By Katie Lodge
Saturday on the Saône side
Starting point: Place Bellecour, 69002, 9am. Finish line: 16 quai Claude Bernard, 69007, 11pm.
Place Bellecour- Vieux Lyon, Montée du Gourgillon, St Jean Cathedral – Musée des Miniatures – Lunch in a bouchon (Daniel et Denise or Abel), or quai St Antoine market – Funicular railway or ‘ficelle’ up to Fourvière – Walk down to Saint Paul, go to Terreaux and the Museum of Fine Arts – Apéro at Cave des Voyageurs- Riverboat cruise and supper on-board the Hermès.
Sunday on the Rhône side
(take some sexy swimwear, you’ll see later)
Starting point: Gros Caillou, 180 boulevard de la Croix Rousse, 9.30/10am. Finish line: Nardonne, St Paul, 69005, 7pm.
Market-produce “brunch” at the Croix Caillou – “Traboules” of the Croix Rousse – Tête d’Or park – Walk along the banks of the Rhône- Late lunch on Rhône barge – Swim/Musée des Confluences- Shopping Confluence, wander around docks – Vaporetto up the Saône – Ice-cream at Nardonne, St Paul.
Saturday along the Saône River in Lyon
So you’re at the dusty red square of Bellecour. You’ve wandered around, had a peek at the Sun King on his horse without stirrups, even tripped for a café crème at the very posh Café Bellecour.
So now, for the shoppers who crave a bit of mainstream, head to Rue de la République (Rue de la Ré for locals), or for the chic amongst you, try the boutiques around Célestins and Jacobins – they’re dripping with creativity.
Where to leave your luggage in Vieux Lyon?
If you’re swamped with bags, you can drop them off at 25 bis quai Romain Roland (left luggage service, All In Lyon), on the other side of the river. If you don’t care for the commercial, just wander. Over the Saône to the Old District, Vieux Lyon.
What a sight it is, with the chalk-white Fourvière Basilica looming from above over the higgledy-piggeldy pastel coloured buildings of Saint Jean.
If you’re ready for a hike, wander up the oldest street in Lyon, Montée du Gourguillon, a curvy cobbled wonder where Pope Clément got hit on the head by a falling rock and never got up.
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Visit the Saint Jean Cathedral
Having waved to the famous Lyon puppet Guignol, take a right at the top and walk back down Montée du Chemin Neuf to Saint Jean. If you want to take it easy though, simply stay at the bottom and step inside Saint Jean Cathedral, observe the astronomical clock, the stained glass, the mash-up of Roman and Gothic, and then cover the cobbles outside where life just bustles.
Come winter, wafts of hot chestnuts, crêpes and vin chaud fill the streets of Saint Jean; come summer, homemade ice-cream of wildly-concocted flavours are devoured on plastic spoons. People chat in different languages. They take their time.
Next stop, Musée des Miniatures, just before lunch. Feast your pupils on all the plastic wonders of cinema – masks, costumes, creepy creatures, special effects plucked out of film sets the world over.
Press on to the other part of the museum where you can find famous shops, streets and homes shrunk and set into little boxes. It’s like stepping into an aquarium, where fish turn into Formica chairs.
Lunch in a bouchon
You’ve wandered enough now. Time for the tummy. Three options. As you’re in Lyon, you’ve got to go to a bouchon, where locals eat everything ‘pig’. The whole of Vieux Lyon is peppered with them but we’ve plucked out one of the best – Daniel et Denise (36 rue Tramassac, 69005).
It’s fresh, edgy, affordable but plush. If you’re feeling like walking that little bit more, you can go over St Georges bridge to Abel, the oldest bouchon in Lyon and a must-see eatery (25 Rue Guynemer, 69002).
The third option is the gorgeously colourful market on quai St Antoine, across the river. Grab some fresh tomatoes, cheeses and saucisson, sit down in a rustic buvette and order a bottle of Viognier.
It might be tricky to walk again. You’ve had a quenelle or an andouillette, washed down with half a litre of beaujolais, who could blame you? So let the funicular railway back at Saint Jean be your feet, because you’re sure as hell not going to make it up to Fourvière on your own.
Enjoy the view from Fourvière
Seriously, the view is worth it, and it’s a prime place for digestion and any religious detours. If you fancy a quick trip down to the Roman amphitheatre behind Fourvière, do it now, then come back up.
Once you’ve been wowed, walk down through the rose garden, through the back streets of Saint Jean, onto St Paul. (In fact, the Old Lyon districts are easy to remember – there’s Paul, John and George – only Ringo is unforgivingly forgotten).
From Saint Paul, walk over the Saône to Place des Terreaux, tripping into a few record shops on the way. Then wander into the beautiful gardens of Lyon’s Fine Arts Museum (Musée des Beaux Arts), the ‘little Louvre’ of Lyon.
Renoir and Rembrandt rub shoulders with sculptor Rodin, and many other artists whose names don’t end in R. It’s atmospheric, quaint, and rather beautiful indeed.
By the time you come out of the museum, your weariness could vary. You may be in need of a trip back to the hotel for power nap and shower, or you may be feeling fantastic thank-you-very-much.
A glass of local wine for an apéro
Whatever your mood, do try and make it to the Cave des Voyageurs for an apéro (7 place Saint Paul, 69005). It’s a father-son affair, both of whom are sure to decipher all the molecules inside your wine glass with humour and grit. They can provide you with stunning planchas of cheeses and cold meats if you’re feeling peckish. Ahem.
Hop on a Velo’v city bike now, there’s one right next to Saint Paul station. You’re going on an adventure, so pedal your way to 16 Quai Claude Bernard, 69007, where the Hermes cruise boat awaits you on the Rhône (closed 30th Jan to 1st March), ready to leave at 8.30pm. Find the nearest Velo’v station and walk on down to the banks.
You’re about to see the whole city at night. Aboard your ship, you’ll wind down the Rhône, create waves at the confluence of Lyon’s two rivers, trip up the Saône to l’Ile Barbe, all this sipping on a crisp glass of white, as you watch the whole city sparkle.
A Sunday along the Rhone river
Sunday is synonymous with the sweet madness of markets. And the Croix Rousse market is Lyon’s best, according to locals. Arms bearing fruit, buttery-warm pain au chocolat, and other local delights, take yourself to the Café du Gros Caillou, order a grand crème and tuck into the aforementioned bounty.
Failing that, just sit on the grass and enjoy the gentle hum of Sunday Lyon waking up whilst crunching into a strawberry. When you’re done, touch the big rock (gros caillou) – it brings you luck.
“Trabouling” in the Croix-Rousse
Time to make a move now. You’re about to uncover Lyon’s hidden past in the form of interconnecting passageways called Traboules. The silk workers of the Croix Rousse used them, but others did too, including the Résistance during the war.
They’re incredible. So having devoured your patisseries, meet your guide and others at the exit to the Croix Rousse Metro station just before 11am.
The tours are mostly in French, but you might be lucky and get an English speaker. It takes 2 hours, during which visits of the famous Lyon murals will be thrown in too (). If you don’t want a guided tour, you could get hold of a map and do a Sherlock.
Take a bike to go to the huge Park de la Tête d’Or
For a whopping great dose of oxygen, away from the urban sprawl, take a Velo’v bike downhill to the Park de la Tête d’Or, or walk, or take a bus.
The park is literally huge. It has a stunning rose garden, giraffes, monkeys and other creatures, a gorgeous greenhouse with rare exotic plants, a lake with pédalos, and lots and lots of fresh green grass.
Lungs renewed, walk out of the park to join the newly refurbished banks of the Rhône river, along which you’re going to walk to find a barge for a late lunch. Burger, pizza, salade Lyonnaise, you name it, they’ll have it.
Stop by the Musée des Confluences
A leisurely stroll is up next, down the fast-flowing Rhône river – well, that’s if you’re not brave enough to dive into the spaceship-like Tony Bertrand outdoor swimming pool on the way down, open even in winter – and our destination is the Musée des Confluences, Lyon’s Natural History Museum.
The building itself is original, strange, monumentally groovy, ugly or beautiful, depending on the individual, but it never leaves the passer-by indifferent.
This popular and relatively new museum houses an eclectic collection of 2.2 million artefacts covering the earth, life, social sciences, and technology in a luminous and spacious environment. You can move around at your own pace here, take in what you want and leave a little more inspired.
A Vaporetto to go back to Saint Paul
You can have a look at the brand new Confluences shopping centre, put together to resemble a ship with white sails. It’s just up from the museum, in the boldly-revamped docks with the weirdest and most wonderful mix of architecture, featuring music venues, restaurants, businesses and flats.
The docks are well worth a peek, even for a few minutes. Then a little Vaporetto boat will zoom you up the Saône from Confluence to St Paul in the centre of town. You probably know it well by now. Time for an ice-cream at the famous Nardonne, making frozen magic since 1890.
An ideal end to a dreamy few days – the taste of caramel au beurre salé in your mouth as you watch pinky-orange Lyon turn to dusk.
What comes next is up to you. As of now, Lyon is your oyster.