Eventhough we had just returned from our Swiss vacation, we wanted to take advantage of a four-day French weekend and planned a quick trip to Lyon, Annecy, and Chamonix for a little gourmet food, time spent swimming in the lake, and hiking up to get some great views of Mont Blanc.
I didn’t know too much about Lyon prior to our visit. I’d done some research, but it was a little bit too tricky to get there for just a weekend trip (too far by car or train, weird flight times by plane), but it was perfect for a long weekend getaway. One thing I definitely knew long before we even moved to France was the fact that Lyon (not Paris) is known as the epicenter of French food. Don’t believe me? Check out this episode from Parts Unknown where Anthony Bourdain and Daniel Boulud take a food pilgrimage to Lyon. If that doesn’t get your tastebuds going, I don’t know what will (though I’m not so sure about the rabbit stewed in its own blood…and I LOVE rabbit. So, as I’m sure you can imagine, I was planning all of our time to correspond with eating great food. We landed around 10am, got our rental car, and drove into the city center. Once we parked, we made our way toward the Rhone. Some friends who had visited weeks earlier had remarked Lyon was much prettier than Toulouse. Friends, the riverfront in Lyon is beautiful. The buildings are various shades of white, yellow, orange, and pink, the water is a deep blue, and there are bridges criss-crossing from one side to another, the giant churches up on the hillsides. We decided what really makes Lyon stand out from (say) the quai in Toulouse is the hills (Toulouse is pretty flat). Our side of the Rhone was lined with an open-air produce market (I could get used to shopping with that view) as well as endless cafes and restaurants, all situated with perfect views of the below.
After walking along the Rhone for a while, we made our way over to Le Musee, which I had read was the quintessential bouchon eatery. We’d called to make a reservation a few times, but always got the voicemail. Jim had me listen to it, and I said, “I heard vacance…I think that’s why no one is answering…they’re on August vacation.” Our fears were realized as we stood outside the restaurant, which was empty. They were, in fact, on vacation. One issue when visiting France in August…most folks are on vacation the same time as you!
So, we had to pivot. Jim did a little investigating and found Le Tire Bouchon, which was just across the Rhone in Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon). Old Lyon is quite lovely with little streets, wine stores, cafes with terrace dining, and a decent amount of shade. Just outside of Le Tire Bouchon were three large restaurants that seemed to cater more toward tourists, while Le Tire Bouchon seemed to cater to the French (always a good food sign). We ordered a bottle of Pinot (it was quite good) and settled into our menu items – all of which were fresh and tasty. Highly recommend this spot if you’re looking for something yummy.
After lunch, we decided to climb (literally) up the stairs and switchbacks to see The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Not far from the restaurant is the first staircase, which seems to ascend for hundreds of steps (see below) then gives way to some switchbacks on the last portion of the hike.
Once up at the top, though, you are rewarded with the below views of Lyon. The clouds don’t even look real and the terra-cotta roofs make such a pretty contrast. What a view, indeed.
After enjoying the view, we decided to take a walk inside the basilica. What’s extra interesting is there are essentially two churches on top of one another (the basement one might’ve been solely for funerals or other masses) but both were in impeccable shape with meticulous mosaic art. I’m also not sure if I’ve ever seen a church with so many steeples.
Our friends Bill and Alice had alerted us that there were Roman Ruins in Lyon (who knew?!) maybe a five minute walk from the basilica (they didn’t realize it and had to climb up those steps on two different days in almost 100 degree heat). We popped into the Musee Gallo Romain, first, to understand the history before heading outside to explore the archeological ruins first hand.
There are two theaters found here (Theatres Romain de Fouviere), both in pretty remarkable shape (though our audioguide and various pieces of literature mentioned many of the stones were gone/had been looted). The first is a theatre (above) that could hold 10,000 spectators (one of the oldest & largest in Gaul) while the second (the Odeon, below) was a smaller theater reserved for music.
It’s said there is also a Hippodrome somewhere in Lyon, but it has not been discovered yet. How neat is that? Your house or office or grocery store could be built on top of an old coliseum and you don’t even know it.
We took a different route back down the hill, which was mostly shaded and more of a constant grade than including steps/switch backs (this might be the easier route if steps scare you). It’s here I was able to snap a photo of the Cathedral de Saint Jean-Baptiste, another gorgeous church in Lyon.
After our tour up on the hill, we hopped back in our car and headed toward Annecy. However, we returned to Lyon for our flight home and made a stop at the Parc de la Tête d’Or. Had it been a tad cooler, I think we would’ve explored more of the park, but we entered from the Rose Garden (below) and wandered toward the Hippodrome (closed) and onward throughout the park and along the canal (?).
As we loaded up on some water and searched for some gelato or ice-cream, we noticed a Mini-Golf course. With a couple hours to kill, we decided to play a round of French putt-putt. There are a few things to note, which are different in French putt-putt from American putt-putt. (1) You are only given one ball, which everyone uses, (2) the putting greens are made of concrete not astroturf, (3) there are two identical greens for each hole (this one is kind of amazing, really), & (4) hitting your ball with some height is key.
I fancy myself a pretty decent putt-putter (I was undefeated at the Franklin Square Putt-Putt in Philadelphia for six years straight against all my opponents), but Jim beat me 61-69. In fact, Jim made two amazing hole in one shots (see two photos below…I made a 3 on each), which was pretty impressive if I do say so myself. What killed me was #4 above (Jim is also really good). I’m not used to trying to chip a ball with a putter. We’ll just have to find a good spot for a rematch 🙂
Continuing our quest for gelato/ice-cream, we hopped back in our car and drove back to Old Lyon where were jumped in the line at Glacier Terre Adélice for (maybe) some of the best sorbet/gelato I’ve ever had (and I eat a lot of gelato). I ordered ginger gelato with wild blueberry sorbet and lemon basil sorbet (I can’t pick which was the best…as I’d eat all of them again) while Jim ordered lemon basil sorbet (he did a choix du ice-creamer) with mascarpone gelato and honey/rosemary gelato (his favorite was the mascarpone, mine was the honey/rosemary). If you’re passing through, definitely stop here. They have SO many exotic flavors (as well as standards). If you want it in a cup or cone, go to the side window. If you’d like a fancier option, sit in the salon.
Once we finished our ice-cream we made our way to the airport for our trip back to Toulouse. Believe me when I say we’re already planning our trip back where we hope to eat and explore a little bit more. If you’re planning a visit, just let us know!