Even on a cloudy day, the lookout from Fourvière Basilica has a stunning view of Lyon.
Guest: Sarah Zwick - Be My Guest Immersions
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If you’re planning on going to Lyon during its Fête des Lumières in any December, or to visit Lyon at any time, this Loulabelle’s chat with be most helpful and of great interest for you!
Recently I have been travelling on a wonderful French roadtrip with our LFF fave Frenchy correspondent ma belle amie Sarah Zwick from Be My Guest Immersions.
Before we set off on our adventure, my first week in France was spent at Sarah’s home where I got to live her French life in the Pays Basque region near Bayonne in southwest France. This is not just something special for me because I know Sarah, but this is something anyone can book and do through the Be My Guest Immersions business. From Biarritz near Bayonne, we flew to Lyon. We were thrilled to be there at the same time of the Fête des Lumières. Being December, it was cold, but we were so lucky with the weather. Whilst the temperature dropped to below zero most nights the days were clear and dry and not terribly cold as we were rugged up and staying active. Tops of around 3 degrees.
Lyon is known for its light festival and is called the “Capital of Lights”. The Fête des Lumières first happened in 1852 and starts every year on 8 December for 4 days. Lyon also played a significant part in the history of cinema since Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematograph there. On our first night after we arrived, we went to a Lumière experience in the main jardins of the city after dark. These were huge gardens over many hectares and together with thousands of other people waiting with Vin Chaud vans and a carnival like atmosphere, we queued up to saunter through the light installations. It was so well organised that it never felt crowded in there, even though there were loads of people, and we got to enjoy each installation at our own pace.
My fave was one which looked like hundreds of little fireflies hovering above the ground under a grove of Plane Trees. I’m not quite sure how they did it, but it felt like a field of fairies. There was magic right there in that little forest! At any moment a little creature could pop out of a magic door in one of the trees, like something out of The Magic Faraway Tree! Truly magical.
There was another one in the jardins which was a sumptuous blanket of colourful wildflowers all lit up. It reminded me of the first moment when I was a little girl that I saw the colour come on the screen in the movie The Wizard of Oz. I half expected Munchkins to come marching out! It was just so very beautiful. Plants and flowers that were definitely not like any real flower I’d seen before but more like something from a Dr Suess book but with a sense of delicateness, which seemed to pervade the whole crowd as everyone was very hushed. There were some lovely bird chirping background recorded noises and some very quiet calming music with the whole combination being almost a little moving. Quite lovely.
We then made our way to dinner. The public transport in Lyon is well organised with a number of different types to take. It’s easy once you know how but can be a little difficult at first. Perhaps just do some quick research before leaving home about the areas that you’ll be going to for various things and which type of transport to get from one to the other.
If going to Lyon for the Fête des Lumières there is a website to connect with and I suggest looking at what you want to see and plan with lots of extra time up your sleeve as we encountered huge problems with lots of areas of the city closed off with pedestrian traffic only apart from the public transport. Even when walking there were many blockades and only one way directions allowed. This made it very difficult to getting to the Bouchon we had booked for dinner. Luckily we had heaps of extra time as it took a full hour longer than expected. Funnily enough it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we got to see one of the most amazing events of the festival on our way to dinner, which was a light show in the big square featuring AC/DC. Not what I was expecting in the middle of France! I was in shock when I heard the lyrics of “Highway to Hell” ring out across a square in Lyon with historic singers wearing Louis the fourteenth garb projected up onto the buildings singing the song. It was a real nod to the way France so brilliantly combines the cutting edge of modern culture with the beautiful precious history. It’s a fine line that I always think is handled wonderfully in France, combining the old and the new.
It’s important to note if you want to go to a Bouchon for dinner in Lyon, call ahead and book! Even try booking online before your trip! Especially close to Christmas. We called five that were booked out before we found one to squeeze us in!
In France, a Bouchon is the name for a cork, also a traffic jam and interestingly it’s a kind of restaurant only found in Old “Vieux” Lyon. They’re tight, little, traditional looking restaurants serving wonderfully hearty traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. The tradition of Bouchons came from small inns visited by the silk traders in the 16th & 17th centuries, so imagine gorgeous rooms with wooden beams and a warm atmosphere. There are only twenty officially certified traditional Bouchons in Lyon. We peeled off the coats, scarves, gloves and all the layers needed for outside in France during December and settled in for the house special which was 5 courses with some amazing Lyonnaise dishes I’d never had like Les Oeufs en Meurette, which was a very small (could even have been a quail or bantam egg) poached and served in the middle of a small bowl of a stew of slow cooked beef shoulder. The flavour was off the charts! And that was just the starter! I also had for my main course a Quenelle de Brochet Sauce Langoustines which was a sort of roll of soufflé floating in a pool of seafood sauce which takes hours for the flavours to come through from the stock made with langoustines, which are a type of prawn and it’s all baked together with a really light subtle cheesy coating. One word… Ah-maze-ing! I just rolled out of there after all the courses!
No visit to Lyon is complete without a visit to Les Halles de Paul Bocuse, originally built in 1859 as Lyon’s first covered market and in 2006 it was renamed to honour Paul Bocuse who was a master multi award winning and multi-Michelin star chef from Lyon. Lyon is also known as the gastronomic capital of France so it’s not surprising that this market honors the most beautiful local products as well as things from across France. Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse is made up of 56 traders, fromageries, boulangeries, chocolate makers, patisseries, delicatessens or charcuteries, even market gardeners selling their produce, and also butchers, fishmongers and lots of wine merchants. There are small restaurants right through the market too so be prepared to spend quite a bit of time there, including lunch or dinner too!
Now there are loads of other things to see and do in Lyon but a couple that can’t be done anywhere else in France are a visit to the Traboules, the Fourvière Basilica and the Roman amphitheatre. These 3 sights are very close to each other in Vieux Lyon so you could wrap them into one day of a visit there. As the walk up to the Fourvière Basilica/Cathedral is so steep, we caught the funicular which goes through the mountain and up to the station at the top. After a visit into the basilica, take a walk to the wonderful look out with a view of the whole of Lyon. It’s just stunning. It’s important to note that the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon is on Place Saint-Jean down in central Lyon. The Fourvière Basilica is high above the city but locally is also referred to as a cathedral. The name ‘Fourvière’ is said to be derived from the Latin words ‘Forum Vetus’ (old forum), as Fourvière Hill was chosen by the Romans to found the town of Lyon in 43 BC.
We decided to walk down instead of the funicular and went past the Roman amphitheatre which was constructed in the year 19AD. It is where all the gallic tribes, around 60 in total, came over the centuries to meet before they eventually combined to form France.
I find the historical part of every visit to France absolutely compelling. Every time I’m wandering the streets I sense the history all around me and wonder what life was like for people in the centuries gone by, and to see construction that is 2003 years old, is amazing to me.
Even walking down from the Cathédrale, down what seemed like a million steps was a new experience with a squillion people walking calmly with us and loads of fascinating street graffiti along the way. Walking in that actual place I could picture this part of Lyon which was the headquarters for the French Resistance during the second world war. The nooks and crannies everywhere, the tunnels and hidden courtyards, even a small church or abbey courtyard, the visible Jewish influence we could see along the way… it was a spine tinglingly beautiful immersion into history.
On our way down from the Cathédrale we wandered through a Traboule. The Traboule is a covered walkway for pedestrians only, to get from one street to another passing under the homes all above in the buildings, through courtyards and stairs. They were originally used for the silk traders in Lyon to get their things down to the boats on the river as Lyon was a huge river trading port. And also used by the resistance in WW2. There are nearly 215 courtyards and Traboules that have been identified in Vieux-Lyon, but the public can only go to about 80 or so and as we found there are only a few open consistently to just wander through. We had tried getting into a number of Traboules which we found on the City of Lyon Traboule app, but without success. The majority of the public ones actually need to accessed with a guided tour, which I highly recommend doing.
We continued our exploring of the region around Lyon with a hire car and went to stay in a village not far from Lyon, a little place called Bully! The Christmas decorations were so beautiful in both Bully and also the plus beaux villages of Oingt and Pérouges. They’re on the Route des Vins, the wine route around Lyon. If you’re considering a stay in Lyon, it is my recommendation to try and pop a couple of days out of Lyon in the surrounding countryside onto your itinerary. You will not be disappointed!
We had so many traditional dishes in Lyon. I can’t imagine some of them would be easy to recreate, but worth a try!
Au P’Tit Bonheur – J’Veux Du Soleil