It was my first full day in France and I was looking forward to our walkabout in Vieux Lyon while on my Viking River Cruise to Lyon and Provence. As I noted in my previous post, the Viking team invited me for an 8-day voyage on the River Rhône last month and my sister N was my traveling companion.*
Thankfully we were well rested after a hectic weekend plane ride. We awoke early, laced up our sneakers, ate breakfast including freshly baked croissants and were on land by 8:30 am for Trek Vieux Lyon, a four-hour Viking excursion around the city’s historic district.
Are you ready for a hike? Let’s go.
“Bonjour,” said our guide Christele, as she welcomed our group. “We’re headed for the cathedral on Fourvière Hill. We’ll walk across the peninsula, take the cable car to reach the top, then walk down. We’ll end up in Old Town, have a break to have a drink and stop at a weaving workshop.”
Christele provided an overview as we hiked towards University Bridge. “Lyon is the second largest metropolis and third largest city in France. It has nine districts and we are in the seventh. There is a strong transport network here with trains, subways and trams.”
We passed fancy apartment buildings with ornate architecture and balconies. “This is where the bourgeoisie lived. The bourgeoisie refers to the community that got richer and richer during the 19th century of the silk industry,” explained Christele. Ooh, ooh, ooh, speaking of bourgeoisie, Hermes headquarters is based in Lyon.
Christele pointed out different landmarks on our path. First there was a hospital that had been turned into a shopping mall. Then there was a pretty flower tree designed by a Korean artist. Today the tree is a mile marker for those stuck in traffic. The view behind the tree was like a Renaissance painting.
A walk through Place Bellecour.
We walked through Place Bellecour, the largest square in central Lyon. In the center stands a statue of Louis XIV on horseback facing in the direction of Paris.
Look down and you’ll see artwork instead of potholes. “Artists repair the potholes. There’s a message behind it and it looks pretty on the ground,” said Christele. What a cool idea — wish they did this in USA cities. Hint, hint.
Riding the funicular to Fourvière Hill.
It was time to ride the cable car up to Fourvière Hill. The 100-year-old car was a bit rickety so we held on tight. Up, up, up we went.
At top was the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a late 19th-century church build on the site of an old Roman Forum. You could tell that the church ruled the city in those days by the beauty of the materials including the magnificent mosaics of the gala Roman period and shiny marble from Italy.
It was one of many churches we would be seeing on our week-long voyage on the Rhône. However, Christele said that “Romans felt that Christianity was a threat to the Roman Empire and that early Christian martyrs lost their life to defend their faith.“
A panoramic view of Lyon and the old Roman theater
Once outside the cathedral, Christele led us around back to see the Lyon vista from the top of the hill. “On a clear day you can see the alps,” she said.
Step by step it was time to start our descent. We stopped to see the Roman theater that was built during the 1st-century BC. Christele told us about how the ruins were excavated and how it is used today. “Superstars come to perform here now. There is a big celebration during the first day of summer,” she said.
Meditating among the flowers.
Further along our path was Jardins Du Rosaire, a plentiful green acres with flowers planted in all colors of the rainbow. Benches were available to sit and meditate or pray. It was a nice quiet walk-through after the crowds in the cathedral.
A steep climb down to Vieux Lyon.
There were 230 steps to conquer before we would arrive on the streets where multiple Michelin restaurants reside. Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France and one can quickly see why — between the sweet smells from the boulangeries and chocolate shops and the savory sandwiches and menus from bouchons (cafes), it’s hard not to resist eating all day long.
Another Lyon symbol is its traboules. “Traboules means ‘to go through.’ They are passageways connecting buildings and streets,” said Christele. FYI: There are maps available in town that provide directions to all the traboules.
After wandering through the traboules our group was glad to stop at Brasserie Gabriel for a refreshing beverage. While we rested, Christele filled us in on Lyon facts and tidbits including: that the lion represents the City of Lyon; that the current mayor is an environmentalist and that’s why there are lots of recycling bins and bicycle lanes around the city; and that Lyon is the birthplace of the author of The Little Prince and that’s why there are The Little Prince souvenirs everywhere.
Soierie St George is a great place to buy silk
We capped off our tour with a visit to Soierie St George, one of the last active weaving workshops in the Old Town. I knew that Lyon was known for its silk after visiting Maison des Canuts silk museum in Lyon’s La Croix Rousse neighborhood several years ago. But I had never been to Soierie and was eager to see its silk offerings.
Roman, the son of the owner, introduced the shop while Christele translated. Roman told us that: The shop dates to the 19th century with weaving machines from 1850; that there are only a dozen weavers left in Lyon; and that their shop makes fabrics for the monuments in France. He said that it took 25 years to remake the tapestries for the walls of Versailles Palace and that his father helped make them. Amazing or should I say incroyable!
Being two fashionistas, N and I were overwhelmed with joy to see the gorgeous silk scarves in the store’s boutique. Each one was prettier than the next. There were cut velvet shawls; jacquard printed oblong scarves, and men’s ties made out of silk. The collection of colors in the tapestries was fantastique. I almost bought one to frame. N and I both bought scarves for gift-giving and were proud of ourselves for keeping what could have been wallet-emptying purchases at bay.
We thanked Christele for the tour and in the afternoon meandered on our own through Vieux Lyon. By noon most stores were shut for lunch, so we took a break and shared a baguette sandwich.
Seventeen thousand steps later we were back on the Viking Hermod. It was a wonderful day. On board that evening brought more tasty French fare with a Coq au Vin entree and Opera Cake with coffee butter crème and chocolate ganache dessert. Did I say the Viking chefs do a fab job with the food and menus on the ship? They do! They do!
Ooh, ooh, ooh, tomorrow’s itinerary includes a trip to the Beaujolais wine country and a Lyonnaise food tour. How glorious is that? Plus à venir. Plus à venir.
Au revoir mes amies,
* Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” Viking Cruises provided me with a complimentary press trip on the Viking River Cruise to Lyon & Provence. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.