Carolyne Kauser-AbbottExploreRoad Trips South of France

Provence Getaway: Why take a Road (Train or Boat) Trip to Lyon

One could say that Lyon is at the intersection of France.

Lyon is France’s third-largest city after Paris and Marseille. Located almost in the country’s centre, the drive from Marseille takes a little over 3 hours and 4.5 from Paris. However, the travel time is cut considerably on the train (TGV) from either metropolis. Lyon enjoys easy access to mountain sporting activities with the Alps to the East. And the trip to the heart of Burgundy’s wine country is only a couple of hours away.

Perhaps all of the above makes Lyon attractive and the perfect road trip (or train ride) destination from Provence. With the “best of France” flowing towards Lyon, the city has a justified reputation for its high-quality gastronomy, deep cultural history, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Why Visit Lyon?

Perfectly Provence was recently featured in a Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours blog post on Lyon. Here’s what we had to say,

“Even the most devoted Provencal foodies can be tempted to leave behind ratatouille and bouillabaisse for a trip up the Rhône River to France’s capital of gastronomy — Lyon. As France’s third largest city (after Paris and Marseille) Lyon has a lot to offer its visitors. From the traces of Roman inhabitants to modern street art, Lyon’s museums, parks, art and architecture offer a broad range of entertainment. However, many visit Lyon for its food first with the cultural alternatives as distractions between meals.” Read the full article here.

Eating in Lyon

Lyon sits at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers and enjoys the fruits of wine labour from Côtes du Rhône vineyards to the south and Burgundy a couple of hours north. The most traditional Lyonnais restaurants are called “bouchons.” Lyon’s version of a Paris bistro, these lively restaurants serve local fare. The meals are hearty, and they go along with the wine. Menus might include Rosette Lyonnaise (a cured pork sausage), potato gratin, sausage varieties such as a pistachio version, or coq au vin. On the sweeter side, among the local specialties are candied chestnuts (marrons glacés), pralines (pink sugar-coated almonds), and bugnes, a “light” version of a beignet. After a few food-filled days in Lyon, it may be time to return to the lighter tastes of Provence.

Quick Coq au Vin
The longest part of this recipe is cooking the chicken, which will be roughly 60 minutes on simmer. Enjoy some easy French cuisine for dinner tonight.
Check out this recipe
Quick Coq au Vin
Coq au Vin
This classic French poultry recipe by Chef Ryan McIntyre, Bistro Zinc, Lenox, MA was adapted for Cocoa & Lavender.
Check out this recipe
Coq au Vin Tastes Provence @CocoaandLavender

Festival of Lights

Lyon is also famous for its Festival of Lights, or Fête des Lumières, held every year on December 8th. On this date, the people of Lyon place candles or lamps in their windows in reverence to the Virgin Mary. The origins of today’s professional light show were, in fact, a celebration that began quite by accident. In 1852, a statue of the Virgin Mary was to be inaugurated on Fourviere Hill to pay homage to the Lord for banishing the Black Plague from the city. The official event was postponed due to violent weather, finally, once the storm passed the inhabitants of Lyon lit their homes with candles and took to the streets to celebrate.

Today, the Fête des Lumières is a light and musical spectacle that lasts four consecutive nights in December (always centred around the 8th). This festival attracts over four million viewers and lights up the city with more than 70 professional installations. You can find more details on the Festival of Lights here.

History, Architecture and Trade

Road Trip Lyon Basilica Views

Walk off some of Lyon’s gastronomic delights with a visit to the top of Fourviere Hill (there is also a funicular), where there is much to see. Traces of human settlements pre-date the Romans, but even in 43 BC, the importance of Lyon (then Lugdunum) had been realized with four trade routes joining at the top of this strategic hill. Look at the remains of Roman baths and a theatre still used for concerts in the summer months. No trip to this hilltop would be complete without a visit to the Fourvière Basilica. Additional details here.

Road Trip Lyon Roman Theatre

Thanks to the foresight of André Malraux’s (Minister of Culture) conservation plan in 1964, the old centre of Lyon (Vieux Lyon) was retained and restored. The old town remains a labyrinth of narrow streets, alleyways, and hidden corners. You should expect to find restaurants, hotels, and many retail stores all catering to tourists. However, duck into one of the connecting passageways known in Lyon as “traboules” and allow yourself to be transported to the Middle Ages when the town began to form.

Road Trip Lyon Vieux Lyon

The architecture has clear Renaissance and Italian influences, but those embellishments came later. Original dwellings were modest, possibly only a couple of stories in height, with space for animals on the bottom level. Eventually, the animals were displaced to meet the population’s growing housing requirements. This space permitted the construction of central courtyards, watch towers, and circular stairwells, which continue to give Lyon an Italian flavour.

Road Trip Lyon Vieux Lyon Road Trip Lyon Vieux Lyon

Lyon long held a place as France’s silk-weaving capital. King Louis XI determined the city to be the strategic choice for this industry. The city’s location on the Rhône made for ready trade access with Italy. The silk trade was critical to the city’s development. Although much of the large-scale silk manufacturing has moved from Lyon, there remains a strong artistic community. Visit Maison des Canuts and the Colline de la Croix-Rousse district to better understand this important part of Lyon’s industrial past.

The truth is a weekend road trip to Lyon is not quite long enough. Before we get back to Provence…

Lyon Perspectives our Contributors’ articles

Lyon a feast for the eyes
Impressions, Facts and Things to do in Lyon (other than eat)

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride at six months of age was her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

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