A Weekend In Lyon
This is part 4 in a series of travel-diary type posts from our 3 week France road-trip in 2019. If you would like to start from the beginning you can find part 1 here. Alternatively, if you are looking for a more comprehensive Lyon Travel Guide – this post might be more useful. Otherwise, settle back and enjoy a five-minute read of our weekend experience in Lyon.
As we approached Lyon from the north, the geography of this part of France gives you an almost birdseye view of the city before you are even anywhere close. The motorway descends into the belly of Frances culinary capital very quickly and before we knew it we were taking a slip-road into the busy metropolis we’d glimpsed a moment ago from our elevated vantage point.
I was all of a sudden quite nervous about the inevitable hustle and bustle of city life – it’s not that I’m not accustomed to urban life and all its speed and chaos (we live in one ourselves) but I’m not sure I was ready to leave rural village life behind. Alsace had been bliss, with open vistas of vineyards and slow-paced exploring. But we were here now, and being the foodies that we are, our stomachs were starting to rumble at the prospect of Lyon’s culinary delights.
We ditched the bags, picked up an electric scooter and crossed two rivers to reach the Old Town (Vieux Lyon) pillion style. Taking a croggy on the back of the scooter was exhilarating and the flies in my teeth were testament both to the speed and joy of our little journey. Never before have I felt so grateful for booking a budget hotel in such a poor location – miles away from anywhere but the perfect excuse to whizz about ecologically on two wheels.
Vieux Lyon was buzzing and made the perfect introduction to Lyon. We traversed the cobbled streets for a while, ducking in and out of secret doorways which lead to the Traboules this city is famous for – passageways built to short-cut to the river for water but used in the resistance to foil the enemy. They’re fascinating feats of architecture and some of them very ornate and beautiful – plus a welcome break from the heat of the sun. I’d previously marked on my map where a lot of them were and we got some strange looks from fellow tourists as we tentatively pushed inconspicuous doors to see if we’d found the right spot – obviously not everyone was in the know about this side of Lyon and it’s always nice to know you know a secret!
We oggled the famous pink praline tarts, tinned-sardine shops and traditional Bouchons, but settled for a meaty burger at a trendy Dutch cafe. Satiated we headed off to find the funicular.
If you step back from Lyon faced with two rivers ahead of you, Fourviere is the area up on the back hill with the imposing and beautiful Notre Dame Basilica. No matter where you are in Lyon she’s always watching you and showing off her grandeur, so we were never not going to pay her a little visit. And, she did indeed impress us, but what stole most of our time up on Fourviere Hill was the vista from the back of the basilica. It was easy to while away half an hour of time scouring the city from above and picking out landmarks. Equally as captivating though were the scenes of locals alongside imposters all enjoying an early evening stroll. We joined them for a short while, as we wound our way down the hill a little, also taking in the old Roman ruins and great amphitheatre.
Enough culture for one day we felt now was about the time to step over one river from the ancient neighbourhood of Vieux Lyon into the more Parisienne style streets of Presqu-ile. This district of Lyon is sandwiched between the two Rivers Saône and Rhône and for the next few hours we crisscrossed the avenues and squares like we were walking the grid. From one river-side to the other, passing shoppers and their hauls, we stopped at short intervals for morsels of food in little deli’s and cocktails and beers in some of Lyon’s trendiest bars. Needless to say, the day ended quickly, the moment our inebriated heads hit the pillow.
Day 2 In Lyon
Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. I feel so less guilty about pancakes, bagels and pastries when there’s a whole day ahead to offset the calories. As such, I’d researched the best places for breakfasts in Lyon way ahead of time and was rather excited about the prospects of a little place called Bartholomé in the 1st Arrondissement. What we hadn’t banked on, however, was that the weekend we chose to spend in Lyon was a national holiday! Everywhere was closed it seemed. Including three of my breakfast options. It was going to take a lot to pull me out of my disappointed mood henceforth. The streets were dead, save for a few enjoying a quiet coffee with the papers, and I was more than a little crestfallen (plus hangry) that we’d not gotten to experience this supposedly bustling neighbourhood for what it was.
(Incidentally, when we return to Lyon in the future, this is the area I would choose to stay in. Location-wise it’s perfect and I found a gorgeous little apartment nearby for a really good price with great reviews – check it out if you’re interested)
Still, our agenda for today was going to be to see as many Lyon Murals as possible – and they can’t close those! Soldiering on, we sought to salvage this day as best we could. And, would you know it, the next few hours in Lyon turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit, if not our whole road-trip around France.
Most of the murals are to be found in the 1st Arrondissement and Croix-Rousse and it’s worth marking them on a map first as some are a little out of the way. (We noted a few of the main ones in our blog post about The Best Things To Do In Lyon here.) But what was great about the murals of Croix-Rousse was that they led us to an area which we otherwise wouldn’t have visited. And, more importantly, a food market to feast on for lunch. Having skipped breakfast for just a coffee it was hard to hold ourselves back on all of the amazing French produce. With not a single other tourist in sight, we nibbled on cheeses and cherries from paper bags and drank good local red wine with the natives from plastic beakers for €1. Finishing off with a gorgeously greasy half-chicken from a paper bag we sat on a seat overlooking a square framed in murals and sculptures and watched the kids play in the fountains. Now if we’d had breakfast, would this highlight ever have existed I wonder!?
Having pounded the pavements of Lyon for several miles this morning and the skies clearing from grey to blue we opted for an afternoon in the city’s famous Park De La Tete d’Or. It was time to slow down, collect a picnic from a Lyon deli and claim a piece of grass as ours for a few hours of grazing and people watching. As if the world had reset itself to 1985, people were actually spending time with one another in the park. No phones, just badminton sets and playing cards for fun and easy pleasures. Who knows if we just hit it on a day that locals were casually enjoying a gentle Bank Holiday or if in fact the Lyonnaise just know how to do down-time, but it was nice. Nice to see people interacting and laughing with no cares or worries.
The park has a zoo and boating lake, along with some other interesting features too, but we just decided to walk the perimeter and take in all of the free stuff on offer. Some of the zoo’s enclosures are observable from parts of the park for free.
After wrestling with a French public toilet for 30 minutes (if you know, you know), we emerged as a couple (ooh là là!) from the lavatory-tardis, ready to take on the evening river-scene on our last night in Lyon. See, it’s important to start with an empty bladder before embarking on a few cocktails down on the waterfront as bathrooms are few and far between. Drinks are brought to you from makeshift bars on rafts and it is such the place to be that latecomers have no choice but to take a seat on the grass. And, it seems they are more than happy to do that.
Lyon had been sweet. An unexpected urban-intermission of thrills and thriving at the city’s table of provisions. We will undoubtedly return – it’s the kind of place I would never tire of, and I don’t say that all too often. In fact, as Lyon was disappearing in our wing-mirror, I was busy googling the best way to get back. I happily discovered it’s a very quick and easy flight from East Midlands airport with both Ryanair and EasyJet. Or, and this really appeals, a comfortable Eurostar trip of just under 5 hours from London – perfect for bringing a load of foodie-souvenirs home.
Lyon, you stole our heart (and our bellies).
If you want to read more posts about our France road trip, we’ve covered Luxembourg, Strasbourg, the Balck Forest and the Alsace region so far. Keep checking back for part 5 coming soon! Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to leave me a comment.
Also, if you’re in the planning stages of a trip to Lyon, you will definitely find our other Lyon post very helpful – tips and advice on the best things to do and places to stay.