pairs well with more exotic spicy dishes. However its high sodium content (290mg/l) makes it unsuitable for people on a salt-free diet.

For any fish dish the slightly salty Parot with a nose reminiscent of the sea is ideal. It has a smooth silky texture and fine effervescence. This water is popular with the Lyonnais restaurateurs.

Cheeses
Badoit (verte) and Evian pair well with cheese
© RA Tourisme/P. Fournier

Evian, with its astringent flavour, is best paired with any dish in sauce. It helps to balance the the fattiness of many sauces. It also goes well with cheese.

Badoit (verte) with its sharp astringent character and its balance of saltiness, sweetness and a hint of bitterness also goes well with cheese.

Thonon is lightly mineralised and is the sweetest mineral water due in part to its low sodium content. It has a fresh, light feel with a vegetal meadowy nose. As such it goes well with desserts and, because of its sweetness, is enjoyed by children.

Fruit dessert
For fruit based deserts St Alban pairs well
© RA Tourisme/M. Kirchgessner

Saint Alban with a note of sweetness and a hint of saltiness is better for desserts that are fruit based.

Badoit (rouge), a newcomer to the market, has a stronger effervescence and a real freshness. Its astringent properties clean the mouth and “wake you up” after the meal. It is marketed at the younger fun loving diners.

Vernet is a popular water to drink throughout the meal as it has a well balanced taste.

Water is ideal for alfresco meals too. Evian goes well with the grilled meat of a barbecue. Aix is best paired with a fondue or raclette and Vals is ideal for summer picnics.

My own voyage of discovery through some of the 30 plus waters of the Rhone-Alpes was a real education. I find it impossible to have a meal with a glass of water when I am eating out without analysing whether it is the right choice or not. For me a selection of French cheeses with a glass of Badoit verte remains my favourite. What is your favourite pairing?

Links: Rhone-Alpes Tourisme

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Food and Drink Regions Rhone-Alpes Towns and Cities water

Evian and water

The word naive comes to us, via French, from the Latin nativus meaning native or natural. When spelt backwards naive becomes evian a name we associate with natural mineral water. Coincidence? Probably.

There was settlement during town Celtic and Roman times which was later named Aviano, then Yvian and finally Evian. This was long before the curative properties of the mineral springs were discovered and the town was given the name Evian.  The “les-Bains” part of the name was added later to promote the town as a spa resort.I arrived in the spa town Evian-les-Bains at the end of a visit to the Rhone-Alpes investigating some of the 32 mineral waters of the region. You cannot write about the mineral waters of the Rhone-Alpes without mentioning Evian. The famous baby blue and pink label of the water bottled here is recognisable the world over. Water, in and out of bottles, is ubiquitous in Evain-les-Bains.

Evian-les-Bains is on the shores of Europe’s largest lake; Lac Leman. It was not until 1789 that the mineral water was discovered by Marquis de Lessert. Drinking regularly from St Catherine’s Spring in the garden of Monsieur Cachat apparently cured him of kidney stones. Word spread, the entrepreneurs and investors moved in and, during the Belle Epoque, a resort was developed.

Cachat Spring, the original Evian water
Cachat Spring, the original Evian water

Four springs now provide Evian-les-Bains with its raison d’etre and feed the local economy. The rain and snow that fall on the Alps above the town take 15 years to filter down through the strata gathering minerals on its way. This is the water we drink today as Evian.

The original spring, known as the Cachat Spring, is still there; the fountain now surrounded by a classical portico. The water here is free to all comers and residents are allowed to fill bottles to take home. I am sure it tastes better gushing out of the ground than in a plastic bottle.

Immediately below the fountain is the Art Nouveau Evian Buvette Thermale which houses an exhibition on Evian water, a shop where you can purchase Evian products, including their cosmetics, and a collection of Evian bottles including their much sought after limited editions.

Le Palais Lumiere
Le Palais Lumiere, Evian-les-Bains
© Georges Menager – source: www.flickr.com Le Palais Lumiere

Le Palais Lumiere, a rather grand edifice overlooking the lake, is a fine example of Belle Epoque era architecture. Until 1984 it was Evian-les-Bains thermal baths. Now it is a conference and exhibition centre with an art gallery. The entrance hall is the magnificent pump room and is free to enter. Spas and “baths” were very popular and some very grand hotels were built . Many of these remain today along with some more modern ones. Evian-les-Bains is still very much a spa resort.

Bottles of Evian
Bottles of Evian
© Michael Summers – source: www.flickr.com

The vast Evian bottling plant at Amphion just outside Evian-les-Bains is open to visitors. A visit begins with a short film explaining the fifteen year journey rain and melt water take through alpine rock strata to the Evian bottling plant. The visit shows the process from the manufacture of the plastic bottles through, filling and distribution. Photography is not allowed but you can look down on the production lines from behind glass panels. The numbers are staggering; bottles are made, filled with water, sealed and labelled in a matter of seconds before being packaged and sent to the waiting trains and trucks. The plant has it’s own railway yard where up to eight trains can be loaded at any one time.

The Evian Babies roller skated onto our screens and into our hearts in an advertising campaign designed to remind us that Evian water is great for kids. Evian, because of its balance of minerals, is ideal for infants and children. Indeed this was one of the first major selling points when the corporate colours of powder blue and baby pink were chosen and used to reinforce the message. These colours are still the corporate colours today despite the fact that Evian is owned by the food giant Danone.

Useful links:
Ville d’Evian [English]
Evian Tourism
Hotels in Evian from www.LateRooms.com (£)
Voyages SNCF – for trains to Evian (£)
The nearest airport to Evian is Geneva

Declaration: I travelled to Evian as a guest of Tourisme Rhone-Alpes and Evian Tourisme. However I maintain editorial control at all times. There are affiliate links in the text. These are indicated with (£). All other links are NOT affiliate links but are included for my readers to get information.