Lyon, a city which just seems to get better the more you get to know it. At first, it was one of those towns that didn’t really appeal to me very much when I arrived. Perhaps it was the backed-up traffic getting into town by car. And perhaps because I was looking for what is best to appreciate Lyon in the wrong places. In many towns you go to the old part of town to experience the place. But not in Lyon. The old part is nice and quaint, but you can find more to explore and enjoy in the 2nd Arrondissement called Bellecour.
Lyon is France’s second largest city, after Paris of course, and its geography is quite unique. It is where two rivers meet, the Saone and the Rhone. However the meeting takes place at the south end of Lyon, creating beforehand a narrow stretch of land with water on either side which is central Lyon. In this center section of land is Place Bellecour, the third largest plaza in France. Surrounded by beautiful buildings, it also hosts a huge parking lot below it, which has diminished traffic significantly in the area and allowed for many of the streets to be pedestrian only. This area is extremely bike and pedestrian friendly. Its a great shopping and dining region, especially rue de la Republique (“rue de la Re” to locals) with many name-brand stores and department stores. A wonderful street for restaurants is rue Merciere, and then also the area of rue Garet and Rue de L’Arbre.
What you become aware of in the central area of Lyon is that there is very little traffic and there doesn’t seem to be a parking problem (especially compared to Paris). This is because underneath Place Bellecour is a very large parking lot. This has allowed many of the streets here to be pedestrian only, especially is main street, rue de la Republique. They have reduced traffic through this area by having the A7 freeway to the south, with a tunnel through the hill of Fouviere, and then another tunnel underneath Croix-Rousse. It has worked very well and you’ll really enjoy walking the town, especially if you are in to shopping.
Old town Lyon has lots of restaurants, especially on rue St. Jean, which is also a fun street to walk. Place des Jacobins was under construction when we were there, but when its finished it should really be something. We spent our mornings and afternoons in this central region, but in the evenings, we visited old Lyon on the other side of the Saone river, which comes to life at night with its many restaurants, bars and cafes.
You’ll also want to visit the hilltop of Fouviere, its basilica and roman ruins. Romans settled here around 50 BC. and covered 300 hectares at one time. There is a large amphitheater you can visit close the basilica. The views from this hilltop are quite something; you can take in nearly all of Lyon; both rivers, Place Bellecour, Croix-Rousse to the north on a hilltop also looking over the central part of Lyon, and modern Lyon to the east. We couldn’t get a photo of the view, as we visited here in the morning (afternoons are best for photos), but Wikipedia has one on their Lyon page.
We stayed at the Hotel Bayard on Plaza Bellecour. We didn’t notice it was a two-star hotel and paid dearly for it. We walked into the Royal Hotel first, thinking that was our hotel and loved it (and will stay there next time), but they sent us a couple doors down. The hotel isn’t even on the ground floor, its starts on the first floor and there’s no elevator. And there’s no AC. No restaurant or bar. The first room we were given smelled horribly so they changed us to another, which was dark, poorly decorated and depressing. We finally got a room in another section which was better; good beds, sheets and pillows, and a nice bathroom, and I guess that is all good if you are expecting a two-star room. But we were expecting more, especially for the price we paid. I’ll pay the rate of the Royal next time.
Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France so you have no worries finding a good restaurant. We tried some smaller one’s and they were fine, but we could have done better. Our first night we went to L’Entrecote, on the main street at #10 rue de la Republique, which is like an institution in France, and certainly in our family. Its usually our first stop when back in France. The one in Lyon is exceptionally well decorated and the food was a good as it usually is. The concept is simple; a green salad and then steak and fries with their own secret recipe. Just wonderful. I’m not a big meat eater, but I never turn down a visit to L’Entrecote.
We also at twice at Cafe Milan. We loved the way they did their Chèvre Chaud salad, using crepes filled with goats cheese and a tomato confit, although the dishes around us of the other clients looked wonderful as well. Its on the upper part of rue de Merciere.