Lyon: The City of Many Treasures | Subhash Motwani

Lyon- as seen from the Fourvière Hill

I arrived at France’s second largest city and the capital of the province of Rhone-Alpes, to attend the International Destination Expo(IDE) and was greeted by some very wet weather. In fact it poured most of the day and after checking in at the Hotel Mercure Lyon Charpennes, I headed to register myself at the Cite Centre de Congres (CCC) what is also known as the Palais de Congres to complete my registration formalities for the ASTA IDE which would officially commence on Friday, 12th April 2008.After a very smooth flight on Austrian Airlines which undoubtedly has the best connections to all of Europe, I arrived at the Aeroport Lyon Saint Exupery which is named after the famous Lyonnais, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French writer and an aviator.On arrival, I bought a ticket at the Satobus desk. At 9,50 Euros you get a one way shuttle bus from the airport which takes you to the city centre.


Aéroport Lyon Saint-Exupéry

Additionally, I also bought a subway (le metro) ticket which would take me from Part-Dieu which is a central terminal and often the first contact area for visitors who get into the city by train. A single ticket valid for one hour on any public transport costs 1,60 Euros. When in Lyon, you can also purchase a one day Liberte Card for 4,40 Euros which gives you 24 hour access on the trams, buses as well as the subway.

Being a SKAL member has its advantages and M Stephane Robillard, Directeur of the Hotel Mercure Lyon Charpennes was courteous enough to help a Skalleague with a room at a very short notice. The hotel is a 3 star property and belongs to the Hotels de Chaine et de Charme which comprises of a chain of hotels which has 3 hotels in Rhone-Alpes including two in Lyon as well as hotel properties in Normandie, Provence-Cote D’Azur, Paris as well as Luxembourg. The hotel is very centrally located and is close to the Charpennes station and the Charles Hernu tramway. A very convenient place to stay; that too at a close proximity to the public transport systems. After check-in, I took the bus to the Cite Centre de Congres or CCC , about 20 minutes from the Charpennes area. The CCC is a very impressive complex situated in an exceptionally natural environment between the Tete d’Or Park and the Rhone river and is easily accessible by bus from the centrally located Part-Dieu TGV Station .

Lyon known as the gastronomic capital of France is a city located in Central East of France in the region of Rhone Alpes and can be reached from Paris, the capital in just 2 hours on the TGV and there are hourly trains to/from Lyon to the capital.Lyon, with a population of over 1.5 million people is a UNESCO World Heritage City full of surprises and great contrasts with a blend of Roman and medieval history, classic and contemporary located at the confluence of the two- rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. You can walk thru 2000 years of history and the Old Town and its quarters are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lyon happens to be the birth place of the inventors of cinema and a visit to the Museum of Cinema is a must to discover the extraordinary inventions of the Lumiere Brothers. The Lumiere Brothers had invented cinematography and it is in 1895 that they had shot the first film in the history of cinema.

The Lumiere Quarter and the Lumiere Museum will take you back in time to admire the fine work, be it cinema, paintings or photography. You can visit the screening room which has a collection of over 80 Lumiere films, the first “set” in the history of cinematography and the photorama which was invented by Louis Lumiere in 1901 to allow the public to admire photos projected at 360degree and at a height of 6 metres. The fascinating museum is spread over 4 floors and 21 rooms and is worth a visit for lovers of art and cinema.

Lumière Brothers

The first movie camera invented by the Lumière brothers.

1st short film, Workers Leaving the Lumière factory

Lyon is a city of several icons from being the silk capital of world and a centre of fashion to the Roman remains taking you back to the Renaissance period and the famous “traboules” which connect you thru ancient streets with courtyards, cornices and alleyways to the Cathedral which was built in the 15th and the 16th Century. The traboules are covered passage-ways that create a real network of secret ways from one street to the next and which give Lyon all its air of mystery. It is amazing to see how different buildings are connected to each other thru vaulted corridors and inner courtyards.

The Traboules of Lyon

Then you also have the fascinating murals which adorn the city and the Halles of Lyon where you would find the famous culinary delights. Old Lyon is immersed in history as it has one of the biggest areas of Renaissance architecture in Europe. The Hill of the Croix Rousse on the other hand is the home of the “canuts” – the silk workers which go back to the times of the Jacquard weaving machines, the historic 4 star hotel of La Cour des Loges which is a blend of history, comfort and luxury which once upon a time was a Jesuit College.

The four buildings that make up La Cour des Loges, were originally built for merchants, bankers and printers during the Renaissance period of the 15th and 16th Century. The main walls of No 2 and 4 Rue du Boeuf (Cattle Street) go back to 1341 and No 6 originally was built for a spice merchant in the 15th Century. The Lord of Burgundy, at the beginning of 16th Century, resold No 2, 4 and 6 to the Jesuits who opened a college in what is today, the annex of the 5th district of the Town Hall and transformed No 2,4,6 Rue du Boeuf into the college annex. After the French Revolution all the Church properties were confiscated and the houses were auctioned and rented as home and ground floor shops. The old section of Lyon of what eventually became Cour des Loges, in the mid-70s, deteriorated and from 1981 onwards, it took 5 years to restore it and today it is one of the most historic places in Lyon. Today, this property is a link between the present and the past, a subtle blend of old and new with the four magnificent buildings dating back to the 14th, 16th and 17th centuries restored to perfection. La Cour des Loges is the first choice of accommodation amongst the who’s who, whether they are VVIPs or even those from Hollywood and during the site visit of the hotel, we happen to pass by a terrace- facing suite where Clint Eastwood, the famous western hero, had stayed. A room would cost anything between 247 to 485 Euros per night whereas a suite would cost between 525 and 618 Euros.

Terrace facing suite where Clint Eastwood once stayed

No wonder the Cour des Loges is known as the jewel of Old Lyon. It is the combination of centuries and marriages of styles – a subtle harmony between the Renaissance spirit and the contemporary creativity that makes this place so special.

Other famous icons of Lyon include the Guignol- a character which was developed in a French puppet show way back in 1808. A visit to La Maison de Guignol is a must to witness a spectacular show where Guignol amuses both children and adults with his wit and humour. Incidentally the year 2008 is when Lyon celebrates 200 years of the Guignol.

Guignol- a French puppet in various moods

Yet another fascinating aspect of Lyon are the mural frescoes and you will find over 100 of them across the various districts of the city. Some of the murals, also known as trompe l’oeil in French are more than mere art. It is a technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create an optical illusion where the objects appear three-dimensional instead of a two-dimensional painting. One such sidewall of building comprising of famous people of Lyon extends up to 7 floors and if you do not observe closely, you may actually feel that there are real people standing in the balcony that overlook the street.

A bustling stairway in Lyon or an uncannily realistic mural painting?

In reality the people and the balconies too are nothing but trompe l’oeil or optical illusion created thru art. It was indeed fascinating to know how the mural frescoes evolved. In the beginning of the eighties, young artists formed a group in order to give more life and colour to the walls. They created two associations: “cite de la Creation” and “Mur’art”, found sponsors, obtained the agreement of local authorities, and started to work. You can obtain a list of the decorated walls, which will enable you to go and discover this universe by yourself. There are more than 45 walls which are painted in the city of Lyon, each one having its own significance. The stand out fresco undoubtedly was La Murs des Canuts where you have these steps painted and passer-bys in the area get conned and try to climb the steps not realizing that it is just another of the many optical illusions in the city. Simply amazing !!!

Another interesting icon of Lyon are the Bouchons A bouchon is a typical restaurant which serves Lyonnaise cuisine. They are family run establishments serving locally bake dishes such as duck pate, mushrooms, pork or sausages. The menus are fixed prices and serve locally based dishes in an environment which has hardly changed. In a bouchon you get the feel that you are seated in a restaurant in the mid-18th Century or of an earlier era and you start your meal with an aperitif such as a kir which is a wine with blackcurrant liqueur, followed by the various courses of meals. There are nearly 20 certified bouchons in Lyon and a meal in one of the bouchon is a must to get the flavour of the local gastronomy in an ambience that truly represents the days of the silk weavers visiting the small inns during the 17th and 18th Centuries. And it is indeed quite interesting to know the range of cuisine from bouchons to Michelin Star restaurants such as Bocuse, the famous Paul Bocuse which serves award-winning cuisine. Lyon is truly a gastronomic delight.

Bouchons- Another interesting icon of Lyon

Any visit to Lyon is incomplete without visiting the soul of Lyon, the hill of Fourviere from where you get the most stunning view of the city be it day or night. The Fourviere Sanctuary was built on the site of the ancient Rome Forum of Lugdunum where the Virgin Mary was worshipped for over 1000 years. And the Lyonnais have always looked up on this amazing basilica to protect their city from war and disease.

The Fourvière Basillica

Every year the city is worth visiting on 8th December to see the festival of illumination or lights which is supposed to be simply spectacular. In 1852, a statue of “Golden Virgin” was installed here and the existing Basilica was built by the people of Lyon to thank this holy place for protecting the people during the war of 1870. Every year there are religious pilgrims who visit the Basilica seeking protection from Virgin Mary and there are special celebrations held on August 15th, September 8th and December 8th as thanksgiving and special services are held on these days.


“Golden Virgin”

The Fourviere Basilica is the work of the architect Pierre Bossan with a solid structure on the outside giving an appearance as if it is a Fortress on a hill and fine work of mosaics, stained glass and sculptures within the Basilica. The Basilica attracts millions of visitors every year and is one of the busiest sanctuaries and tourist attractions in entire France. I had the opportunity of doing the Visite Insolite de Fourviere tour, which is a Mystery tour which takes you to the roof of the Fourviere thru spiral staircase to get a panaromic view not only of the Basilica but the city of Lyon as well. This fascinating tour is a must for those who wish to get the inside story of what went into building the Basilica and on your way to the top you stop at various levels. One gets to visit the grand gallery, the architects’ studio, the angels’ gallery, the attic and the carillon of bells. The tour lasts for 75 minutes and one can take this unusual tour every day between June and September and on Wednesdays and Sundays in April, May and October.

The Hill of the Croix Rousse offers another dimension of Lyon as the Croix-Rousse is the home of the “canuts”- The origin of the word Canuts come from “cannes nues” which means bare sticks and symbolizes poverty. It is here that you would find the silk workers in the days gone by and hear the sound of the Jacquard weaving machines.Lyon can also be seen from the banks of its rivers and one can enjoy cruises from the banks of the Rhone as well as the Saone rivers. The Saone crosses the historic heart of the city to reveal the most unexpected neighbourhoods along its banks whereas the Rhone has over 5 kilometres of walkways where you can just take a leisurely stroll and you find en route lawns, cafes, deckchairs, pools, barges, concerts and restaurants and for fitness freaks you have a cycling track, a roller park and fitness circuits as well. A 90 minutes tour to see Lyon from the water is a must for any visitor to Lyon to enjoy the sights of Lyon on a shallow tourist boat which takes you across from the Rhone and drift along the Saone and admire the beauty of the city and see the magical and mythical confluence of the two rivers.

Another fascinating experience is the Lyon by Night tour as more than 300 sights are illuminated and the city changes completely at nightfall with the combination of public lightings. The view from the top of the Fourviere Hill of the entire city illuminated is simply spectacular.


Lyon by Night

Last but not the least, Lyon is famous for its fine gastronomy and is home to the undisputed master of French cuisine, Paul Bocuse who has been honoured as the “chef of the century” in the Michelin Guide. You find several gourmet shops here and a fine array of restaurants where young chefs display their talent of creative cuisine not just in appearance but in taste as well. A visit to Bernachon, the house of chocolates run by the third generation of the Bernachon family where they believe chocolate is not a sweet or a treat but a real dish is a must. You are guaranteed to put on a few calories during your stay in Lyon. Luckily enough, you have several walking tours that you can take here to see this wonderful city, be it the parks, the art district, the markets, the Old Town and its traboules and you can simply stroll away all the calories.


Danny Glover with Subhash at the ASTA IDE Farewell dinner

Look out for Beaujolais in our forthcoming travel diary……

Passage Thiaffait or Creators Village is a passageway that houses textile, fashion, leather goods and jewellery workshops as well as boutiques.
For late night dining, fashionable pubs and Lyon style bistros OR bouchons, a visit to Rue Merciere is a must.
The three squares Jacobins, Bellecour and Celestins near the Bellecour area is home to over 70 luxury labels, world-famous brands and fashionable boutiques.
The Lyon Auditorium located in the Part-Dieu district is one of the biggest concert halls in Europe and is the home of the Lyon National Orchestra.
You can experience a tasting session of sea food with a glass of wine at the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse or the covered markets on the weekends except Sunday afternoon.
The Maison de la Danse located in the Monplaisir district is the only theatre in Europe entirely devoted to dancing and also hosts the biennial Dance Festival.
The biggest secondhand flea market in the Rhone-Alpes area can be found in the Canal flea market in the Villeurbanne area of the city.
Lyon is home to several museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Fabrics and Museum of Decorative Arts, The Gadagne Museum as well as the Museum of Modern Art.



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