We visited a week ago at the end of our Spring/Summer European trip and fell in love with Lyon. I’ve wanted to visit for some time, but to be honest, we still looked at many other options, thinking there might be more interesting places to go. I couldn’t be happier with the ultimate choice to come.
Lyon is beautiful, young in spirit, chic, smart, alive, and full of personality and understated sophistication. I was surprised to find one similarity to Paris: There may be something around any corner you come to that makes you say “Wow.”
We stayed in the Presqu’ile at Hotel des Celestins – an excellent, affordable accommodation that I briefly reviewed separately and which affords an exquisite view of Theatre des Celestins to the left when you exit the hotel. The streets around it are filled with tony shopping outlets and interesting architecture. Beautiful churches and great food abound.
We strolled up and down countless pedestrian lanes, some of which are still coming together and will presumably be even more fun before too long.
Lyon has the two mighty rivers running through it, the Saone and the Rhone, which meet at La Confluence (approachable by foot or by vaporetto). The Saone is the prettier and more scenic of the two, though both are very nice.
The streets of Lyon are largely uncrowded but alive with people -- some tourists but mostly, it seems, it’s the French who are out enjoying life and their lovely city.
We went outside to the Theatre des Celestins on our first full morning – the weather made-to-order, the sky a rich azure blue, just a few joggers and dog-walkers in the little square with the Theatre. We sat there with our coffee and marveled at how much we enjoyed this quiet moment.
It was Saturday, so on to the Saturday food markets along the Saone. I’ve been to a lot of food markets on my travels by now, enjoying them all, but something about this was especially entertaining. These markets are for the locals, and the people of Lyon were out in droves doing their shopping. And why not? I wanted to do my own household grocery shopping here (not practical for a Manhattanite)! I can’t remember when I’ve seen such gorgeous, fresh produce in my life. Huge, bright green heads of lettuce, perfect eggplant, tomatoes to die for, olives olives olives whose divine aroma calls your name, and nuts, berries, meats and poultry and fish, cheeses – and plenty of things I had no idea what they were, but most that I’d want to try if I could eat more. We picked our way along, eyeballing, buying little samples, making a breakfast of it and having a wonderful time. Many of the vendors don’t speak English or much of it (hmm, we were in France, after all), but the universal languages of Smile, Point, Sil Vous Plait, and Merci bridged any communication gaps agreeably and enjoyably.
Across the Saone, we took a great walk to Église Saint-Georges, a beautiful old church where it turned out a wedding would take place later in the day, and some of the young wedding party had arrived. We roamed the quiet streets nearby, greeting dog walkers and others enjoying the beautiful day.
Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste had a festival of sorts taking place in the square, and the area was teeming with young people and their families. We liked the cathedral – and the Roman ruins just around the corner from it.
Our ascent to Notre-Dame up Fourvière Hill was a minor adventure and source of humor. We mastered the ticket machine for the funicular, went through the turnstile – and only then were there signs announcing that funicular service to Notre-Dame wasn’t happening. Um, they tell you this AFTER you buy your ticket? LOL It turns out you can take the other funicular, get off halfway up, and walk the rest of the way to Notre-Dame. We were proud of and amused with ourselves for mastering that, too. This was convenient in the end, as this allowed for an easy diversion to the Gallo-Roman amphitheater, which we wanted to visit anyway – and the walk up hill is actually easier diverting through the amphitheater.
We liked Notre-Dame and the incredible views of Lyon from the terraces behind it – I’d have been very disappointed to not be able to get up there to do that.
Back down the funicular, we enjoyed Vieux Lyon very much as Rue St. Jean winds through the old buildings, bursting with appealing and mostly reasonably-priced cafes, bistros, and sandwich or gelato shops. Great eating in Vieux Lyon, and we had several meals there during our stay. We enjoyed the secret passageways, as well.
The vaporetto down the river is only 30 minutes or so, but a nice way to see things from a different perspective, and a fair 4€ to do it.
The Museum of the Resistance and Deportation was a worthy hike. The displays are in French, but there is English information available at the entrance. We also found a helpful write-up on it in Rick Steves France and listened to his free audio guide in the museum. Lyon was a center of the French resistance during WWII, but it also drew infamous Nazis such as the “Butcher of Lyon” Klaus Barbie (who would get his just reward in Lyon many years after the war).
We thought Lyon filled with pleasant, charming, welcoming people who seemed to genuinely want to know how we liked their beautiful city. I felt very much at home here, a place I could envision living happily. Thank you, people of Lyon, for experiences I’ll always treasure.