Welcome to Lyon
HSBC's annual survey on expats was recently published, and while France doesn't do great overall (21/45) most expats rate their quality of life as having improved since moving to France; I would certainly agree with that. It's hard to know whether moving abroad improves your quality of life because the new country is simply 'better' (I don't think this is true- most western European countries have equal shitty and great parts to them, just differently dispersed) or perhaps it's because you are in permanent holiday mode- you still have the feeling of being an outsider and are new to everything which is exciting. Or maybe it's because you have taken charge of your life and made some changes (new job, new hobbies etc) that would have improved things even if you'd stayed where you were before. Perhaps moving abroad gives you the confidence to reboot, shake things up, start again. Perhaps it's just the weather.
Lyon recently won ‘Europe's Leading City Break Destination’ at the World Travel Awards and coincidentally I wrote a tiny piece about the city for a hotel's landing page, so the city has been on my mind a bit.
I thought I'd share my (very condensed) must-dos for a weekend visit:
The Saône, Vieux Lyon & Fourvière
Lyon has two rivers running through it, the Saône and the Rhône. Most people would argue the Rhône is prettier- it's wider and therefore more impressive (river-speaking); it's bluer, it's tree-lined and has the péniches where you can get an overpriced pint in the summer (meaning only summer- even when it's sunny and warm in May and the Berges du Rhône are full of people, the bars stay closed. Coming from Cornwall where you make the most of every tourist, this seems strange to me). Anyway... I prefer the Saône. I love the colourful, higgledy-piggledy buildings on the Vieux Lyon side and the weekend markets. I may be biased because I'm closer to the Saône, but to me it has a special charm.
Croix Rousse, Vieux Lyon & pretty much all of the presqu'île is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with buildings dating back to the 12th century. The Old Town is usually quite busy and crowded which can kind of detract from the experience of walking past Renaissance architecture, and a lot of the shops are full of crap. So, look up, admire the buildings, and avoid the chattering tour groups. Although be careful looking up the whole time, it's cobbled.
It's worth the hike up to the Fourvière cathedral (or take the funicular) to see the view of the city. There are two hills in Lyon, Fourvière and Croix Rousse. Croix Rousse is also the name of an area on the hill which used to be a separate village, but has now been incorporated as the fourth arrondissement. I really like Croix Rousse, it's got a bit of a hippy vibe and there's lots of communal gardens with herbs, fruit and veg plants that you can help yourself to. The market there is great as well, it's on every day but Tuesday and Saturday are the best.
Les Halles de Lyon - Paul Bocuse is an indoor market, albeit a very pricey, extremely sanitized version. There are restaurants there too and we have a tradition of going there to score a plate of oysters and a 'pot' of wine when we have visitors. A 'pot lyonnaise' is basically a normal-sized bottle with a thick bottom so it only holds 46cl of liquid. It's only really found in Lyon and apparently dates back to the bosses of the silk-weaving factories trying to stiff their employees out of some of their allocated lunchtime wine, by decreasing the bottles' capacity. The reason I like oysters at Chez Leon in Les Halles is because they have a menu of different oyster options, (like deep cold water, or warmer shallower water etc) and they explain the differences. You can buy a platter of all them and figure out your favourite. Another great place for oysters is pretty much anywhere in Croix Rousse during winter where wine and oysters are the traditional breakfast. Breakfast. And, yes if you wander round in the winter you will find old men at 10am shucking oysters and slurping vin blanc.
If you go to Lyon, you have to go to a bouchon. Again, this is a word that means something else in the rest of France; in Lyon it's the name of the traditional restaurants but also means bottle-top or traffic jam. They are typically small and intimate with a limited menu of offal-based dishes (ok, it's not all offal, but that features heavily). There are a plenty in the Old Town, but my favourite is Café des Fédérations in the first arrondissement. They just bring food out to you, you pay a fixed price and you get what you're given (although you do have a choice for the main dish). It's that perfect blend of the restaurant staff haughtily telling you what you should eat but without any of the pretension that usually goes with it.
Cycle along the Rhône
Make the most of the Velov' bike-hire system in the city, it's cheap and super convenient. The Rhône is perfect for cycling as it has wide cycle paths the whole length. To the south you can reach the confluence of the two rivers, each with its own distinct colour (although only really noticeable on a sunny day) and to the north is Parc de la Tête d'Or. The park is huge, around 117 hectares and houses a free zoo with tonnes of animals including (in order of my faves) giraffes, red pandas, crocodiles, various birds, big cats, zebra, deer and monkeys. It's a great place for a picnic. There's literally tonnes of other great stuff to do in the city, including loads of museums and art galleries, boat trips, Roman ruins, over a dozen Michelin starred restaurants, a booming coffee culture and loads of great street art (check out: #lyongraffiti and #lyonstreetart).
Another thing not to be missed is just wandering the streets, soaking up the Frenchness and enjoying all that cheap wine. Lyon is a beautiful city. There's a young, relaxed vibe with a lot going on, it's a great place to live.