Lyon is one of my favourite cities. It’s French. It’s fabulous. And it’s fresh.
I’ve been to Lyon a couple of times – once as part of a work trip and once as part of a football trip – and both times I was more than a little impressed (which, admittedly, is not terribly difficult to do, but anyway…).
Lyon is only two hours south of Paris by TGV and it also has a compact, modern international airport, so there’s no excuse for not getting there. The main features of the central city area are the two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, which meet just to the south of the CBD, and the great view to be had from the Fourvière hill that overlooks everything.
The best place to stay is right in the heart of the action. The Presqu’île, literally ‘peninsula’, extends from the foot of the Croix Rousse hill to the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers. The centre of that is around the districts of Les Cordeliers and Bellecour and that’s where you want to be. The area is loaded with hotels, restaurants, shops, easy access to transport, and other things to do. The Lyon Metro is brilliant, being clean, modern, and simple to use and will get you to just about anywhere you need to go, while trams, funiculars and feet will also do the job.
I’ve stayed at a couple of hotels in Lyon and would recommend both. The Citadines Presqu’île Lyon is more apartment than hotel and is in a great location in the middle of the peninsula between the two rivers. From there you can get to anywhere you want by foot and is a great base to explore the little cobbled side streets and main city squares.
A little further north is the Grand Hotel De La Paix, which is cheaper and more of a traditional style hotel. The tiny breakfast room is in the basement, while the rooms are a decent size and the location, once again, pretty good. Judging by the photos available on the web, it’s been modernized since my visit, which you’d expect given that was nearly ten years ago. They make me want to go back to check it out again.
You can step straight outside and immediately have several dining options, while the little square next to the hotel is a great spot to sit down with a coffee or beer and check out the local talent. Speaking of talent spotting, a decent pair of sunglasses is required kit for any Lyon visit. They’ll help safeguard your dignity, if you know what I mean…
Anyway. Time to focus, lest Jean read this.
You can go anywhere in Lyon and get a more than decent meal. Restaurants, cafes and bars catering for all different tastes and moods are littered throughout the city. Lyon is, after all, the gastronomic capital of France (the world?). As a Kiwi, one place to hunt out is Le Maori Café, if for no other reason than its name. Unfortunately, on the day we went for a look it was closed so I’m not sure if it’s any good. I’m not at all a foodie so there’s not too much to add, other than you won’t go hungry in this fantastic city. Oh, and don’t order Steak Americain if you don’t know what it is…
One of the first things I did, and my abiding memory of Lyon, was to cross the Saone and trudge up Fourvière hill. You can follow the road, which winds its way up to the top, or use the steps in Parc Des Hauteurs to take a more direct route. Only later did we find the funicular that will also get you to the top.
I took the road the first time and, not really knowing anything about the city, this ended up being a great decision. Near the top you come across the ruins of the Roman Theatre and the museum that documents Lyon’s Roman history. I’m fascinated by ancient Rome and this is one of the best places to go, apart from actual Rome, to check this sort of stuff out.
Only metres from the theatre is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, an imposing monolith to religion. It’s an impressive building, but even more impressive is the view you discover as you make your way around it. On a clear day, as it was both times I was up the hill, you can see forever. Ancient (to me) Lyon is spread out before you and in the distance sits the Alps. You don’t actually realise how close they are until you see them for yourself. Cities like Geneva and Turin are actually closer than Marseille or Paris.
Being up so high gives you such a great opportunity to get a good feel for the lay of the land. You can see how close to each other the Saône and Rhône actually are. The centuries old buildings, from churches and public buildings, to regular, everyday shops and housing, really are as jammed together as you imagine from walking by them.
The Tour Métallique de Fourvière, basically a mini-Eiffel Tour, is one of Lyon’s most easily recognizable landmarks and sits on the top of Fourvière hill. It is Lyon’s highest point but not nearly as sexy as the version in Paris. It’s only used as a television tower now and is not accessible to the public.
For sports fans the Stade Gerland, where we watched several games of football during the 2003 Confederations Cup, is a nice compact stadium, with architectural features that make it quite different to some of the modern click and build efforts. It’s close to a Metro station and so easy to get in and out of. Jean wasn’t overly impressed by the toilets there, which were of the squat and squirt variety. When you’ve got to go you’ve got to go, but they didn’t make it easy.
I’d like to visit Mâcon, which is 65km north of Lyon, as a tourist one day. I spent four nights there for work back in 2002 but only had one evening to check the town out. We went to a couple of decent pubs, but the memories of them are a bit fuzzy… A restaurant in Saint-Laurent-sur-Saône, across the river from Mâcon (same Saône that eventually joins the Rhône at Lyon), was where I scoffed my first Crème Brûlée. The first of many.
I haven’t been to Lyon for a while and would head back in a heartbeat. I will one day. Without question it is one of my favourite places.
* Unfortunately my photos from my visits to Lyon are on an old computer that has long since blown up. I have my memories only…but also the web (thankfully), which I’ve had to make do with for the images included in this post.