France: Mysterious and Beautiful by BCD Travel
Lyon - with its Gallo-Roman
ruins, its 300 Renaissance merchant houses and its gastronomic reputation
- is awash in a nearly Mediterranean light, under which its ochre, gold
and rose buildings fairly glow.
In 1998, Lyon became one
of only a few urban centres on the UNESCO World Heritage List. And France's
third-largest city (after Paris and Marseilles) is intent on keeping its
privileged position: over the last decade, Lyon has restored and replanted
some 100 public spaces. The warehouses along the River Saône, for
example, have been transformed into galleries for the Biennial of Contemporary
The Basilica of Fourvière
(Basilique de Notre Dame de Fourvière) dominates Lyon as Sacré
Coeur does Paris. It's a steep walk up the Fourvière Hill to the
dazzlingly white church, but there's also a funicular. The adjoining esplanade
gives a panoramic view of Lyon's different quarters. Nearby is the Museum
of Gallo-Roman Civilization (17, rue Cléberg; http://www.musees-gallo-romains.com)
for a quick archaeology lesson. One of the museum's most prized possessions
is the Claudius Tablet, which contains fragments of a speech made by Emperor
Claudius in front of the Roman Senate.
If you drop by the Romanesque-Gothic
St.-Jean cathedral, situated at the foot of the Fourvière Hill,
at noon, you can see the 14th-century astronomical clock do its cuckoo-like
re-enactment of the Annunciation.
In Vieux Lyon, the largest
Renaissance quarter in France. duck into the many traboules, covered passageways
originally used by Renaissance silk weavers, or canuts, anxious to avoid
exposing their delicate handiwork to rain showers, and which later became
escape routes for the French Resistance during World War II.
Lyon's Musée des Beaux-Arts
(20, place des Terreaux) is known affectionately as the "little Louvre".
The museum offers a complete retrospective of Ancient Greek and Egyptian
arts and civilisations, as well as sculptures and paintings from the Middle
Ages to the present day.
The massive red-sand-covered
Place Bellecour, to the east of the Rhone and Saone rivers, is an impressive
18th-century architectural ensemble in its own right, but the Lyonnais
know it best as the city's ultimate rendez-vous point; friends will arrange
to meet "under the horse's tail,"? a reference to the equestrian statue
of Louis XIV that dominates one end of the square.
The Lyon City Card (valid
for one, two or three days) allows free and unlimited use of city transport
(bus, metro, funicular and tramway lines), free access to the main museums,
temporary exhibitions and the Biennial of Contemporary Art. It also includes
guided tours, an unusual visit to the rooftops of the Fourvière
Basilica and river cruises (from April to October), as well as short noon
concerts at the Lyon National Opera or at the Auditorium de Lyon
|Fooling the Eye
In Lyon, the walls tell stories.
This is the kingdom of trompe l'oeil paintings, with more than 150 large-scale
murs peints (murals) scattered around the city. One of the most popular,
at the corner of quai St-Vincent and rue de la Martinière, memorializes
dozens of native Lyonnais who have left their mark both on the city and
on world culture, history and science. You may recognize Emperor Claude,
Laurent Mourguet, (creator of the beloved Guignol puppets), the Lumière
brothers (inventor of the movie camera), filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier,
Antoine de St-Exupéry (author of The Little Prince), and Michelin-starred
chef Paul Bocuse.
Bocuse or Bouchons?
Though Lyon is most often
associated with Paul Bocuse's temple of gastronomy L'Auberge du Pont du
Collonges (40, quai de la Plage, Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or, +33 (0)4 72 42
90 90), no visit to Lyon is complete without a meal (or two or three) at
one of the city's bouchons.
Bouchons are bistros of a
sort, but with even more limited menus. Their decor tends to be modest
to the point of austerity, and they specialize in the classic cuisine mère
(mother's cooking) of Lyon of days gone by. Here are two to try:
|A jolly, cluttered little
place where about twenty-five customers can sit elbow-to-elbow to devour
classic Lyonnais cold hors d'oeuvres on the order of museau de boeuf, a
salad of pressed calf's muzzle; cold chicken liver salad; or pink, unsmoked
cervelas sausages served with lentils dressed with a tart vinaigrette-followed
by gratinéed tripe or by andouillettes (sausages here made from
both tripe and veal intestines).
Proprietor Maurice Débrosse
used to be Paul Bocuse's maître d'hôtel and specializes in
classic dishes like lentils with a spoonful of cervelle de canut ("silk
weaver's brain"), an herbed cream cheese that was once a favorite dish
of the silk weavers who helped make Lyon rich.
Where to Shop
Chez Disagn' Cardelli
Lyon is the birthplace of
Guignol, the marionette that has been entertaining audiences for centuries.
You can find him and a wide selection of his descendants, including a jolly
French waiter here. There are puppet shows, too.
The shop's master chocolatiers
are renowned for their palets d'or - small disks of bittersweet chocolate
flecked with real gold leaf.
The area of Croix-Rousse
was the center of Lyon's silk industry; you can discover the last authentic
family silk weaving workshops (and their stunning wares) with Soierie Vivante
La Halle de la Part-Dieu
Butchers, bakers, sausage
makers and the occasional oyster bar line the aisles at the 1971 covered
market where the city's best chefs shop. Cheese lovers shouldn't miss a
pilgrimage to la Mère Richard's stall, where Renée Richard
displays her spectacularly unctuous St-Marcellin, three-inch disks of creamy
goat's- and cow's-milk cheese rumored to have been Louis XI's favorite.
The "Other" Lyon
Lyon's charm can have intriguing
repercussions: a Dubai businessman, captivated by the city on a vist last
October, has even decided to build a miniature version of Lyon back home
in Dubai. The project, temporarily called Lyon-Dubai City, will include
a university; small versions of Lyon's main museums; housing, hotel and
office space; cafes, restaurants, pedestrian malls, town squares, courtyards,
a film center, even a church, all inspired by Lyon.
About the Author: BCD Travel
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