Lyon – Amazing Architecture, Exquisite Gastronomy
It is actually quite impossible for a city like Lyon not to become hugely famous. Established by the Romans at the confluence of two rivers, it was once part of the historic Silk Road, and now it is the second largest city in France, as well as its gastronomical capital. And let us not forget the vineyards that produce the renowned Beaujolais red wine. People say that Lyon is actually crossed by three rivers: the Rhône, the Saône and the Beaujolais wine.
The rich history of the city has shaped its character in a remarkable way. When the Romans settled here, they called it Lugdunum, and shortly afterwards it became the second largest city in the empire – quite a remarkable accomplishment. It was also named capital of Gaul – a vast region which during the Roman era encompassed much more than just France. Approximately two centuries later, the city had about 100,000 inhabitants.
For over a millennium, Lyon saw a period of decline, losing its former fame and importance. The late Middle Ages, however, brought a new era of growth with the establishment of the Silk Road network of trade routes. Lyon was part of one of these routes and soon enough it became a significant textile center, specialized in the production and processing of silk. As part of the new industry, the city grew economically, and as a consequence an entire Renaissance-style neighborhood was built.
Big changes took place with the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. The textile industry was replaced by the chemical industry, and even though the city’s importance faded for a while, it made a strong recovery in the 1980s. More and more tourists started to come here, and as a consequence, numerous new restaurants were opened. This paved the way for a new era of glory for Lyon: its name slowly became almost synonymous with gourmet food.
This is why the best day to visit the metropolis in our times is on a Sunday morning, and your destination needs to be the famous St. Antoine food market (Marché Saint Antoine). Here people are busy tasting, touching and smelling the various ingredients that adorn the stands. You will have to choose between countless mushrooms, truffles, pikes, scallops, nuts, chicken, squabs, fruits, vegetables, pastries, and more. Thousands of other customers will be moving around you, all searching for the perfect ingredients.
But a visit to Lyon cannot stop at one Saturday in the food market. There are just too many wonderful things to see in this grand city, a fact which UNESCO has attested by declaring 500 acres of the metropolis World Heritage Sites. Lyon awaits you with its ‘traboules’ (passageways), hundreds of small streets, and secret city paths that lead to beautiful gardens. The really nice thing about this maze is that there are lovely small restaurants (le bouchons) across it, waiting tourists with delicious foods and tasty drinks.
The sights that you cannot afford to miss include the Opéra National de Lyon, the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville de Lyon), St. John the Baptist’s Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon), the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière (La basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourvière), and the imposing Hôtel-Dieu de Lyon. There are also numerous and very diverse museums in the city, their number rivaling that of Paris. And finally, make sure you also take some time to see the Place des Terreaux and the Place Bellecour squares. Just don’t be surprised if by the time you will have to leave the city, you will already want to return.
- If you like festivals, you are invited to participate at The Nuits de Fourvière open-air festival held in the antique Roman Theater (June-September), or at the Festival of Lights (October 8).
- Best time to come here is autumn, but spring and summer aren’t bad either.
- Souvenirs that you should buy include antiques, lovely fabrics (especially silk), and Bernachon chocolate.
- In France’s gastronomic capital, there are countless dishes that you must try. A few suggestions: Cervelle de Canut (a type of cheese), pike dishes, wild boar with truffles, and hare in mustard sauce.
- If you want to get a really memorable panoramic view of the city, you should climb Fourvière Hill.
- Not yet sure where to book a room? The choices may be overwhelming. You could try La Tour Rose, or Hotel Mercure Lyon La Part Dieu.