Goodness. September went by in a flash, and I didn’t even have the chance to finish showing you the glories of my summer in France! Though it now seems years ago, I was utterly enchanted by the south of France and all it has to offer. Provence was like going back in time to a simpler and slower-paced world, where life revolved around lunch and afternoon naps to escape the blistering afternoon sun. I felt I could have stayed forever, but at the same time, I know I would have been bored after about two weeks. However, a couple of hours on the train whisks you to one of France’s largest cities, which benefits from a sunnier climate and a smaller population than Paris, and yet has just as much history and charm. Lyon was definitely a place I felt I could happily live, spending my weekends wandering through the perfectly preserved medieval streets of the old town, riding the funicular railway up to Fourvière to enjoy the breathtaking view, strolling in the glorious Parc de la Tête d’Or, with its free zoo, and eating my way around the many delicious restaurants, famous for their hearty cuisine.
Much like Paris, Lyon has three distinct sections, with the Rhône splitting to form a central peninsula that can only be reached by bridge. On one river bank you can find Vieux Lyon, which is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval city centres in the world, with some fantastic architecture, winding cobbled streets and hundreds of tempting restaurants and shops. From Vieux Lyon you can either climb up or take the funicular railway to the top of Fourvière, one of Lyon’s two hills, which is crowned by the amazing nineteenth century Romanesque cathedral. A short walk from the cathedral are the very well preserved remains of two Roman theatres, and an excellent Roman museum, and the views from the top of Fourvière across the city and its surrounding landscape are remarkable.
On the central island is nineteenth century Lyon, looking much like Paris with its grand Hausmann style apartment buildings. leafy shopping boulevards and spacious squares. Here you can find Lyon’s wonderful Musée des Beaux-Arts, housed in a gorgeous former convent, and the Opéra, Théâtre and Hôtel de Ville. This area gives an excellent sense of what life in nineteenth century France must have been like, and this is the place to be for people watching, fine dining and shopping. You can also have lovely strolls along the river bank, taking in the marvellous views of the city.
The other bank of Lyon is more residential, with streets of modern apartment buildings, the large centre commercial, the main station, and the jewel in Lyon’s crown; the magnificent Victorian public park, botanical gardens and zoo. This is called Parc de la Tête d’Or, so called because there is supposedly a golden head of a statue of Jesus buried within the park grounds somewhere, and it is, unlike most French parks, a true English style landscape, with rolling green lawns bordered by avenues of trees, flower beds, rose garden, a boating lake, gravel paths and greenhouses. What makes it so magical is the free zoo at its heart, one of the first in the world, and I loved the fact that you could spend all day in the park doing all manner of different activities and feel a world away from the bustling city at its edge. It’s a glorious place!
Lyon is a real gem of a city, and somewhere that is definitely worth a visit. It’s accessible directly from London via the Eurostar, and would be a wonderful place to spend a long weekend. Lyon is known for its hearty, cheap cuisine in its ‘Bouchon’ restaurants, and for those who love classic French dishes, it’s a foodie heaven. There is also much to feast the eyes on, from medieval churches to nineteenth century townhouses, and for those interested in history, there is a rich past to explore within the streets of the city. I already can’t wait to go back, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!