A weekend in Lyon, France

You might recall from my post this summer that we cancelled our original plan to visit Lyon in August at the end of our month long vacation in favor of returning to Switzerland for a bit of a staycation (see post). Our hotel in Lyon was generous enough to give us a credit for the change in schedule and let us book for this weekend instead. We coordinated with our friend Lauren (living and working in London) and we all met up in Lyon the first weekend of November!

Lyon is the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseille and one of great historic significance as it was established as the capital city of Gaul by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 1BC. Its location is at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, which enabled the city to develop major trading activities. To this day it is famous for its silk production, shopping and as a gastronomic epicenter for all its Michelin star restaurants. We looked forward to experiencing the city at a relaxed pace, eating delicious food, learning about the local history and catching up with Lauren.

Accommodation: Our hotel Mercure Lyon Beaux-Arts was in the Presqu’ile of Lyon, a neighborhood on a peninsula sandwiched between the two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône. It’s not in the well known old town, Vieux Lyon, and I originally thought we were going to be out of the way in exchange for a lower priced hotel, but it proved to be really convenient for getting to the various parts of the city during our stay.

Transportation: There’s a train directly from Geneva every few hours. In total, it’s just under a 3 hour trip from Lausanne, which made it attainable for a weekend trip without needing to take off work.

Eats: We all love French food and couldn’t get enough 🙂

Friday night we arrived and headed out to Brasserie Georges, which had been recommended by a friend of Lauren’s. The oldest Brasserie in Lyon, their dining room is a huge ballroom with high ceilings. We each got the most delicious onion soup for a starter followed by a local pork and pistachio sausage, beef tartare and scallops. It was so good!

The onion soup. I mean. Look at that cheese!

Saturday lunch at Le Bistrot de Saint-Jean in Vieux Lyon. This quaint little spot was perfect to provide the Salade Lyonnaise that I was looking forward to.  This is a salad typical for the city, which includes frisée, croutons, hot thick cut bacon, a poached egg on top and a light mustard vinaigrette.

Saturday … snack break 😉 time for mid-afternoon dessert and drinks at Le Grand Café des Négociants. We got dessert and drinks at this adorable little spot and took a break from the cold, rainy weather outside.


Saturday dinner at Le Bistrot d’Abel, another recommendation from a friend. The restaurant was homey and no frills, but excellent service and the food was sooo good.

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Top left is Andrew’s main course, a local specialty called a quenelle. It is a fish cake (typically white fish, breadcrumbs and egg) poached in a cream sauce. I struggled to get over the texture, but the flavor was very good. Top right is a butternut squash soup, bottom left is my burger and bottom right is our dessert!

Sunday lunch we were running a little late in the day, and it turns out that Lyon doesn’t have much open on Sundays and most restaurants close mid-day. We were looking for a place to eat at 3 pm and were not able to be picky. We managed to find a great spot to get our last French food kick at Les Enfants Terribles which is on the restaurant lined cobblestone street of Rue Mercière.

Activities:

On Saturday morning we had a late morning start when we left the hotel to begin our walk across the river to the Vieux Lyon, which is the old town. We started by perusing the Saturday morning market along the river, drooling over the various fresh cheeses, meats and produce.

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A cheese stand at the Saturday morning market with an incredible amount of cheeses for purchase (and tasting!)

We did a Rick Steves guidebook walking tour within the Vieux Lyon, the old town of the city. We started at the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which had a really cool astronomical clock inside.

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Astronomical clock inside the church. It currently goes until 2019! Hopefully they change the dates to go beyond that 😉

After viewing the church we began to wander the streets of the old town. One of the coolest things was to walk through the various traboules that you can find throughout this area. The traboules are passageways between buildings and streets. They were built with the purpose of providing locals access to water sources and a way to transport silk from the silk factories without getting it damaged in the weather. They also enabled the people of Lyon to navigate the city without the knowledge of the Germans during occupation in WWII. The traboules feature courtyards with open windows for spiral staircases and hallways above. It really felt like stepping into history when we entered these areas that are open to the public during the day but are still the residences of locals.

Walking through the traboules of Lyon

As the rain really started to come down, we escaped by running into the L’Atelier de Soierie, a silk workshop with an open workspace where you can watch them at work. We lucked into catching one of the owners as he was prepared to walk us through the process of where they get the silk and printing with the silk screening process. This company produces for the Louvre, NY’s MoMA and the Smithsonian to name a few fun clients!

On Sunday we started the day by taking the furnicular up the hill to see the beautiful La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.

This church sits atop a hill overlooking Lyon. Inside it is absolutely gorgeous with mosaics all over depicting stories of Mary and also of the local history. It was very pink and green – unique in comparison to the coloring I’ve seen in other cathedrals.

Atop the same hill as the Basilica is also the Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon, which sits next to the ruins of two ancient Roman theaters. We first went through the museum to learn about the history of the region during the Roman times and then walked through the theaters. It’s always amazing to get to witness what is left of these ancient cultures right in front of us in a modern day city in France!

Walking down the hill through the neighborhoods of Lyon

The weather in Lyon was not the best during our visit. It rained nearly all day on Saturday and was cold and cloudy on Sunday. That didn’t stop us, but it certainly made us super excited when the sun peaked out a little on Sunday to give the city some more photo credit in better lighting.

A view across the river, with the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste in the foreground and the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière above on the hill.

We had such a fun time getting to see see Lyon and also spend time with Lauren. Every time we head into France it’s a great one. Can’t wait for our next adventures abroad!

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