If you’ve ever wandered the narrow streets of Vieux Lyon or meandered up the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse, chances are you’ll have seen the odd person peel away from the crowds and disappear behind a heavy, oak door. Some of these people will have been doing just what you assumed: entering their home. Others, usually with a map in hand, will have been touring Lyon’s vast network of traboules.
Lyon is a city that rewards visitors prepared to stray from the beaten path by the bucketful. While Lonely Planet has your back for most of the key attractions, it does – from a temporary resident’s perspective – overlook two of Lyon’s hallmarks, one being the impressive fresques (frescoes) which adorn the façades of numerous buildings across the city, the other being the city’s traboules (more on the latter in my next post). Over the course of my ten month stint in Lyon, I both stumbled upon and intentionally sought out two dozen or so of the city’s fresques. Since they’re scattered all across the city, many of them are but a minor detour away from the well-trodden tourist trail.
Tucked away in deepest, darkest Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, one of the region’s best-kept secrets hides behind a stone wall, with only the smallest of plaques hinting at its existence. Le Palais Idéal – known in English as The Ideal Palace – is a remarkable creation, a childlike fantasy of epic proportions and, perhaps most surprisingly, the labour of love of a humble postman.
After the success of my first solo hike, I decided that another trip to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat was in order. With a string of sunny days on the forecast, I picked one, traced a new route onto my map in blue felt tip and set off for Lyon Part-Dieu. Although there were no huge peaks on the cards this time, the Massif du Pilat didn’t disappoint, for viewpoints were numerous and trails virtually devoid of hikers.
Just two days after my first trip to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, I found myself back in the area again, this time to hike the first twenty-six or so kilometres of the Aqueduc du Gier. (I’m not sure which part of my brain thought that two lengthy hikes in almost as many days was a good idea, for my legs certainly weren’t of the same opinion, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I did end up horrendously sunburnt.) Once upon a time, this eighty-odd kilometre long aqueduct transported water all the way from the Vallée du Gier to Fourvière. Although much of it has crumbled away in the intervening centuries, surviving elements of it remain to be seen today.
Shortly after my family visited me, I ventured out to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, one of six regional natural parks in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. At this time of year, the park is a vast expanse of lush green meadows, trails bordered by bright yellow gorse and fields and woodland filled with the animal kingdom’s newest arrivals. Crêt de la Perdrix, the park’s highest peak, commands stellar views of the surrounding valleys and rolling hills – and, most importantly, is entirely do-able as a day trip from Lyon.
When I first visited Grenoble, back in December, the city was under a heavy blanket of fog and it was freezing; the second time around, the skies were blue and a heat haze smothered the mountains to the south. Encircled by three mountain ranges, Grenoble certainly lives up to the title plastered across all the postcards sold in the city. Capital of the Alps it is, undoubtedly. With the Parc Naturel Régional de la Chartreuse, the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors and the Parc National des Écrins (along with its foothills, the Chaîne de Belledonne) to choose from, there’s no shortage of trails to hike in this region.