River Saône in Lyon, France

Lyon river Saone, France

River Saône in Lyon, France

Lyon is surely one of Europe’s most beautiful and yet under-rated cities. Overlooked in favour of its more popular big sister Paris, in many ways, Lyon is actually far cooler. Known as France‘s Gastronomic Capitol, it is the place to come to eat. The city is renowned for its restaurants – from Michelin-starred Paul Bocuse’s fine dining to delicious family-run bouchons de Lyon. Pair you Lyonnais dinner with local wine from the vineyards of the Côtes de Rhône or Beaujolais. Lyon is an ancient place. Once the capital of Roman Gaul, Lyon’s rivers – the mighty Rhône and the graceful Saône – have long made Lyon a maritime power. The city progressed eastwards. The Romans inhabited the hill of Fourvière (the remains of the amphitheater are still there); between the bottom of the hill and the Saône riverbanks is the medieval and Renaissance Vieux Lyon with its traboules and cobblestones; northwards is the hill of Croix Rousse, once home to Renaissance silk merchants; between the two rivers is the Presqu’île, home to elegant 18th and 19th century masterpieces. On the far side of the river, 20th century Lyon has exploded in massive concrete blocks, and at the southernmost point of the rivers’ meeting is the Confluences, where the ultra-modernity of the 21st century shocks visitors. But the best way to explore Lyon through the ages is by following its rivers. The Rhone is the more popular – its banks popular for jogging, picnics, and even clubbing (on the boats), while the Saône is quieter, calmer, somehow more French, more Lyonnais – follow the river north for a lovely introduction to this very amazing city before wandering its varied districts.


Pro tip: Looking for a good bar? Les Fleurs du Malt in the Vieux Lyon has incredible array of beers. Food? The bouchons of the old town are all great, but for true authenticity, head into the modern 7ème district to either the Bistrot des Fauvres or L’Autre Côté du Pont (nearby Italian restaurant San Marco is also delicious). Be sure to visit the traboules, tunnel/passages, in the Vieux Lyon – head to #52 Rue Saint John and go through the door.


Other Amazing but Under-rated Cities in Europe

 

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Ternand Village, Beaujolais, France

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Ternand Village, Beaujolais, France

The Beaujolais is one of France’s most spectacular places. Beloved for its vineyards, Beaujolais is a household name for those who enjoy French red wine, though few people manage to visit. More than just hills of grape vines (though there’s plenty of that too!), the Beaujolais is full of tiny medieval villages, such as Ternand. The size of a teacup, Ternand is as picturesque as it is hard to find. Perched on the top of Mont Chatard, one of the Monts du Beaulojais, Ternand’s tiny village streets lined with ancient houses encircle the church (with frescos from the Carolingian era), the 12th medieval castle – or what’s left of it – and its donjon (the castle’s fortified tower). Only about 700 people call this quiet hilltop village home today, though its construction using the beautiful golden-coloured stones found in the Beaujolais means it is classed as part of the Pierres-Dorées region. Located within the Azèrgues Valley with views over nearby villages like that of Oingt, this rocky outcrop has long been inhabited – possibly dating back to Roman Gaul. Ternand village, constructed in the 12th century, was under the ownership of the archbishops of Lyon. The castle long stood solidly atop Mont Chatard – until 1562, when the Hugenots (as part of the Wars of Religion), stormed the castle and left it a smoking ruin. Today, Ternand does not appear on tourist maps nor is it along the path-well-travelled. It’s a bit of a climb to get to the hilltop, and seems far from civilisation or the 21st century. Instead, it is a quiet place where cats wander the cobblestones, children play in the gardens, and the sounds of clinking cutlery emits from modern kitchens tucked away inside ancient homes. In short, Ternand is the perfect getaway from our fast-paced, screen-loving, need-it-now world.


Pro tip: Instead of walking straight into the village from the small carpark, follow the path down around the back side of the village. Here, you’ll get an amazing view of the Azergues Valley. Take the stairs up into the village, where you can wander the tiny streets. If you’re interested in wine and grapes, consider taking part in the vendages or the grape harvest, which is end of August or September, in one of the many vineyards in region!  


Other amazing villages in France:

 

Abbey of Île Barbe, France

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Abbey of Île Barbe, near Lyon, France

North of the city of Lyon, hovering in the centre of the elegant Saône River, is a small island, home to the Abbey of Île Barbe. One of the last places to be conquered (the name Barbe suggests origins in the word ‘barbarians‘), the 5th century saw the construction of a small but powerful abbey on the island. Though little more than a squat and forgotten Romanesque church tower – the Église Romane de Notre Dame – remains today, the Abbey of Île Barbe is one of the oldest in Roman Gaul (the Roman name for what is roughly equivalent to modern-day France) – and the first in greater Lyon. The Abbey once possessed dozens upon dozens of churches, villages and fiefs in the Middle Ages – and even contained a great library thanks to Charlemagne – and it rose to great importance in the region (one such connection was with the church at Montelliemar). With wealth comes danger however, and the abbey was attacked and pillaged on more than one occasion. Though it changed hands and functionalities multiple times, it wasn’t until the French Revolution that the Abbey of Île Barbe was abandoned. Today, the abbey is slowly falling into ruin, giving way to the tangled forests of the small island. Half of the island is actually closed to the public – it contains a private residence for some of Lyon’s wealthiest. The island is connected to both banks by a narrow metal suspension bridge erected in 1827 – which so happens to be the oldest such bridge in Lyon that is still in use today!


Pro tip: The island is also home to a gastronomic Relais & Chateaux eatery, the Auberge de l’Île. For more budget-minded travellers, on the opposite bank (Quai Raoul Carrié), there is a lovely boulangerie – perfect for picking up a picnic to enjoy on the island’s park. Get to the Île Barbe on public transport from Place Bellecour on TCL bus 40, direction Caluire. 


Other Abbeys & Monasteries of Europe:

 

Parc Lacroix Laval, France

Parc Domaine Lacroix Laval, Lyon, France

Parc Lacroix Laval, Lyon, France

One of Lyon’s best-kept secrets is the stunning Parc Lacroix Laval. Based around the former estate of the Domaine de Lacroix Laval, the park expands on all sides for 115 hectares. The present Domaine de Lacroix Laval dates from the 16th century, with some later additions, but it was built on the ruins of a 12th century castle. A wealthy estate, the mansion is as beautiful as it is expansive. Today, the Domaine de Lacroix Laval serves as a wedding venue (imagine getting married here!) as well as exhibition space in the summer months. The surrounding park is popular with joggers, picnickers, dog-walkers and families. With both open spaces, playgrounds, farm animals and wooded paths, the Parc Lacroix Laval is a welcome escape from the hubbub of downtown Lyon.


Pro tip: The park is best reached by car, though you can take bus 98 or local train TER from the Gare de Lyon-Saint-Paul. It’s also a great place for a morning jog! 


Visit Other Lovely Places Nearby

 

The City of Stars, Givors, France

Givors City of Stars

The City of Stars, Givors, France

Just south of the great French city of Lyon is the orange-topped suburb of Givors, huddled on the banks of the thundering Rhone River. It would be an unremarkable, cheerful little place with all the usual amenities found in French towns – cheerful boulangeries, leaf-strewn squares, poorly-parked cars, schools emitting the playful laughter, terraces serving the local plats du jour and vin de table. Givors could easily  be overlooked as ordinary – if not for its strange and evocative Cité des Etoiles – the City of Stars. 270 interlocked apartments and businesses climb the hillside – each visibly in the unusual shape of a star. Part of the “Achieved Utopias” movement that swept through Lyon (largely thanks to famed urban architect Tony Garnier of the 1920s and 30s), the City of Stars was a project born in the 1970s at the behest of Givors’ mayor, Camille Vallin, who dreamed of quality but attractively-priced lodgings in downtown Givors permitting each resident to have their own garden. This great architectural undertaking evokes the socialist, urbanist and Utopic ideas and movements that swept through France – and beyond to Europe in general – throughout the 20th century. Made of cement – a favourite French building material even today – the City of Stars hangs from the steep slopes under the watchful eye of the old, crumbling Château Saint-Gérald. Though little remains of the once-magnificent castle, the ancient place and the amazing panorama it affords, is ample reward for the short climb.


Pro tip: The City of Stars is located very close to the Gare de Givors, about 30 minutes south of Lyon, and there are also several Lyon city buses to Givors that leave from Gare d’Oullins. Wander amongst the stars yourself or better yet, get a guided tour offered by the local tourism office. Keep in mind that people still live here! The castle is located above the City of Stars and can be accessed by a narrow path behind the City of Stars.


Other Beautiful Sites in France

  1. Ideal Palace of Facteur Cheveral
  2. Orange Tiled Roofs of Baluzuc in the Gorges d’Ardeche
  3. Paris’ Eiffel Tower
  4. The Pont d’Avignon
  5. Roman Arena of Nimes

 

Musee des Confluences, Lyon, France

Musee des Confluences - Lyon, France

Le Musee des Confluences, Lyon, France

As the world evolves, so does our sense of architectural beauty. Being subjective, the cliche rings true: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This dictum certainly holds water in the modernist/futurist architecture that peppers cities like Valencia, London, Bilbao, Warsaw, Vienna, Lyon and others. Originally built atop Fourviere Hill, Lyon is an ancient Roman city that slowly expanded eastwards, across the Saone River, then across the Rhone River. Where the two rivers meet – the confluence – there was once unusable swampland. Drained, it first was an industrial hub (it’s across from the former dockyards, now an up-and-coming almost-hipster neighbourhood), and the remains of old warehouses, factories, shipyards, and railways is still seen. Rather than destroy them, the city repurposed them – the old sugar factory is now an art gallery, for example, and the old custom house is now offices and a restaurant. The rest of the ultramodern Confluence neighbourhood has been inspired by and modelled on its former industrial history. Apartment blocks resemble shipping containers, 20th century factories, goods warehouses and more. Even the mall bears resemblance to this architecture. The above building is the Musee des Confluences, a futuristic steel-and-glass throwback (and throw-forward) to the Confluences past and future. Commanding the tip of the rivers’ confluence, the museum houses exhibits on evolution and science. It is this glittering, reflective, glassy structure vaguely resembling a ship and ever-popular with skateboarders that is the first thing visitors arriving from the south will see – so it is only fitting then that it is here the city chose to place their sign bearing Lyon’s catch-phrase: ONLYLYON. As a former resident of this city, I quite agree.


More Regions of Lyon to Explore
  1. Vieux Lyon (Old Town)
  2. Fourviere Roman Ampitheatre
  3. Place Bellecour
  4. The Rhone River
  5. The Musee des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts)

 

St Cyr Hermitage, France

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St Cyr Hermitage, France

Are you looking for off-the-beaten-path France? You just found it. The St Cyr Hermitage, perched on the hilltop Mont Cindre above the little village of St Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or about 30 minutes from Lyon, is hard to locate, or even learn about in English. Founded by a monk from the nearby once-powerful monastery, L’Ile Barbe (on the northern outskirts of Lyon) some 650 years ago, St Cyr is composed of les pierres dorées or ‘golden stones’ found in this region of the Beaujolais. It is a place of rest, tranquility and repose, on the outskirts of the world. Because of the altitude, the monk of the hermitage can overlook the rivers Rhone and Saone, the city of Lyon, mountains of the Alps and even the summits of Mont Blanc on a clear day. With little to no architectural training, the hermit’s chapel, garden and dormitory is a creative and innovative mess of stones of all shapes, sizes and textures. Hand-carved statues, arches and other decorations abound, making the heritage feel like a surreal art project from another century. There are two ways to get there. One is via the village St Cyr: simply go upwards towards the tower, and follow the signs. The other, more adventurous way is walk up the trail: from St Cyr, head up Rue Fouilloux and pick up the trail head on your right: Sentier de Puits des  Vignes, leading to a right on Montee du Grimpillon, and a left on Chemin Vial until the crosses of the hermitage rise above your head. The hermitage is only open for limited hours during the summer.


Other Ancient Religious Sites in Europe
  1. Sacra di San Michele, Italy
  2. Stations of the Cross in Val de Susa, Italy
  3. Ancient Sacred Spring, Southern Poland
  4. Fantoft Stave Church near Bergen, Norway
  5. Roman Temple in Vienne, France

 

Pont du Gard, France

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Pont du Gard, Gardon (or Gard) River, France

Not many architects can say that their construction will lest centuries, let alone millennia, though many Romans can. Not many tourists can say that they have beheld constructions that are more than a millennia old, though those who have visited the magnificent Pont du Gard can. This ‘pont’ (‘bridge’ in French) over the Gard (also called the Gardon) River in the south of the Hexagon is one of the the most country’s most spectacular ancient sites, left over from the days when the Roman-dominated territory was called Gaul, and Lyon (or ‘Lugdnumum‘) was still the capital. Built around 40-60 AD spanning 275m at its longest point, the aqueduct in entirety descends only 17 m over the course of it’s length, while the Pont du Gard has a mere 2.5 centimetres slant, which makes you marvel at the ingenuity and intelligence of the Romans without computers, machinery, calculators or any other aspects of modern technology. The Pont is impressive enough when viewed from land, but the best way to truly experience such a structure is the way it was meant to be seen – by water. So, jump in a canoe or kayak, grab your paddle, splash through the Gard River and don’t be afraid to get wet!

Hiking in Chazay d’Azergues, France

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Hiking in Chazay d’Azergues, France

Ahh…The Great Outdoors. It says it all in the name – ‘great!’ No matter whether you’re hiking in Ireland or Denmark, Poland or (as in this case), France, hiking in Europe is bound to be ‘great.’ Being based a city may be ideal for working, for nightlife, for cultural outings, for restaurant variety, and for transportation connections, but breathe in the city air too long, and you’ll go crazy. We all need a good dose of the outdoors in our systems: fresh air, cool wind, natural landscapes, lack of noise, isolation, tranquility. And there are no excuses, for a hiking trip doesn’t always have to be a grand Alpine expedition – if you’ve only got a weekend, head out to the surrounding countryside (every town and city has one!) and hit the trails. Explore the unknown, and who knows what you may find? On this particular day the photo was taken, not only did we find this extensive root system, but we also stumbled across hidden ponds, forgotten manor houses, placid villages, sun-dipped fields, cheery locals and fellow hikers. Exploring the world on foot (no matter how close to or far from home) always seems to add another dimension to the final destination, somehow making that place seem more meaningful to you simply by approaching it via your own two feet. Whether that be in Slea Head Peninsula in Ireland, the Gauja River Valley in Latvia, the Val de Susa in northern Italy, Mt Esja in Iceland or the Beskids and Tatras in Poland, discovering the world on foot is all the more magical.

Tain l’Hermitage, France

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M. Chapoutier Vinyards, Tain l’Hermitage, France

M. Chapoutier, one of the most famous vineyards along France’s Rhone River is located in Tain l’Hermitage, about a half an hour south of Lyon, in what it called the Cotes de Rhone region. Cote Rotie, Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph, Ermitage, Cornas, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Condrieu, Cotes de Rhones Villages are just a few of their wine types, and within these, many more brands and types. In France – one of the most important wine-producing regions in the world – wine is everywhere. And it it is cheap. A bottle of Crozes-Hermitage here costs anywhere between 7 – 15€ (depending on the type), but the same type/brand of wine in the US can cost upwards of $12 a glass! Therefore, it is easy to drink decent wine without going broke, and Chapoutier wines are, in fact, pretty decent. And because good wine is cheap and accessible, nearly everyone knows their way around wine. To be a wine connoisseur (a French word, you may notice…) in France, you have to be REALLY knowledgeable; an ordinary French person would seem like an expert in the US!  And another interesting fact is that in the US, the wine is named after the grape (chardonnay, syrah, pinot noir or gris, etc) but in France, wine is named after the town, region, village or castle where it is produced, meaning you have to be even MORE knowledgeable (and even have some notion of geography!) to pick your wines. Chapoutier-produced wines are the kinds of local wines, along with the wines of the Beaujolais, that you find in and around Lyon. And if you visit the vineyard, be sure to do a tour, and a tasting to increase your French wine knowledge!

Solar eclipse in Lyon, France

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Solar eclipse from Place Bellecour, Lyon, France

If you happened to be in Europe, northern Africa, or in select parts of northern Asia and you happened to be outside this morning, you had a chance to see a total or partial solar eclipse! Seen here in Lyon, France just outside the downtown tourism office is the waning effect of a partial solar eclipse (at its maximum, the sun was covered 70%)–despite belligerent clouds determined to block the view. If you were lucky enough to be in either Svalbard or the Faroe Islands, you got to experience a total solar eclipse, ie a phenomenon that occurs when the moon completely covers the sun. Fun fact: we only experience solar eclipses occasionally because the moon’s orbit is tilted at more than 5 degrees from our planet’s orbit around the sun (so the shadow normally passes us by)–but if the moon were orbiting a little closer to earth, we’d experience a solar eclipse every month! Regardless, hopefully you took a moment to appreciate this magical phenomenon because the next partial eclipse visible all over Europe isn’t until 2022–and the next total eclipse here is in 2090! Just be careful about your eyes–the sun’s rays can be very bright and dangerous. Hopefully you enjoyed the beautiful display of sun and moon, and if you missed it, here’s a website showing you upcoming eclipses, and where/when they can be seen!


More Interesting Natural Phenomenon in Europe
  1. The French Alps lit by moonlight
  2. Gnarly tree roots in France’s Beaujolais
  3. Volcanic landscapes on Mt Esja, Iceland
  4. Thundering waters of the Kjosfossen, Norway
  5. Stalactites and stalagmites in a cave in southern France
  6. The might of ocean waves in Ireland

 

 

Theater of Fourvière in Lyon, France

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Roman Amphitheater of Fourvière in Lyon, France

The amphitheater here in Lyon is not perhaps quite as famous as the one in Rome, nor is it as complete as, say, the theaters of Nimes or Arles or any of the others. Regardless, one must admit that it’s pretty fascinating that remnants from more than 2000 years ago not only still exist in Europe today–but are still in use! Lyon’s half-ruined amphitheater located at the top of the hill of Fourvière is still used to host Les Nuits a Fourvière (Nights in Fourvière) every summer, where concerts and other events take place nearly every night. Though partially reconstructed, one can still walk through this ancient structure which in part, dates back to 15 BC (the second stage having been completed during the 2nd century). Ruins or not, sitting down in a 2000-year-old amphitheater is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine!

Vieux Lyon, France

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Lyon, France

It’s funny how, even in your own town, you seem to constantly stumble upon things that you’re not sure how or why they got there. Whether that be a new cafe, a funny little statue probably carved in the 16th century then promptly forgotten about and let to survive the elements, or a new public art display, it’s amazing what you find when you take to the streets. Take these streamers, for example. I won’t pretend to know what they’re for, or who thought it’d be the perfect idea to take people’s portraits, print them out on thin fabric, then string them together in order to attach them to buildings on a side street in the Vieux Lyon (old town). But someone did. And you know what? The street took on a new flavour. The goofy smiles and funny expressions provided character that is sometimes hard to find on this quiet, ancient street. The resemblance to little flags brought on images of the middle ages. The fact that none of this was explained created mystery and intrigue. It was–and still is–interesting. My point, in short, is that the best way to see the world is to wander. Put down the cell phone, hide the map in your pocket, and hit the streets–any streets. Explore a new place–even if it’s your own backyard.

 

Lyon, France

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Lyon, France

Bouchon.” What a funny word. In French, it could mean either “cork” or “traffic jam,” “stopper” or “plug”…or  even, strangely enough, “typical Lyonnaise restaurant.” Lyon tops the list for highest concentration of restaurants as there are over 1,000 places to eat in Lyon. This, of course makes sense–Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France! But how did this come about? One important factor dates back to the sixteenth century. Catherine de Medici imported cooks from Florence, and combining their skills with local products and recipes, they created a revolutionary idea: regional specialties that were consumed by nobles and royalty. This tradition carried up through the centuries, shaping Lyonnaise cuisine into what it is today. In addition to the Medicis, the “Mères lyonnaises” gave birth to Lyon’s gastronomic success. These women, 19th century middle-class cooks, rose up and decided to put their extraordinary culinary skills to use. The rise of tourism connected with the automobile (the newly-formed Michelin Guide helped a bit), brought more and more hungry mouths to their tables. Today, France is well-known for its fine cuisine, but it is Lyon that wins the first-place ribbon. A “bouchon” refers to a traditional Lyonnaise restaurant, where you can find such items as andouillette (type of sausage), duck breast, the salad “chèvre chaud” (a salad with baked goat cheese wrapped in puff pastry), foie gras, “saucisson chaud” (literally ‘hot sausage’; it’s delicious!) or Lyon’s specialty, the quenelle, (a mixture of creamed fish and chicken, with an egg binding and covered in cream. It’s mouth-watering!). Of course, you can visit a high-end Paul Bocuse restaurants where the food will be of the highest quality–but nothing beats the snug feeling of the quaint restaurant terrace with checkered tablecloths and cobblestones underfoot. Not only is the atmosphere fantastic, but the food is so delicious you’ll never want to leave–and it never seems to stop coming!

 

 

Anse, France

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Anse, France

Finally back in France after a summer abroad, it’s time to start re-posting in order to fall in love with Europe again, one photo at a time. This here is Anse, a lovely French town plopped in the middle of the famous region, the Beaujolais, well-known both in and outside of France for its superb red wines. Small enough to be quaint but large enough to feel alive, Anse and the surrounding countryside is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Lyon, France’s 2nd-biggest city. No need to worry about traffic on the highways or paying 5-6 euros for a drink at a pub–life is far simpler in Anse. Whether you prefer to tramp through the breath-taking countryside (all the while taking in views of French vineyards!), wander the ancient streets imagining bygone times, eat at local family-owned eateries, or do a little wine-tasting yourself, Anse is the place to be! And at a mere 30-kilometer trek from Lyon, there’s really no excuse not to go!

 

St Germain M’or, France

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St Germain M’or, France

Wander along a quiet labyrinth of stony streets, up and down steep and uneven paths, through narrow passageways twisting alongside ancient houses. Tiny cafes dot the corners. Laundry and flower-boxes hang alternatively from second-story balconies. The sun is out, and no one is hurrying. Just outside the village, you can just make out the edges of the vineyards of the Beaujolais region. Children play on bikes in the main square, friends sip coffees or wine in the corner cafes. The smell of fresh bread emits from a local bakery. You can hear the birds chirping, friendly neighbours chatting in French, the wind whistling. While the much larger city of Lyon is a mere than a half-hour’s drive, you feel so far removed from the city that you forget the others’ existence. So you stop hurrying too. You stop thinking so much. You cast aside your list of things to do, you cast away your cares and worries. You let your shoulders relax. You sit down at one of those cafes, order yourself a a glass of fresh Beaujolais wine, and bask in the quiet French sunlight.

Rhône riverside in Lyon, France

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View of the Rhône River in Lyon, France

It’s only fitting to choose a photo of Lyon today, as the next six weeks will be spent taking a short break from France to work in rural Spain. Lyon is a beautiful city – but it is one that rarely gets put on the map. It’s also been called one of France’s “most liveable cities”–which is mostly because of the Lyonnais themselves. With roots that go all the way back to the Romans (then called “Lugdunum”), Lyon has been an important city since its founding in 43 BC largely because of its location at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers. Today, it’s regarded as France’s “gastronomic capital” – and since many consider France to rank #1 when it comes to cuisine…perhaps this means that Lyon is the #1 place to eat in the world? While that may not be true for everyone, it is true that the city has a lot to offer: local bouchons (restaurants with Lyonnais cuisine) coupled with the extravagant restaurants created by the famous chef Paul Bocuse (on the other end of the spectrum), a beautiful old town (the Vieux Lyon), the hill of Fourvière with the Roman ruins (once a great amphitheater) plus the beautiful Basilica, as well as not one but two rivers lined with quays–perfect for strolling, picnicking, biking, enjoying a beer, reading in the sun, people-watching, photographing, or simply taking in the views of Lyon by day and night. Take a step back and enjoy the views–because Lyon is one of the most underrated yet most beautiful cities in Europe!

Château de Vimy, Neuville-sur-Saône, France

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The château de Vimy in Neuville-Sur-Saône, France

Of course, the list of reasons why you should fall in love with France is longer than China’s Great Wall, but one of things from the list that particularly stands out is the sheer number and beauty of French villages. While places like Poland, Croatia or Latvia have their own form of beauty (Polish old towns are especially beautiful, Croatia has an magnificent coastline and Latvia has some magnificent “unexplored” wilds), 9 times out of 1o, the villages you encounter in their countryside are just okay. Of course, Spanish and British and German villages are cute too…but nothing beats France. One of the best ways to see France is to get a bike, head out to the countryside – biking along the Saône River, the Rhône River, the Loire River or the Gard River are just a few examples of river-based itineraries – and visit the villages. This particular village, renamed Neuville in 1665 by the archbishop of Lyon, Camille de Neufville, features this castle or une maison forte, as the French say (literally, a “strong house” i.e. a fortified dwelling), that rises up from the town’s centre. Sadly, the castle is in disrepair and closed to the public, but this has little affect on the loveliness of the surrounding village. The Monts d’Or region north of Lyon (literally, “Mountains of Gold”) along the Saône River, is full of adorable, take-your-breath-away villages (and not just because you’re huffing and puffing after putting a few kilometers on that French bicycle!) – so don’t forget your camera. Or a bit of cash – Les Monts d’Or borders the Beaujolais wine region, so be sure to taste local wines, perhaps buy fresh, local produce, or even stop for a quick beer by the river!

 

Pérouges, France

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Pérouges, France

Why are medieval villages so beautiful? For that matter—why is France so beautiful? Old—and ancient—things hold a charm that seems impossible to resist. Their nostalgia reminds us of a time that we perceive as “simpler” (despite the fact that disease was rampant, bathing was non-existent, food was plain, violence was everywhere and lifespans were short), we can’t help but see the vestiges left behind in the form of medieval towns as that “better, simpler” life. While that probably isn’t true, it is true that people in the Middle Ages spent a lot more time on the construction of things. As everything had to be done by hand and took years to accomplish, stone buildings were built with a care that we rarely see today. Whereas now when we may put up a building in 3 months, we often know that it’ll only be there 10-15 years before we pull it down and build something ‘more modern.’ It’s worth taking the time to appreciate the buildings that took so much blood, sweat, time and care to plan, build and maintain in villages such as Pérouges—a genuine member of “The Most Beautiful Towns in France”—before modern architecture has consumed them all.

 

View of Saône River, Vieux Lyon, France

Lyon view from Bonaparte Bridge

View of Saône River, Vieux Lyon, France

It’s been a long time (holidays have a way of making one lazy) but I’m back! Here we have the view from the Bonaparte Bridge crossing the Saône River in Lyon. From the bridge, you can see most of the old town and major landmarks of this amazing city. From the Saint-Jean quarter–an important political and religious centre in the Middle Ages–to the Saint-George district, home to the famous silk merchants of the 1500’s (and responsible for over 100 traboules or covered passageways/courtyards in between buildings used for transporting the silk)–to the Saint-Paul quarter, inhabited by the wealthy Italian banker-merchants, the Vieux Lyon neighbourhood is a beautiful mix of eras, nationalities, cultures, and architecture. Oh, and did I mention the food? Vieux Lyon is the city’s food district; eat at a bouchon or local Lyonnaise restaurant for a taste of the Gastronomic Capital of France!

Come hungry!

Brignais, France

Brignais

Brignais, France

As stereotypes go, the Frenchman (or woman) with a baguette tucked under their arm is a big one…and one that is actually rather true, at least to the degree that buying the bread from the baker is a daily task. As a current member of a French family, it’s my job to get the bread everyday. To do so, I have to walk across this ancient arched bridge, the Pont Vieux-sur-le-Garon. Dating back to the Middle Ages, this bridge links the neighbourhood section of town with the commercial centre. Cobblestones line the bottom of this beautiful humpback bridge. Once part of the route connecting Lyon to Saint-Étienne, in 1399 the bailiff of Lyon collected a tax from the people of Brignais and Vourles to fix the little bridge, causing it to stand the test of time. And since 1934, it’s listed as a historical monument in France, further protecting it. Though easier to walk across the new bridge (as the cobblestones can be hard and uncomfortable to navigate), walking across the bridge in rain or shine with baguettes under my arm has become both a habit and a treat. Any day that I don’t manage to cross my lovely bridge with the daily bread is a sad day indeed.

Weekly photo challenge: Good morning!

ptit dej

Brignais, France (near Lyon, France)

This is how the French start their day: a bowl of coffee (yes, that’s right, a bowl of black coffee – I’ve been told they do this to make dipping bread or croissants easier), toasted bread, and butter. Simple and delicious, they’ve kept at this almost unwavering routine for what seems like millenniums. No pancakes for them. Waffles are for snacks and yogurt is for dessert. Sausages they leave to the Germans, cereal to the Americans, grits to the British. Tea is sometimes substituted…but that too is consumed from a bowl. Croissants are often substituted for bread depending on how close the local boulangerie is and how lazy and hungry the breakfaster is in the morning. I knew I was fully embracing French culture when I stayed with a friend who didn’t drink coffee and had no fresh bread for my petit dejeuner – and I nearly threw a hissy-fit (I managed not to, but it was close). No matter how early or late in the morning, my routine is unwavering (unless you count the occasional addition of jam) – and for me, it’s the perfect way to say “good morning” – or, in this case, “bon matin!”

Lyon, France

Lyon roofs

Lyon, France

Who doesn’t love a birds-eye view of pretty red roofs? I chose this photo of Lyon because as of about 5 hours, this will be my home for the next 11 months! Visible here is the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, constructed over the somewhat excessively long period between 1180 to 1480, and founded by Saint Pothinus and Saint Irenaeus, the first two bishops of Lyon. St Jean, along with all these other roofs, comprise the Old Town of France’s 2nd-largest city.  Lyon is rarely considered a tourist generation, as it is largely eclipsed by Paris and the Riviera. But it’s location is great–2 hours or less from the Alps, the Riviera, Paris, Geneva, and bits of northern Italy, and only a few more hours to Spain or Milan. Located at the convergence of two rivers, it’s cosmopolitan, historic and beautiful.

“Flower Tree,” Lyon, France

lyontree

“Flower Tree” in Lyon, France

Walking in downtown Lyon, you’ll first find Place Bellecour, the largest open-air square in Europe (as in, the largest without obstructions in the middle of it). You’ll see Fourvière at the top on the hill—that impressive cathedral that sits next to the Roman amphitheater of the same name. If you wander a bit more, you might spot a strange plastic tree made out of colourful flowers the size of tires on Antonin Poncet Square that looks like it belongs to Dr. Seuss. Designed by the Korean Jeong-Hwa Choi, it was for the 7th biennial festival of Contemporary Art in Lyon called “It Happened Tomorrow” (2003—2004). “Flower Tree” became so popular that the city of Lyon decided to plant it permanently by the banks of the Rhône. Interestingly enough, it seems to have a twin in Shanghai on Gubei Road. People didn’t originally like it, but, as with most contemporary art, they grew to appreciate it over time.


More About Travelling in France
  1. Nimes
  2. Dijon
  3. Pont du Gard
  4. Chateau de Chambord
  5. St Guilheim le Desert

 

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France

lyonmusee

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France

Somehow, little old ladies in France can elegantly pull off wearing a bright orange suit – which is actually a pretty fantastic feat! Even outside of this lady, Lyon’s fine arts museum is full of elegance. Once a convent, this magnificent 17th century building now houses one of the most impressive and important art collections in Europe. Ranging from ancient Egypt antiquities to the Modern art period, Lyon’s fine arts museum has a little of everything. And I’m proud to say that the city that houses this beautiful museum will soon be my city! I can’t wait to move to Lyon. As of this fall, Lyon will be my new home!