Category Archives: Lyon
What would our tour be without music – either planned or serendipitous? This cheerful-looking busker plies his trade at the top of Fourvière hill, near the imposing church that you can see in a previous post. His sign reads: “A coin or a smile…thank you.” I gave him both.
On the summit of the highest of Lyon’s three hills stands the monumental Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. It was built at the same time as Sacré-Coeur in Paris, and for the same reason: in thanks for the deliverance of the city during the late ninteenth-century Franco-Prussian war. Though the building is relatively new, there has been a church or sacred shrine of some kind here for millenia, beginning with a Roman temple – and maybe even the Gauls before that.
Next to the Basilica is another 19th-century structure: a tour métallique completed in 1894, and looking uncannily like the Eiffel Tower. The church and the tower may seem incongruous, but there may be a bit of one-upmanship involved. The top of the tower is just a few metres higher than the tallest spire of the church.
You’ve probably already memorized our tour itinerary… but as you know, best-laid plans always include a few changes. For instance, the date of our welcome dinner is now Friday, September 26, since that’s when the restaurant can accommodate us. And what a restaurant! L’auberge du Pont de Collonges is the flagship of Lyon’s celebrity chef (and native son) Paul Bocuse.
Now well into his 80’s, M. Bocuse is one of the creators of nouvelle cuisine, which was “new” in emphasizing lighter, simpler, less calorie-filled dishes, with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Through his students and associated schools of cooking, Paul Bocuse became one of the most influential chefs of the 20th century.
Would you rather I tell you what we’ll be enjoying there, or leave you to be surprised?
The oldest quarters of Lyon are punctuated with mysterious towers and courtyards, connected by street-level or underground passages. Dating back many hundreds of years, these passageways, called traboules, were originally constructed so that residents could more easily get from homes and workshops to the river, and the merchants there. You can often see the influence of the Italian Renaissance architects who came to Lyon at about the same time as the silk trade was developing.
During World War II, Lyon was a centre of French resistance, and the traboules were important as hiding places, and also for communication within the resistance network.
About 40 traboules are open to the public, and still often lead to private residences. We’ll probably see at least one of them during our walking tour.
When in Lyon, allez à pied – go on foot, if you can. Sometimes it’s the only way. The narrow streets of Old Lyon don’t take well to taxis and tour buses. Much of the historical area (which is just moments away from our hotel) is for pedestrians only. We’ll explore this part of the city as part of our guided walking tour early in our visit.
The whole of historical Lyon is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reason is that so many older buildings have been preserved and restored, and from many different eras. The site was first settled even before Julius Caesar arrived. There are extensive Roman remains at the top of the hill of Fourvière, where the Gallo-Roman museum is located (we will have a guided tour of the museum during our visit).
At the bottom of the hill is mediaeval and Renaissance Lyon; across the river: the locations of the printing and silk-weaving workshops of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; near the confluence of the Rhône and Saône: the twenty-first century city, with its impressive museums, shops, and contemporary restaurants.
The city manages to retain this feeling of a collection of neighbourhoods, each with its own ambiance. When you’ve some free time, search out a quiet park to sit and watch the locals play boules (the French equivalent of bocce); have a drink or a snack at a corner café – especially if it doesn’t display its menu in English! Wander along the base of the Croix Rousse hill and discover the murals portraying Lyon’s history. Or just amble along the river. Lyon has plenty of pedestrian bridges over the river that make walks very easy.
The picture at the top of this page was taken on a sunny September afternoon in Lyon. That’s the Saône River: one of two rivers that bracket the historical city. The other is the Rhône, whose path we’ll follow from Lyon to Avignon.
I first visited Lyon about six months ago, in the fall of 2013. I was delighted to find a friendly, pleasant and walkable city, with history at every turn. Our hotel, Le Phénix, overlooks the Saône. On the hill above: the ancient Roman city; we’ll visit the Gallo-Roman museum there; across the river: the Croix-Rousse district, formerly the centre of Lyon’s silk-making industry; and down the Saône, Lyon’s lively city centre.
Feel free to add comments and questions to these blog posts. Coming next: lots more information about Lyon and the Lyonnaise, before moving on to the other parts of our tour, Avignon and Paris.
A très bientôt!