Before I left Lyon, I was intent on returning to the Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse. Put simply, my visit to the southern edge of the park back in February had whetted my appetite for more and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see another tiny corner of this majestic mountain range. I also had my eye on a little trip over to Chambéry, and it just so happens that this quaint little town provides easy access to the natural park. (A win-win scenario, if you ask me.) The map was purchased, the packed lunch packed (no items left in the fridge this time!) and the alarm set. On y va!
Lyon is like an onion: peel back the outer skin of iconic landmarks such as Fourvière, Place des Terreaux and Cathédrale St. John, and you’ll discover there’s far more to the city than you first thought. Take the time to explore the quirks of its diverse neighbourhoods, glimpse some of the city’s famous fresques and zigzag across the city using its network of traboules, and you’ll be richly rewarded. If it takes your fancy, you can even play at being Mary from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s timeless classic, The Secret Garden. It’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and is rarely mentioned in guidebooks – at least, it wasn’t in either of mine!
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.