I flew from Ottawa to Lyon via Montreal to start the Europe portion of my January 2020 travels. My Dad, who had already been travelling in Europe, flew from Vienna to Lyon at about the same time. We found each other in the arrivals hall and took the train into the city. Everything went so smoothly that it was almost unreal. It was especially nice to have my non jet-lagged Dad around to do some of the thinking for us. I had taken some Ativan to help me through the flights, but I was too wired for the drugs to even make a dent. They only kicked in once I had safely arrived at the hotel, where I passed out on a couch in the lobby. The hotel staff ended up giving us our room early (better to have guests dozing in their rooms than in the common area!)
That night, Dad and I met up with Victoria, my friend from Ottawa who was spending a semester abroad in Lyon. To celebrate our arrival in France, we dined at a lovely little crêpe restaurant. Crêpes have always been my go-to meal in France.
When I lived in France as a high school student in 2004-2005, I went to Lyon several times. However, I never toured the city properly. I would come into town only for specific reasons, such as to change trains or to see a play with my school. This time, I was thrilled to have the chance to wander around the city on my own schedule and, most importantly, my own budget. We were also fortunate to be in constant contact with my friend Sandrine, who acted as our virtual tour guide. Sandrine lives in Ottawa now, but she’s originally from the Lyon area and she knows all the best spots.
On our first full day in the city, Dad and I walked over to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, an incredible museum housed in a former Benedictine convent. The museum hosts European paintings from the 14th century to the mid-20th-century and an amazing collection from Ancient Egypt. After wearing out our legs wandering through the huge museum, Dad and I enjoyed a scrumptious lunch at the museum café.
We then made our way up the winding streets to the top of Fourvière hill, the highest point in the city. We admired the beautiful view of Lyon from the lookout point. We also visited the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which was built at the end of the 19th century.
We had dinner that night at Arsenic, a fabulous restaurant in Lyon’s 3rd arrondissement. Arsenic is the type of restaurant where the menu changes frequently, and where no matter what you order you’ll be in heaven. We had a stupendous three-course meal, of which I apparently forgot to take photos. Oops.
The next day, Dad and I huffed and puffed from our hotel near the Lyon Perrache station all the way to Victoria’s university residence at the top of the city. If you choose to forgo public transit in Lyon and walk everywhere, you’ll be in fantastic shape! Since we didn’t have an endless amount of time, we bought short-term transit passes, which served us very well. Dad, Victoria and I took the steep funicular down the hill to the Roman amphitheatre. We explored the museum next to the theatre, where we learned all about how the city worked in Roman times.
We decided to take an English-language walking tour of the old city. Our guide showed us the Lyon cathedral, home to a 14th century astronomical clock. The clock stopped working in 2019, so it needs to be reset for the next few hundred years. She also took us into the Lyon “traboules,” which are passageways through building courtyards. The guide explained that the passageways that lead to a parallel street are called “traboules,” and the ones that end in a courtyard are called “miraboules.” She had us all practice saying the words slowly, since no one on the tour (apart from me and Victoria) knew any French. We didn’t bother telling her that we spoke the language. Towards the end of the tour, she asked us what the dead-end passageways were called. “Miraboules!” I exclaimed, like a proper teacher’s pet. The guide looked very impressed, and I felt like a bit of a fraud.
A new food centre called the “Food Traboule” opened in Lyon just a few days before our arrival. Various restaurants in Lyon had stands at the centre, where people could try some of their specialties. I sampled leeks with seaweed vinaigrette and haddock at the Comptoir des Apothicaires, and ham croquettes at the Bistrot du Potager. It was awesome to have so many neat food options all in one easily accessible place.
Victoria and I stopped by the Pralus bakery to try our first “praluline,” a brioche flavored with pieces of pralines. It was extremely tasty, but super sticky. I recommend eating it warm, and having some water handy.
Sandrine recommended Terre délice, an ice cream parlor in the old city. Now normally I wouldn’t be tempted much by ice cream in the middle of January, but Sandrine assured me that it was worth it. And she was right, of course. There were so my flavours and so much deliciousness to choose from.
On our final day in Lyon, Dad and I took the metro over to the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood, where I popped into the Sébastien Bouillet bakery. I kept staring passionately at all the exquisite pastries and I couldn’t for the life of me decide what to buy. The employees helpfully suggested that I purchase a box of assorted pastries, which turned out to be a great choice. My box contained samples of some of their most famous products, and they were all absolutely divine.
That afternoon, Dad and I visited the Musée des Confluences, a relatively new science centre and anthropology museum. When we arrived at the museum, we were told that the average temperature was around 17° C, so they recommended that we keep our winter coats on. We checked our coats anyway, and we were completely fine. Honestly, 17° C is warmer than my parents’ house on an average winter day in Canada. (For the record, my parents actually like to keep their house cold. This was the subject of an ongoing
argument discussion when I lived there.)
The museum featured human and natural history exhibits. I was particularly enamoured with the room showcasing traditional dress and dances from cultures around the world. I also loved the animal exhibits, apart from the “all about bedbugs” display. The exhibit was very informative, but it gave me the serious heebie jeebies.
As we were leaving the museum, an object caught my eye and my jaw fell open. I had spotted an indoor water fountain, a creature as hard to find in Europe as a jaguar in the Amazon. I had to blink several times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Sure enough, the fountain was real. I truly hope that this marks the start of an indoor fountain explosion across the continent.
That evening, Dad and I ate at a “bouchon,” which serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. We had a delightful time feasting on the “parade of salad bowls” and on the various meat dishes. We also enjoyed chitchatting with the couple one table over, who were from Bretagne. They were into cold-water swimming, and had spent the weekend braving the rivers in Lyon. I was very impressed.
I knew that I would love France’s gastronomic capital, but I must say that Lyon far exceeded my highest expectations. I’m so happy that I finally explored the city properly after all these years of using it as a transit point. On a future trip, even if I have only a few hours to spend in Lyon, I’ll know exactly where to go for the best food and fun.