I've often been to the south of France - from the Ardèche region to the Alps to the French Riviera - and I knew Lyon mostly from the traffic jams on the Autoroute du Soleil - France's north-south artery between Paris and Lyon - on Black Saturday, when everyone's trying to get to the south. But Lyon has more to offer than those traffic jams, especially if you're into gastronomy (which, admittedly, I am not.)
I used to be a very picky eater and have always been very hesitant to try out food I didn't know but the more I travel, the more I find myself curious about the local cuisine and willing to try out something new. Everyone knows France is the gourmet capital of the world. And Lyon is the culinary epicenter of France, so what better place to go for a culinary getaway?
Part of Lyon's appeal is its location in between several wine regions: Bourgogne (Burgundy), Beaujolais & Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley) are all a measly 1h drive away, or less. If you have some time to spare, you really should go out on a tour along the nearby vineyards and sample some wine at the many chateaux and wineries. If not, you'll have plenty of opportunities to taste the wines in Lyon's many restaurants and bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise eateries.) Just don't try their andouillettes if you're a picky eater like I am: it's a pork sausage with intestines and seasoning. I guess it's an acquired taste (and smell) that me and my company weren't quite prepared for.
But Lyon's not only about food. Granted it's not France's tourist hotspot, but there's plenty to do. It is one of France's largest cities, only bested by Paris (by a large margin) and Marseille in terms of population. But you'll want to be in Lyon and not in Écully (west of Lyon, where there's nothing to do) like we were for the first few days. Luckily, Lyon's subway network extended to where we were and it only took us a good 15 minutes to reach Place Bellecour, at the heart of Lyon. And although there's good subway coverage, you won't need it too often: Lyon's city center is not too big an doable on foot. Place Bellecour, so I was told, is the largest square in Europe and it's right in the center of Presqu'île, the area just north of where the Rhône & Saône rivers meet, and where most of the action in Lyon is. Place Bellecour is not a terribly exciting square, but walk in either direction (especially north towards the City Hall & Place des Terreaux) and you'll find shops, bars & restaurants all over the place.
Other interesting areas in Lyon are Vieux Lyon and Fourvière, west of the Saone, and the wonderful Parc de la Tête d'Or east of the Rhône. Vieux Lyon is the old town with those characteristic narrow cobblestone streets that date back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It's packed with tourists, terraces and gift shops.
From Vieux Lyon, you can take the cable car up to Fourvière, where the basilica stands proud and where you'll find the best panoramic view of Lyon right next to the basilica. But the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is something special: it's actually 2 churches built on top of one another. The richly decorated upper sanctuary is the most impressive, while the lower church is much more humble.
Not far from the basilica are two Roman theatres - in excellent condition and
still in use for the annual
Nuits de Fourvière festival - and a
On the other side of the basilica is a replica of the Eiffel tower. While
it seems impressive when seen from the center of Lyon, once you're up on
Fourvière, it'll disappoint: it's only 86 m (282 ft) high and closed to the public.