I love Lyon. I lived there for ten months, so I might be a teensy bit biased, but it’s an absolute cracker of a city. It’s overlooked by so many city breakers – which is perhaps no bad thing, for it means it doesn’t get completely swamped with tourists like my current hometown – yet has lots to offer the discerning visitor, from world-class museums and cultural venues to picturesque streets and top-notch grub. Although you could easily spend longer than a weekend in Lyon, à la Travel Man, I’ve compiled an itinerary for time-poor visitors wishing to get a flavour for the city in a short space of time. If you missed it, you can catch up on the first part by clicking here. Otherwise, grab yourself a brew and settle in for part two . . .
If you were planning a city break, Lyon probably wouldn’t be the first city to come to mind. Cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam tend to spring to mind first; second-cities rarely get a look in. Lyon, however, has cultural gems aplenty, stunning panoramic views and a foodie scene (or should that be boulangerie scene?) worth writing home about; in other words, all the essential ingredients for a memorable city break. While I was living in Lyon, I had a number of visits from family and friends, and therefore played tour guide a fair few times, pruning and refining my itinerary each time. Whether you’re plotting a city break or simply fancy an armchair getaway, here’s part one of my tried-and-tested guide to Lyon*. On y va !
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.
Already, it’s been three months since I left the Land of Baguettes. Three months. Three speculoos éclair-less, greengage-less and crêpe-less months. Sometimes, it feels like it was just yesterday that I left Lyon; sometimes, it feels like a lifetime ago. There’s no place like home – that’s rainy Britain for me – but that doesn’t stop me missing one aspect or another of la vie française on a daily basis . . .
Shortly after my hike in the Chartreuse, Olivier suggested a ‘randonnée cerises’ in the nearby Monts du Lyonnais. It’s fairly self-explanatory what this hike entailed, but I fancied sharing a few photos from it as I had a jolly good time. (Let’s face it, a hike that combines rolling hills and end-of-season fruit is pretty much the dream for me.)
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.
My life in Lyon was punctuated by visits to the city’s many boulangeries. Had a terrible time battling the infamous Administration? Or a bad day at the office? Need a bite to eat for that interminably long bus journey? Boulangeries are, in my experience, the answer to many of life’s problems. There is, quite simply, nothing a pain au raisin/ chausson aux pommes/ torsade au chocolat (delete as applicable) can’t fix, or at least remedy somewhat. The boulangeries have gone head to head in the Battle of the Boulangeries, and the results (following months of dedicated sampling) are in. (Disclaimer: 80% of these are located in the 6th arrondissement, as that’s where I lived. If you’d like a broader range of top-notch bakeries, check out this post by CatherineRose.)
My time in Lyon was full of ups and downs, highs and lows. At times, it felt like a game of snakes and ladders: I would triumphantly ascend a miniscule ladder with each email written in error-free French, only to slide down the longest snake known to mankind two squares later. Living abroad is a steep – and occasionally unforgiving – learning curve, and I’ve learnt a lot from this particular séjour. With that in mind, it’s time for Nine Lessons (and one Carole*) from Lyon . . .