Say what you will about Anthony Bourdain, (may he rest in peace), but we found his NETFLIX series, PARTS UNKNOWN entertaining and compelling. So much so that the last time we had to connect in Europe he inspired us to take a quick jog over to Lyon from Paris. We were thrilled that we did!
On our 2019 South Africa trip, we decided instead of flying in to London and then down to Johannesburg we would check out Lyon. After arriving in Paris, we caught a 50 minute flight to our destination. We had pre-booked a Lyon hotel on line with booking.com. It was perfectly situated in the centre of the city. In fact, I would highly recommend it – Hotel Carlton.
First impressions: Lyon is an enchanting town with all of the charm and quaintness that the French are noted for: mouth-watering patisseries and boulangeries* on every corner; fragrant coffee everywhere; boutique shops; el fresco dining and wine tasting; museums, galleries, beautiful “objets d’arte” and well-dressed people. (*The difference between “patisserie” and “boulangerie” is that the latter specializes in breads.)
Some 500,000+ people call Lyon home and it is the third largest city in France. Lyon is noted to be a gastronomic centre and evidence of cooking excellence is everywhere.
English is widely spoken, but predictably, the locals like it if you make an effort to parlez francais. In fact, we found the Lyonnais to be a lot friendlier and accommodating than their Parisian counterparts.
Lyon is at the confluence of the rivers Rhone and Soane. The “Old Town” sits on the quayside of the Soane flanked by very walkable streets, churches, museums, shops and bistros. We loved walking on the medieval cobblestone streets admiring the architecture.
We took the funicular (tram) up to an area overlooking the city. At the very top was Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere a sister cathedral to it’s Parisian namesake. This one was built in 1870 and is very grand. From the top, you can see the entire city of Lyon with it’s terra cotta roofs and spires.
A short walk from Notre Dame Cathedral are the Roman theatre ruins – The Amphitheatre of the Three Galls of Lugdunum. It is comprised of a large, 10,000 seat Grand theatre and the smaller Odeon beside it. The complex was built around AD 19 and was used for entertainment – be that putting on a play, a circus, gladiator fights or executing Christians – all good, clean fun!
Roman Theatre ruins, Lyon.
Next to these Roman ruins is the Gallo-Roman museum – an underground archeological site built into Fourviere Hill. This museum was opened in 1975 and contains unique artifacts from the Gallo Roman civilization including the Circus Games Mosaic which is one of the only relics in existence that depicts ancient chariot races.
A short ride out of the old town and we were at the culinary centre named after French Chef Paul Bocuse. This indoor market has the very best that France has to offer – sumptuous pastries, fresh seafood, breads, cheeses, meats and wines.
Of course you will recall that Chef Bocuse was named the “Chef of the Century” by the Culinary Institute of America. He was based in Lyon and was considered an innovator in “novelle cuisine” – a lighter, less calorific version of the traditional French. Lyon boasts several of Chef’s Bocuse’s wonderful restaurants including a chain of brasseries named Le Nord, l’Est, Le Sud and l’Oest (North, East, South and West) which each feature a different type of French cuisine.
Lyon is also home to some mesmerizing murals – street art that is painted on the sides of buildings. The most famous of these is the Mur des Canuts or “Silk Weavers Wall”. The largest mural in Europe, it is an example of “trompe l’oeil” (optical illusion). This mural is ever-changing so you can check it out again and again. (Find it at the corner of bd des Canuts and rue Denfert Rochereau – 69004 Lyon 4 – Metro C stop Hénon).
We were delighted to find live music in Lyon. Two out of the three nights we were there we stumbled upon venues that offered entertainment. Bemol 5 was a great place for jazz music and dinner or just drinks. This is a very modern club with top musicians.
When I was a girl all I ever dreamed of was visiting Paris. Today I can honestly say that Lyon is my favourite French city. There is so much to discover here and I feel we only just scratched the surface.
I’d love to go back and check out the Museum of Fine Art that houses works by Remembrandt and Monet, among others. For film buffs, there is the Institut Lumiere – the birthplace of cinema. There are oodles of art galleries and boutiques and so many restaurants to try!