Lyon, France (June, 2014) – I just returned from a quickie trip to France, where I spent a relaxing week visiting a good friend in Lyon, enjoying the sights of this underrated city, and had a road trip to the French riviera with the girls. I came back thrilled and rejuvenated by a few days on the Mediterranean, and thrilled with my new discovery- Lyon.
Before I start raving about this gem of a city, I should disclose that it’s one of those towns I never thought I’d visit. Having scratched off Paris from my list of places to see before I die numerous times, I basically concluded that France’s only worth while claim to fame was its wine, its cheese, and a few fashion labels. I take back what I said, because I really like Lyon, and I like it so much to want to return.
Upon my first stroll across the rivers that flank the city, the Rhone and Saone, I marveled at how unlike Paris this city is. It is refreshingly unpretentious, relaxed, clean and most of all, liveable. The people are genuinely nice and helpful to a wandering tourist, and judging by my friend’s lifestyle, it’s a city with a rich, yet casual social life.
There are many charms to Lyon, the most noticeable one, the thousands of stairs that dive from the city’s higher residential areas, through narrow alleyways into the city’s center. They are an unavoidable part of life here, but if you like to walk, and insist on seeing every city on foot like I do, you will get a good workout here. The stairs are also a great way to get a panoramic view of the city, as there are numerous terraces where one can take a much needed break from the stairs.
The second most charming feature are the city’s “traboules”- narrow passageways that connect much of the residential buildings of the “old” city. They were originally used by the silk manufacturers and merchants to transport their wares. Today, they are a hidden gem, accessible through the lobbies and gates of residential buildings. Though they were on my “to do” list, I never would have found them without the help of my friend, a long-time resident of Lyon.
And finally, my favorite part of Lyon? The art museum-of course. Located in the heart of the city, this 17th century building was actually one of the oldest monasteries of Gaul. Today, it houses one of the most impressive art collections of Europe, and you’d never know if you trust the guide books. Actually, I was so impressed with the museum, that I lost track of time and managed to see less than half of the galleries, when the museum closed and I got kicked out by the guards. However, in my limited time there, I came across a huge collection of Reubens – each painting so massive that it dwarfed the gallery. My note to self, is to reserve at least four hours to see the museum properly.
Overall, I was very impressed by Paris’ quieter step-sister. Lyon features lush greenery, steep hills, Roman ruins, a Notre Dame of its own, large, walkable piazzas, but is not as touristy nor flashy as the city of lights. The people are more down to earth, and somehow more relaxed and pleasant to be with. I truly enjoyed my visit there, and hope to make that my regular stop when visiting Europe.