For decades I associated Lyon in France with overnight traffic jams in July, when half of Europe tries to go south via the Autoroute du Soleil. As gas is always cheaper in Luxembourg than in the countries it is surrounded by, people travel through the tiny Duchy to top up the gas tank and than follow the route south. The autoroute A6 leads right through Lyon’s downtown area, across the island and then turns south into the A7, a pretty terrible connection.
Cars at the ready
The Dutch even have their own Dutch ANWB support office in Lyon; ANWB being the Dutch CAA, with extra cars on hand for tourists who get stuck when a car breaks down.
That doesn’t sound like a place to go on holidays, I hear you think and indeed that is why we never went there. For some reason though, it appeared on our radarscreen again two years ago. Perhaps our desire to see smaller places and be away from the tourist masses? It is more intimate than say Paris or Barcelona, and has a lot going for it. Don’t get me wrong though, metropolitan Lyon is a large place, in fact it is the second largest urban area in France and the third largest city.
Hi speed train
We flew into the Netherlands (family) and from there travelled by high speed train to a train station near EuroDisney and switched trains for a second leg to Lyon-Parache in 2 hrs, covering about 1000 km in 6.5 hours including a one hour layover. That was already some excitement on its own.
Lyon has a much richer history than I realised, going back to Roman times when the Romans established a colony along the Rhône. It has also built on its reputation as a cycling city and it is known for its food culture. Enough reasons to check it out for a week.
Old city of Lyon
We often go on holidays in April, leaving the remnants of the Ottawa winters for what they are to enjoy some sun in a warmer climate. Enough of that cold weather. We always try to find a place to stay that has at least a serious balcony or a garden rather than sitting in a downtown place with one window.
Most of the time was spent inside the old city in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th arrondissement. The island between the Rhône and Saône is the old centre with its tiny streets and squares. We had rented a lovely studio apartment on the right bank of the Saône, in a small valley overlooking the city. It was a bit of an uphill hike every day to get to the place, but the views from our little patio were worth it.
The secret alleyways of Lyon
Just being in Lyon in spring is a joy. We decided to book a tour with an AirBNB Experience to see the ‘secret’ alleyways in Croix Rousse, a bustling area at the north end of the old city, used by the silk weavers in days past. Many of them are now closed off to the public, but our guide grew up here and not only knows were they are but also knows how to get in. It is an intricate network of passageways and court yards. At the end of the tour, our host took us home for wine, sausage and cheese and we got the unique opportunity to see his home.
Renting bikes in Lyon
We rented bikes for a day to cycle out of town towards a large green recreational area just outside the centre called Grand Parc Miribel Jonage. Following a route along the Rhône northbound, we visited Les Puces du Canal (flea market) with some great finds. It is hard to pass some of the treasures, but alas we can’t take much home in our backpacks.
Coincidentally we ended up in some bicycle advocacy event, with residents cycling from different areas in town towards the main square on the island. The route we followed is part of a long distance cycling route from Switzerland through Southern France to the Mediterranean. I did quite a bit of research on getting out of town on a bike and many routes are not recommended if you filter out the race bike types. This appeared the best choice if you want to leave the city by bike.
Lyon Bikeshare system
We also tried out the bike share system for an afternoon which worked really well. There are so many stations that we never had to search for a bike rack to return the bikes and take others to continue. The bike network is quite well developed and although there are challenges, I can see the city is putting effort in making it much cycling friendlier. You can’t miss the omnipresent e-scooters, which, when we were there in May 2020, were in a complete legal vacuum from what I learned.
There were 7 different brands, lying all over the place, blown over or just dropped whenever someone decided (s)he had enough. Two people on an e-scooter wasn’t uncommon and and I saw several people riding with one hand while checking text messages. The smooth multi use pathways along the Rhone are perfect for the e-scooters. Lyon has recently started to introduce rules to stop “Le Far west” situations.
I am not going to write a guide book as there is enough to find on Lyon, so here are a bunch of photos to brighten up your day during those challenging times. Here are a few things to do in Lyon:
- Rent a bicycle and go to the Les Puces du Canal (flea market) and the reservoir
- Walk up from the river to the Basilica and enjoy the fantastic views over the old town
- Rent a bike share bike and putter around town
- Visit the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière in St Just
- Check out the bakeries
- Take a guided alley tour because the guides have access to alleys you won’t find
- Visit the hidden garden of the Gadagne museum
- Careful with the bouchons. Many are touristy