Geneviève guides us through France’s second city.
Ah, you must set foot in one of the largest renaissance old quarters in Europe. Welcome to “Vieux Lyon”. At the end of the middle ages, Lyon had a thriving silk industry. During the 16th century, there were around 180 000 looms in Lyon! Merchant families from all over Europe settled here. These wealthy merchants built marvellous renaissance style houses. Today, about three hundred of these remain in the Saint-Jean, Saint Georges and Saint-Paules quarters.
The demands of the silk industry required a network of renaissance passageways called “Traboules”. These underground paths in the Croix Rousse area (“The hill that works”) allowed silk workers to transport their merchandise quickly and easily to the Saône River. Today, there are around 40 which you can explore. The best place to start your adventure is around the Quai Fulchiron Rolland and the Rue des Trois Maries.
On “the hill that prays” is the famous “Fouvière Basilica”. It soars eighty-five metres and is thirty-five metres wide. Although built at the end of the 19th century, the architecture is a mixture of Byzantine, Gothic and Romanesque styles. It has four towers which are almost fifty metres high and represent the four Cardinal Virtues.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Fourvière is made up of two superimposed churches. The first one, made entirely of Italian pink granite, Carrara marble, green onyx or ebony and ivory, has three superb domes with six stained glass windows that let the light in. Everything is supported by sixteen columns. There are eight chapels, each lit by glass windows as well as beautiful mosaic panels.
When you visit this church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, you can admire the altar. It shows the Holy Virgin freeing Adam and Eve from hell. There is the Virgin of Millefaut in the baroque style, the monumental red marble staircase of wisdom with the Statue of Wisdom which welcomes visitors.
North of the town centre is one of the largest urban parks in France, the “Parc de la Tëte d’Or”. It is the foremost botanical garden in France with over 20,000 different plants. Go and look at the graceful 19th-century greenhouses! In spring, you can admire the international rose garden. For families with kids, the park is a must-do. There is also a zoo. On the “African Plains”, you can see zebras, lions and giraffes and other African fauna.
The “Presqu’île” is a finger of land between the Rhône and Saône rivers. In the 18th century, engineers drained marshes and connected the island with dry land. The undertaking was huge and today you can enjoy 19th-century architecture, wide plazas, shops, cultural institutions, restaurants, cafes, bars, and nightclubs. The Lyon Opera House and the Town Hall are also located here. When you are hungry, choose a restaurant in the Rue Mercière.
A Gallo-Roman theatre, the “Ancien Théâtre de Fourvière”, is on the left bank of the Saône River. It was rediscovered in the late 19th century and restored. Built two thousand years ago, it is still used in the summer months for the “Nuits de Fourvière” theatre festival. The modern Odeon theatre is next door.
Cinemagoers should pay homage to the Lumière brothers. At the “Institut Lumière”, you can enjoy “moving pictures” (movies, documentaries, and cartoons). The main attraction is the lovely art nouveau mansion with its elegant rooms. It was built by the father of Louis and Auguste Lumière in 1899. You can study the ingenious creations from which we benefit today. It was the “cinematograph” which changed entertainment forever.
You shouldn’t leave Lyon without exploring Lyon’s murals. There are around 100 large paintings on walls around the city. You can try to discover them by yourself. Or, book a private (and expensive) tour with a guide. But you can download an App onto your phone. Lyon’s original fresco is “The Canuts Mural”. It tells the history of the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood.
The food market in “Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse” is named after one of France’s culinary giants. Do your food shopping and get a delicious Lyonnaise meal and also buy regional specialities to take home.
Which leads us to “Lyonnaise Cuisine”. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. You should have a meal in a typical local restaurant, a “Bouchon” or go to a Michelin starred restaurant. In a Bouchon, chefs prepare meals usually eaten by workers. It is food “that sticks to your ribs”. Marinated deep-fried tripe, usually served with a garlic and herb sauce. Or the “Andouilette” which is a sausage made from tripe and cooked with onions. Do not worry, it is not all tripe! The “Coq au vin” is also traditional here. Recommended are Lyonnaise potatoes, which are sliced and pan-fried with onions and parsley.
Lyon’s gastronomic reputation dates back to antiquity. The city, then called “Lugdunum” had a monopoly on the wine trade. It also boasted a famous chef named Septimanus! However, in Lyon, gastronomy was a woman’s responsibility, and the local cuisine owes much to the women known as the Mères Lyonnaises. They originally cooked in bourgeois families, but soon started their own restaurants. The city’s chefs give ample opportunities to discover everything from simple cooking to “haute cuisine”.
Now, after so much city atmosphere, it is time to head back to the Alps. See you there!