Lyon is the capital of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and is over 2,000 years old. There is a Roman Ampitheatre, and interesting medieval and Renaissance architecture in the old town. Much of the Old City is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I fell in love with this city.
Travelling by train from Paris is fairly straightforward from Paris. Lyon has two main train stations, Perrache and Part Dieu. Ticket prices will vary according to the day and time you want to travel and whether you pre-book or get your ticket at the station, however, expect a one-way 2nd class train ticket to cost about 50€ or more, although some early morning routes can be less and popular times will be more expensive. The trip lasts about 2 hours. Depending upon your time, other choices could include car rental and self-driving along the autoroute (with tolls), a 5 1/2 hour bus trip (15€) or flying (about 1-hour duration with a great variation in price points). I recommend taking the train.
The Perrache Gare (train station) is conveniently located with an easy walk to where many hotels are located along or near the pedestrian concourse, Rue Victor Hugo (a street name in every French city, town, and village!) Whether you choose to stay in the old city or in the second arrondissement, you will be close to almost everything you want to see. For those choosing to stay further out, the bus and metro system is excellent. Driving looked to be a nightmare. We rented a vehicle leaving Lyon from near Part Dieu station and found the drive out of the city from that location very straightforward.
We chose a modest 3-star hotel on Victor Hugo, called Hôtel du Dauphin. The street-level entry to the hotel is less than inspiring but once we got to the lobby on the second floor, we were much happier. There is an elevator from the ground level to the second level but we were required to get our bags up a staircase to our room. The room was quite lovely. The staff were very helpful and provided excellent advice on things we should see and do. Our room was clean, spacious, and tastefully decorated. A continental breakfast can be purchased for an additional 10€ per person per day. Coffee and tea making supplies are in each room. Our room overlooked Victor Hugo which attracts a fair amount of traffic overnight, including a loud groups of folks sharing large bottles of alcohol. Since it was quite warm, we wanted to sleep with open windows but the noise on the street below disturbed us. The following night, the hotel provided a fan and we closed the window which greatly reduced the outside noise and allowed us a better night's sleep.
A short walk from our hotel got us to Vieux Lyon. Many of the buildings in Vieux Lyon are linked to La Croix-Rousse hill by covered passageways with spiral staircases called traboules. Many of these buildings have an agreement with the city to keep the doors open during the day so visitors can enter but some are "secret". Look for the triangular brass information signs near old wooden doors to locate these. Push the button at the bottom of the resident's listing to unlock.
Historically, Lyon was a center for silk weaving and today you can find many ateliers where silk masters continue to create many products. There is also a lot of "tourist silk" which is mass-produced at a much lower price and quality.
We spent a delightful hour chatting with one of the artisans of Brochier Soieries and watching him paint. He spoke passionately about the history of silk production in Lyon and what has changed in the modern industry. I walked away with a stunning hand-painted woven silk scarf. It cost more than I've ever spent on a scarf in my life but I have zero regrets and look forward to wearing it.
Another bit of fun was when we accidentally walked into a tasting at Au Pays du Citron. We were given samples of many different types of citrus liquors, aperitifs, and made from Menton lemons, limes, and mandarins. We even tasted an absolutely dreadful moonshine that is consumed with sugar cubes that are infused in the alcohol. James, our lively host, instructed us to take the liquid and a sugar cube into our mouth and to hold the liquor as we chewed the sugar. With eyes watering and our mouths burning, we tried to follow the directions but that sugar cube did not break apart nearly quick enough. James had warned us. We ended with a taste of the lemon vodka with real gold flakes. It was surprisingly smooth, or maybe that was because we'd just had the Petit Sucres?
In the middle of Vieux Lyon is Cathédral Saint Jean Baptiste. This Roman Catholic Cathedral
began construction in 1180 on the ruins of a 6th century church. It took almost 300 years to complete. This was the main church of the city until Basilique Notre Dame de Fouvière was built.
The big draws is the astronomical clock and the lamb rose stained glass windows. Stained glass surrounds the church and creates very different lighting reflecting off the ceiling throughout the day.
The clock not only tells time but also calculates the dates of all the Saints' Days and includes the position of the stars in Lyon's night sky. The central tower includes automated figures including Saint John, Mary, angels and a Swiss guard.
Marionettes are a huge part of Lyon's tradition. These marionettes are the characters in a puppet show representing the silk workers of Lyon in medieval times, created by the silk-weaver/dentist and eventual professional puppeteer, Laurent Mourguet. The name of the lead character "Guignol" has become the name of the tradition and for the area of Vieux Lyon where it flourished. The stories included in the puppet show revolved around several characters but primarily around Polichinelle, a poor silk worker, and Gnafron/Guignol, a wine-drinking cobbler. Stories take twists, turns, and squabbles but the characters are always fighting against the injustices facing the poor. There are several different theatres offering shows but the original is Le Thêatre de Guignol .
The Charvet Clock is a special treat. The clock itself get very little attention, instead, its the inner workings of the clock that grab everyone's charmed attention. Enclosed in a glass cabinet on the outside wall of Musée Gadagne, this wonderful animated timepiece has recreated a puppet show with character movements and chimes. Every 15 minutes Harlequin and Polichinelle ring brass bells while Guignol/Gnafron ring the big bell. On the hour, the character with a trumpet sounds.
The Fourvière area, including Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, and the Roman Amphitheatre is high on the hill looking down on most of Lyon. There are many different stairways up but we decided to take the Fourvière funicular and grab a coffee at a quiet café.
All over France, we discovered that electric scooters are very common. There is a share program through Uber. These scooters seemed to be used by all... we saw businessmen in three-piece suits, parents & kids, and students whizzing along bike lanes and pedestrian paths.
Roman amphitheatres are a shared fascination for both ATB#1 and myself. The Fourvière Ancient Theatre area is actually two theatres. The Gallo-Roman Museum includes a well-curated collection of artifacts located in the area and is celebrated architecture, in its own right. A large patio on the side of the building provides a great overview of the site. Budget travellers will be delighted to learn that entry to the patio and the amphitheatre is free.
The main stage of the main coliseum was a beehive of activity as workers created the scaffolding and staging for performances and events which happen over the summer months. Spectators will sit in the amphitheatre where ancient walls and modern technology create a unique acoustic resonance.
The spires of the Basilica can be seen from the amphitheatres about a 5-minute walk. This is a very grand building which is lavishly adorned with carvings and sculptures.
The Basilica was built between 1872 and 1884 and is dedicated to Virgin Mary, who is said to have saved Lyon from the Black Death in the mid-1600s, as well as other nasty diseases and a Prussian invasion during the Franco-Prussian war.
After we had explored the area to our heart's content and had checked out several shops, we chose to meander our way back to the Old City through the beautiful gardens.
The gardens provide a zig-zag trail with lovely views, cool breezes, and lovely scented vines and roses. The pathway and a lot of stairs lead back down into the Old City.
We spent a lot of time just wandering the old city, searching for more traboules and looking in at all the different specialty shops and boutiques.
Like many medieval cities, similar industries and businesses in Vieux Lyon were organized along specific streets. We enjoyed the names and had fun speculating about the life of the tradespeople, artisans, and crafters who worked and lived on Rue de Boeuf (Beef Street), Rue de la Baleine (whale), Rue de la Fronde (forehead???) and Rue de trois-mariés (three married... was this 3 married couples, a polyamorous relationship or for people who married for the 3rd time?)
We really enjoyed the variety of signs indicating businesses and neighbourhoods.
No blog about Lyon would be complete without attention to their strong food tradition. We had our first really good French meal in Lyon at a traditional bouchon. Bouchons serve Lyonnaise meals, which tend to be focused on sausage, duck, or pork. For dessert try one of the lyonnaise specialties, Praline Tart.
Look for one of the certified traditional bouchons for true authenticity. There are only about 20 certified bouchons but many other restaurants also use the term in their names. The certified bouchons are identified by a sticker showing the Guignol Marionette with a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin bearing the Lyon crest in the other.
I hope you will put Lyon on your list, it's a lovely small city with lots to explore. We walked everywhere and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We were sad to leave but we were only half way through our travels in France and we were very excited about the rest of our journey. Follow along to find out where....
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