LYON is physically the second biggest city in France, a result of its uncontrolled urban sprawl. Viewed at high speed from the Autoroute du Soleil, the impression it gives is of a major confluence of rivers and roads, around which only petrochemical industries thrive. In fact, from the sixteenth century right up until the postwar dominance of metalworks and chemicals, silk was the city's main industry, generating the wealth which left behind a multitude of Renaissance buildings. But what has stamped its character most on Lyon is the commerce and banking that grew up with its industrial expansion. It is this that gives the town its staid, stolid and somewhat austere air.
The city is now busy forging a role for itself within a new Europe, with international schools and colleges, the new HQ for Interpol, a recently inaugurated eco-friendly tram system, a second TGV station with links to the north that bypass Paris, and high-tech industrial parks for international companies making it a modern city par excellence. More so than any other French city, it has embraced the monetarist vision of the European Union and is acting, with some success, as a postmodern city-state within it.
Most French people would find themselves in Lyon for business rather than for recreation: it's a get-up-and-go place, not a lie-back-and-rest one. You probably wouldn't plan a two-week stay – as you might in Provence's cities – but Lyon certainly has its charms. Foremost among these is gastronomy; there are more restaurants per Gothic and Renaissance square metre of the old town than anywhere else on earth, and the city could form a football team with its superstars of the international chef circuit. While the textile museum is the second famous reason for stopping here, Lyon's nightlife, cinema and theatre (including the famous Lyonnais puppets), its antique markets, music and other cultural festivities might tempt you to stay at least a few days. In addition it has been long established as the home of major biennial festivals of art and fashion.
Lyon is organized into arrondissements, of which there are nine. A visit to Lyon will necessarily take you into the Presqu'île (1er and 2e arrondissements), the area between the Rivers Saône and Rhône, and you're likely to spend some time in Vieux-Lyon (5e) on the west bank of the Saône, as well as the east bank of the Rhône (3e), including the modern development known as La Part-Dieu.
Things to do:
UNESCO recently listed the old part of Lyons, Vieux Lyon, including the Croix-Rousse and Presqu'île areas as a world heritage site ; this Gothic and Renaissance district, famous for its maze of narrow streets and elegant buildings certainly deserves it! The office du tourisme de Lyon organises guided tours in English and French, which help you discover the complexity and beauty of cathedrale Saint Jean and the maze of streets and passageways, such as the famous traboules.
Basilique de Fourvière
Built between 1872 and 1884 by the architect Pierre Bossan, what has been nicknamed the "upside down elephant" is representative of the eclecticism of the end of the 19th century. The oriental and neo-classic influences (twisted columns and columned porticas) are mixed with architecture inspired by the medieval style machicolated towers, which creates a shocking fortress church. An observatory offers spectacular views, and under the basilica is a crypt, accessible from the esplanade.
Musee des Beaux-Arts
Since 1803, this museum has housed premier collections and exhibition. Today it boasts of more than 700 paintings, 300 sculptures and thousands of objets d'art, including antiquities, coins and medals. The ground floor houses the refectory and chapel (formerly the church of St Pierre), containing 19th- and 20th-century sculptures. The first floor includes Egyptian, Greek and Roman (before 200BC) antiquities; the second floor is dedicated to paintings from the 15th-20th centuries. Two book and gift shops and a refreshment area are on site.
L'Anticipation is a comfortable restaurant for lovers of gourmet food. The menu is made up of products found in the local markets, so it is highly dependant on the season and, naturally, the inspiration of the owner. However, the three things that never change are the bread, which is baked on site, the quality of the preparation of the food and the warm welcome. You are strongly advised to book in advance. You will understand why after tasting the food: Crayfish and Red Mullet Ravioli with a cider court-bouillon sauce is a favorite.
La Table des Echevins
This wonderful restaurant beckons you to experience a voyage through time. Everything here is reminiscent of the Middle Ages, from the decor to the behaviour of the master of the house, to the recipes, which are taken from 12th-15th century manuscripts. You may be surprised by the flavour of the food, including Oeufs Perdus (beef with coriander and cumin), all flavoured with a surprising flower and plant wine.
Cafe 203 is open all day and is particularly popular among young people, either at coffee or aperitif time. You cannot miss it because there is a superb Peugeot 203 parked right in front of it that also serves as a terrace. This trendy and relaxed cafe also hosts weekly art exhibitions, which is why it is known as a cultural cafe. For those who like to share their point of view and profit from the opinions of others, this bar hits the spot.