by Laura Glendinning
A friend who went for a gap year in Lyon said he would never live anywhere
else if he returned to France. This amazed me. Not Paris? Then other friends
from Provence, who had always skirted Lyon via highway as they headed to
relatives for the summer, wondered why anyone would even get off the highway to
Now I really had to visit. All due respect to my Provence friends. You are wrong.
What a lovely place Lyon is.
High speed rail from Paris brings you to the central station within 90
minutes. From there it’s easy enough to walk the city. If it’s really
pouring, take a cab or Uber to the Old Town area. Or maybe to Presqu’ile, the
island between the Rhone and Saone rivers that make up the heart of Lyon. Lyon
does not have a Louvre or grand boulevards. What it does have is a silk museum,
nod to the centuries of silk-making in the city, a thriving art scene, and,
famously, a food scene.
Native son Chef Paul Boucouse, who lived into his 90’s, reinvented French food with nouvelle cuisine, and the city has attracted up-and-coming chefs ever since. Lyon is perfectly scaled for walking. Once in the Old Town (narrowly saved from total demolition in the 60’s – it took a national campaign to thwart the mayor) and either take the funicular to the highest hill to see the old Roman Amphitheater (dating from 15 b.c.) and the 19th
century Notre Dame Basilica, or get your steps in by taking the picturesque medieval steps all the way up. Personally,
I took the funicular up and the steps down. I’m not crazy.
Wherever you walk you will glimpse one of the rivers. But what you must not do is miss walking
through one of the 40 or so traboules (passages) that lace through the city. Some date from the Romans, used by residents to get down to the river for water without too much fuss. Others were vastly improved during the Middle
Ages, the better to dodge marauders. That applied to the Nazis in WWII as well. Lyon was the de facto capital of the French Resistance.
But back to food. You can’t say a city with a street named Rue de Bouef is not food-obsessed. Between the Boucouse Institute, his training restaurants, his competitor’s restaurants, and the venerable bouchons, a day
trip to Lyon just to eat is perfectly reasonable, leaving behind Paris for even better food. Yeah. Not kidding about
that. On my hotel concierge’s recommendation, I went to the Old Town and had a prix fixe lunch on, yes, Rue de Bouef. It was glorious, though forget about fussing about the wine. It’s either house red or house white. With the Rhone nearby, it was not bad. I also wanted water and asked the waitress for “Un carafe d’eau.” She gestured to the table next to mine. We were to share. My fellow diner spoke English as it happened and indeed poured me a glass of water. Lyon is friendly like that.
Staying overnight is ideal but not necessary. Come to Lyon and eat, walk it off, snooze back to Paris on the train. Like I did. Well on one trip. On another I needed to catch a connecting flight to Amsterdam and far too casually caught the train to the airport kind of late, barely making the flight because a turnstile jumper was ushered off the train when it stopped for a while as he was ejected. He was removed by an admirably confident small but might young French woman in heels and an official uniform, sporting an emphatic attitude. She was not letting it go. Seeing the big hulk skulk off the train was not quite worth missing a plane. But close.
Book a day trip here: