When I was living in Lyon, Sundays were synonymous with trips to the Parc de la Tête d’Or, the city’s largest park and the centrepiece of the sixième. I witnessed the changing of the seasons in all its glory: the leaves turning from green to shades of russet, amber and garnet; delicate layers of frost clinging to the plants in the weak winter sun; the swathes of daffodils on the verges heralding the start of spring; and the return of picnickers and pedalos to the park in early summer.
During those first few months in Lyon, I was plagued by loneliness, and the Parc de la Tête d’Or became, for want of a better expression, my happy place; a place that deserves more than a passing mention on this blog. This sprawling urban park has greenhouses galore, a beautiful botanic garden and a large boating lake. Oh, and a zoo, albeit a small one. Having grown up with Chester Zoo on my doorstep, it was comforting to have a small slice of home abroad. Being part of my weekly (and by summertime, daily) routine and a firm favourite on my itinerary for visits from friends and family, I inevitably accumulated a mass of photos of the Parc de la Tête d’Or and its many furry, scaly and feathery inhabitants. Over the past week, I’ve been sifting through them all to bring you a virtual tour of my favourite green space.
Enter the park from Avenue Verguin, and the first things you’ll come across are the serres (greenhouses), which form part of the jardin botanique. Between them, they house everything from cacti and succulents to orchids and water lilies. If you’re lucky, you might spot one of the resident common wall lizards in the Serre de Madagascar.
Venture further into the park, and you’ll come to the jardin alpin (alpine garden) and, beyond that, the outdoor section of the jardin botanique. From April to September, it’s an explosion of colour: blush-coloured blossoms; red, coral and vivid pink roses; sunshine-yellow dahlias. Come winter, violas and pansies fill the flowerbeds.
Next up, it’s the parc zoologique, home to all creatures great and small. Saltwater crocodiles bask in the sun; buffaloes and zebras graze on the African Plain. Gibbons, tamarins and capuchins swing from branch to branch; sloths ease along theirs, millimetre by millimetre. I loved all the animals, but I had a soft spot for the bat-eared foxes, red pandas and the lone spectacled bear.
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the critters, your next stop is the lake. The Petit Train du Parc de la Tête d’Or circles the larger of the lake’s two islands, where you’ll find the velodrome. (Not the most aesthetically-pleasing of structures, but it certainly served its purpose during the Open Parc tournament.) Once you’ve crossed this island, you’ll come to the largest of Lyon’s rose gardens. I use the term loosely, because while it is marked on the map as such, I found it to be lacking in roses (and abundant in daffodils). Île du Souvenir, the smaller island, contains a monument to those who lost their lives during WW1; it’s accessible via a small passageway beneath the lake.
Loop round the lake, and you’ll come to the last of the rose gardens, where new varieties of rose are judged each year, and the deer park. For those with tots in tow, there’s also a carousel, playground and pony rides to keep them entertained, not to mention dozens of snack stands. Just don’t go for the candyfloss, unless you’re partial to spun sugar with a hint of wasp in it. Bonne visite !