A first impression of Lyon, France
Some cities take you completely by surprise and this is exactly what happened visiting Lyon, France. I knew that Lyon is known as a gastronomic destination in France, so I wanted experience some of the best French cuisine while explore some of the medieval charm and Unesco sites around the city. Outside of that, I didn’t know much about the Lyon except from recommendations from friends to visit this magnificent city, and I was pleasantly surprised and could have stayed a few more days to explore the many arrondissemonts (districts) of the city.
It’s wonderful that the historic central district in Lyon is relatively easy to walk around or take public transportation through the main attractions around the historic center. Typically, I enjoy walking everywhere so I can see everything along the way and take my time photographing some interesting detail or an unusual scene that catches my eye. And there is plenty to see walking around Lyon on a lovely summer day.
Take a look at my first impressions of Lyon
In the center of Lyon is Place Bellecour, a magnificent square surrounded with stately buildings and looming above on a hill, is a very unusual building called the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In the middle of the square is an bronze equestrian statue of king Louis XIV. Along with some other bronze statues in this grand square, the area around the historic central district and medieval district is all part of a Unesco World Heritage Site. I visited the main tourist center in the square to get a map and understand the layout and some of the main attractions worth visiting. I’m in luck this weekend because the place to be is along the Saone river, exploring the old town and enjoying a nice meal. I also find out there are a variety of activities along the riverfront areas to explore including the large outdoor weekend market and an art show.
Two rivers run through the central district of Lyon, the Saone divides the medieval section to the historic center. And the Rhone river separates the central district to the newer arrondissements (districts) of the city. On weekends along the Saone river, a lively outdoor farmers market takes place with fresh produce and locally made products from region. There are pop up restaurants selling local delicacies like fresh seafood, sausages and even Paella which for some reason did not seem local to me. It’s fantastic to see what is in season and sample some local fruit or hand made specialty from the area like the cheeses and cured meats which seemed to draw in everyone to sample and purchase something to take home.
Oysters and seafood along the Saone river, mais qui!
On the other side of the Saone river is another weekend market with local artists selling their artwork along the waterfront. It’s lively and a very colorful scene with different types of art work on display for everyone to appreciate the creativity of local artists from the area. Also on this side of the river is the medieval quarter of the district called Vieux Lyon (old Lyon) with the main landmark, which is the cathedral of St. Jean, located in the Saint-Jean quarter. Along the main promenade called the Rue Saint-Jean, many of the buildings are built in a Romanesque style, lining the main street all the way to the medieval center. The cobbled streets are filled with pastry and coffee shops, souvenir stands and galleries including a large selection of restaurants specializing in regional Lyonnaise cuisine.
Window shopping along the Rue de Gadagne
Fresh crepes made to order with savory or sweet choices
Looming above the Saint-Jean quarter is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière with its imposing façade and two twin towers. Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who saved the city of Lyon from the bubonic plague that decimated Europe in the 1643, along with many other serious plagues happening afterward. I learn that the basilica derived its name Fourviere from the ancient Roman forum, or forum vetus, where the current church it is built directly on top of the forum. There are a few other roman ruins just outside of the basilica, including the outdoor Roman theater with stone seats running down the side of the hill above Vieux Lyon.
To get to the top where the basilica is located, I take this pleasant ride on a relatively new funicular (cable car). It’s a quick ride to the top and close by is the entrance to the basilica. If you go to the back end, there is a look out point with fantastic views of the entire city. The basilica is quite impressive considering that it was built entirely from private funds. Surprisingly, there is a another large church located below in the basement and it is just as magnificent as the one above it. It is almost excessive in the overall design and decoration with all the gilt and elaborate details crafted from local artists, every inch was filled with intricate craftsmanship, statuary and artwork.
Stunning interior details of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Central altar of Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
The Roman theater close to Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Instead of taking the funicular back, I decide to walk downhill back to the Vieux Lyon and explore the area around the Roman theater. It’s a relaxed area with nice grassy areas to have a picnic or just take a break which is exactly what I did for a few minutes to absorb the space. The place is not crowded and corded off like many roman ruins, so its wonderful to just sit out in the sun and soak in all these wonderful views.
Continuing the walk down from the Roman theater, there are some more places to stop and enjoy the scenic views to the entire city. Here’s another look down to medieval town and the central district of Lyon from a lower vantage point.
After a quick downhill walk, I finally make it to the medieval section and check out some of the marvelous restaurants many featuring local specialties from the region. There are so many restaurants tucked into the many small alleyways and clustered food . It’s almost difficult to choose the best spot and dish, so I rely on my intuition and choose something very traditional from a French menu. I’m ready for a nice meal and indulge in a delicious cassoulet dish, it’s filled with haricot beans, small potatoes, tomatoes, duck confit and local sausages. The dish is delightful and in French they say, c’est magnifique (delicious).
I capped off the meal with a simple praline cake, a local specialty from the area and it’s also a winner. Today was quite successful explore the main attractions of Lyon and ending the day with an excellent meal tasting a traditional dish from Lyon. I’m so ready to go to bed and discover more of this wonderful city in my upcoming posts, so please stay tuned for more of my Lyon discoveries.
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