Lyon - an authentic French city

With genuinely unique cuisine, historical and architectural landmarks, light festivals, history in cinematography, a trip to Lyon is one worth remembering

30 June 2017, 9:55am
If you are looking for an authentic French experience the city of Lyon is a sure thing
If you are looking for an authentic French experience the city of Lyon is a sure thing
When travelling to France, most travellers get caught up in it’s capital, and while Paris has plenty to see, it is easy to get stuck in the tourist traps, not really experiencing anything that is genuinely Parisian. If you are looking for an authentic French experience the city of Lyon, almost 500km from Paris, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, is a sure thing. With genuinely unique cuisine, historical and architectural landmarks, light festivals, history in cinematography, a trip to Lyon is one worth remembering. 

Take a tour of Vieux-Lyon

Vieux-Lyon, Lyon’s oldest district, is protected under Malraux law. The silk weavers and rich merchants settled here from France, Flanders, Germany and Italy and built lavish homes in gothic, Italian and French renaissance styles in the districts of Saint-Jean, Saint-Georges and Saint Paules. During the 16th century it was estimated that there were 180,000 looms in the city. 

Vieux-Lyon: The enchanting Renaissance-era houses, leaning onto each other like old friends, are Lyon’s most charming attraction
Vieux-Lyon: The enchanting Renaissance-era houses, leaning onto each other like old friends, are Lyon’s most charming attraction
Discover the traboules underneath the city

The dark underbelly of the city takes on a totally different meaning in Lyon. Underneath the city are a series of tunnels that allowed the silk merchants of old to transport their silk to the market whilst taking shelter from the elements. Most of these passageways are part of residential properties but around 40 of them are open to the public, running beneath the buildings in the direction of the Saône River. 

Bouchon: Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France, with traditional bouchons serving classic Lyonnaise cuisine
Bouchon: Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France, with traditional bouchons serving classic Lyonnaise cuisine
Fourvière basilica

Strategically located on the top of Fourvière hill, to the west of the city is one France’s most iconic hilltop churches. The Basilica of Notre-Dame du Fourvière, built between 1872 and 1884, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is attributed to saving the city from the bubonic plague that swept through Europe in 1643. Head inside the basilica and check out the extravagant interiors and the Museum of Sacred Art. You can also gain access to the north tower and take in the best views of the city.

Notre Dame basilica: The Basilica of Notre-Dame dominates the Lyon skyline from its optimal location on the top of Fourvière hill
Notre Dame basilica: The Basilica of Notre-Dame dominates the Lyon skyline from its optimal location on the top of Fourvière hill
Fête de Lumières

Every year in early December, on the day of the Immaculate Conception, Lyon thanks the Virgin Mary for deliverance from the Black Death by lighting candles throughout the city at the Festival of Lights. For three nights a variety of artists light up buildings, streets and parks all over the city. Over 70 light installations create a magical atmosphere just before Christmas and attracts visitors, not only from all over France but the rest of the world. 

Watch a show at the ancient theatre of Fourvière

This ancient monument lies on the left bank of the Saone River on Fourvière hill. Though primarily a tourist site, the ancient Roman theatre, which was built 2,000 years ago, is still a performance venue during the Nuits de Fourvière drama festival in June and July. 

Notre Dame basilica: The Basilica of Notre-Dame dominates the Lyon skyline from its optimal location on the top of Fourvière hill
Notre Dame basilica: The Basilica of Notre-Dame dominates the Lyon skyline from its optimal location on the top of Fourvière hill
Eat like you’re from Lyon

Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France and for very good reason. Lyon is home to nose-to-tail cuisine with many traditional dishes made from ingredients that others may discard; think pig heads, tripe and andouillette - sausages made from coarsely cut tripe. Classic Lyonnaise cuisine is calorific and hearty and best enjoyed at a bouchon – a restaurant serving traditional dishes that is known equally for its convivial atmosphere and phenomenal homey food. 

Paul Bocuse, one of France’s most prominent chefs associated with nouvelle cuisine, makes his home in Lyon and is considered as more than a mere mortal in his hometown. So much so that Lyon’s largest food market, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is named after him. This is a food lover’s dream. An assortment of hand-picked items from the region’s best merchants selling everything from charcuterie, cheese, meat fruit and vegetables. 

Quai Saint-Antoine on a Sunday morning offers a food market that is a little more casual and totally outdoors. On the bank of the Saône River on the Presqu’ile side you can take in the views of passing boats, pastel buildings and a backdrop of Fouvière Hill and the Basilica whilst stocking up on some of Lyon’s best gastronomic items. It is best to turn up with an empty stomach as there is plenty of opportunity for tasting as well as feasting on a variety of prepared dishes. 

Wine tasting in Beaujolais

When in Rome, do like the Romans, but when in France you have to go wine tasting and just 30km from the city of Lyon lie the vineyards of Beaujolais. If you plan to travel in November, the launch of the Beaujolais nouveau is a frenzy celebrated the world over, more so in Beaujolais itself. 

Roman theatre: Though the Roman theatre on Fourvière hill serves mostly as a tourist attraction it becomes a performance venue during the Nuits de Fourvière drama festival in June and July
Roman theatre: Though the Roman theatre on Fourvière hill serves mostly as a tourist attraction it becomes a performance venue during the Nuits de Fourvière drama festival in June and July
Visit the home of the cinema

Lyon is home of the cinema, where the Lumière brothers, held as the fathers of movie-making, helped invent the first cinematograph and the first motion picture camera and projector. Villa Lumière, an art nouveau mansion built by the brothers’ father in 1899, is the spot any movie-buff would appreciate settling in to view some of the thousands of movies the brothers made together. 

Traboules: The traboules of Lyon are underground passageways that gave the silk merchants the opportunity to transport their wares to market without marking from the elements
Traboules: The traboules of Lyon are underground passageways that gave the silk merchants the opportunity to transport their wares to market without marking from the elements
Visit the survival garden in the heart of Lyon

Jardin Rosa Mir is the creation of Jules Senis. Sick in bed with cancer, Senis bargained with the powers that be, promising to build a magnificent garden in the heart of Lyon should he survive. Though his survival was unlikely, he beat the odds and filled this incredible courtyard with planted flowers and other foliage as well as a variety of structures to frame his botanical work. Splattered with mosaics, pillars and tiers of gardens, Jardin Rosa Mir is an almost overwhelming maze of gardens, featuring lemon trees, roses and even a fair amount of weeds. Yet despite the chaos, it has inspired and awed since its creation in the early 1950s. Senis died 30 years later leaving behind an association to maintain and protect his life’s work. 

Getting there

Air Malta currently operates three times a week to Lyon. Currently one-way prices start from EUR59.73 including taxes and charges.

Visit www.airmalta.com for more info.