by Natalia Kyriakides
Despite being the third largest city in France most people have never heard of Lyon and those that have most likely can’t point it out on a map. Located in the Rhône-Alps region, it can’t quite compete with the romance capital of the world to the north or the Côte d’Azur to the south.
However, steadily over the years, more and more tourists have decided to take a detour from the tried and tested French hot-spots and have given Lyon a try. This was mostly encouraged by Lyon being crowned the gastronomical capital of France, which is no easy feat in a country already known for it’s cuisine.
Nowadays Lyon is heralded as a must-visit European weekend destination and with good reason – within a couple of days it’s easy to grasp the lay of the land and visit all the major sites.
Anyone who’s lived here for any length of time has enjoyed the obligatory ‘tourist weekend’ a handful of times but slowly, we’ve all stopped offering to take our guests to the Musée des Beaux Arts or the roman amphitheatre.
Don’t misunderstand me, Lyon has some fantastic sites that you must see, but overwhelmingly it’s the people and the streets that you encounter on your journey between tourist sites that are the real magic of Lyon.
The Lyonnais say that, compared to Paris, Lyon is ‘une ville à taille humaine’ or ‘of human size’ and this is the reason many of them pass up job opportunities in the north in order to stay here.
Lyon is one of the most inclusive cities I’ve ever visited. It invites familiarity, even with its short term visitors, welcoming them into its community by offering help and direction or more importantly, advice on what to eat! And a community it is.
Everywhere is within walking distance and I’ve rarely been to cities where people live in the outdoors as much as the Lyonnais do.
Amble along the tree-lined Quais du Rhône while families fly past on a bike ride, have a drink at one of the famous boat bars, stop at your local boulangerie for a pastry and a chat with the proprietor or cycle on a velo’v to meet some friends – the best part of Lyon is just being outside and looking at it, exchanging a ‘bonjour’ with a friend or stranger and living it.
Even in the dark and cold of winter, most bars and restaurants spill out onto the streets. Stroll down the tiny, utterly picturesque pedestrian road Rue Mercier in the centre which is lined with red fronted restaurants, twinkling lights and in-the-know locals or the cobbled alleyways of the old town Vieux Lyon jam packed with people enjoying a night at a small bouchon (traditional Lyonnais restaurant) or cave à vin.
Walking home, with the Basilique de Notre Dame de Fourvière at your back watching over the city in a halo of golden light from Fourvière hill, the beauty of Lyon is illuminated as the architecture of the city is swathed in light until midnight. From ornate iron bridges to official city buildings, the city sparkles.
With such beauty and openness, your first time in Lyon can feel like meeting a life-long friend; somewhere you immediately feel at home and know you can always come back to. But if you ask me, the real risk of coming to Lyon is that you might never want to leave.