yon, France has long been known to sophisticated travelers as the culinary capitol of France. It is now emerging as a “must-do” destination for a broader range of American travelers because of the many other attractions it offers to visitors.
Named a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage City because of its illustrious 2,000-year history, France’s second-largest city is brimming with activities and attractions. With its world-renowned cuisine, architecture (boasting the second largest Renaissance quarter in Europe), museums, and picturesque nightly lighting of monuments, Lyon is a place that is renowned for its quality of life. The past is alive in such landmarks as the Gallo-Roman Amphitheater, used for concerts today, and the Croix-Rousse Hill, the center of the silk industry in the 1800s. Its Renaissance quarter is by no means a mere testament to the past, as it still thrives with daily activity, from hotels to restaurants to shops.
A visit to Lyon makes the pages of a European history book come alive to travelers. Today, life goes on in a city and metropolitan area spanning some 124,000 acres, with 1,250 of those acres constituting the historic sector that is now included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Four neighborhoods, at the convergence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, are registered on this list because of their special urban character and historical importance:
* The Fourvière hill. This picturesque district is located to the west of the Saône and one of Lyon’s two hills and contains some of the most charming models of urban parks in the world. Still known today as “the hill that prays,” in ancient times it was known as Lugdunum, the Gallic capital city, founded in 43 BC.
* “Vieux Lyon” (Old Lyon). Located at the base of the Fourvière hill, it took on its present appearance in the 16th century, when Lyon became the capital of silk, finance and printing. Today it represents the second-largest Renaissance townscape in Europe. Vieux Lyon offers travelers opportunities to stroll through its “traboules” (networks of covered passageways), pay visits to breathtaking cathedrals, view an astromonical clock, and browse in lovely galleries.
* The Presqu’île. Located between the two rivers is the Presqu’île, a neighborhood where one can witness one thousand years of architecture. In the 17th century, the Presqu’île became the political and bourgeois centre of the city. The area boasts Place Bellecour, a square built in honor of Louis XIV, the Museum of Fine Arts, and many exquisite churches. The Lyon Opera truly represents a convergence of old and new, as it was built in the 19th century and was entirely restored and fitted with a sleek glass dome in 1990 by the architectural wizardry of Jean Nouvel.
* The slopes of the Croix Rousse. This area provides the perfect setting for a trip back in time. To the West, the Carthusian monastery is only one of ten convents to have been spared by the destruction of the French Revolution. To the East, the descending slopes offer striking views over the River Rhone. In ancient times its slopes housed the federal Sanctuary, dedicated in 12 BC to Rome and Augusta. The famous “Claudian Tablet,” which transcribed the speech of the Emperor Claudius granting Roman citizenship to the Gauls, was written here in 48 AD.
Most travellers automatically think of Paris when they think of fabulous French food. Lyon is actually the gastronomy capital of France. Bordering the vineyards of the Beaujolais and the Cotes du Rhone, Lyon in an essential pilgrimage for gourmets worldwide. The ideal agricultural climate of the surrounding regions has resulted in a wealth of good produce. Of the many restaurants, taverns and bistros of Lyon, 150 are listed by the Office of Tourism. You would have to live in Lyon for a long time to experience the entire range of popular regional fare. In the famous Lyon “Bouchon” taverns (“Bouchon” is from the French word for the handful of straw once hung up as the tavern sign), you can find special dishes cooked in the traditional manner, such as at “Chez Hugon” or “la Meunière”.
Diners can also be awarded with the opportunity of experiencing first-class restaurants with internationally known chefs such as Paul Bocuse, the inventor of nouvelle cuisine at his restaurant “Abbaye de Collonges.” Other great acclaimed chefs include Pierre Orsi at “Relais Gourmand Pierre Orsi” and Jean-Paul Lacombe at “Léon de Lyon”.
For savoury dishes, Lyon is famous for its rosette, salami, quenelles, andouillette sausages and Saint-Marcellin, or the celebrated pistachio flavoured pork sausage or other “tablier de sapeur.” For sweet dishes, one can feast on “bugnes” fritters, “coussins” and other “cocons,” without forgetting the marvels produced by the chocolate makers, famous worldwide. Since eating is taken very seriously here, whatever it is you eat in Lyon is sure to be a pleasurable experience.
Lyon was the center of the silk industry in the Middle Ages. Created under the influence of François I in 1536, the “Fabrique” was, until the start of this century, the title given to the thousands of looms installed in the city and its environs. With the establishment of the Renaissance Fairs, the silk trade paved the way for the rapid and extensive industrial development of the city, giving rise to major artistic vocations and a culture which is still vibrant today.
The historic cloth museum houses the Centre International d’Etudes et de Conservation des Textiles Anciens (International Centre for the Study and Conservation of Ancient Textiles). Twenty-two museums, 20 theatres and entertainment halls manifest the riches of Lyon’s cultural heritage.
* Many art galleries including the Museum of Contemporary Art, located at the heart of the Cité Internationale and designed by the architect Renzo Piano
* The Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization (the leading French archaeological collection)
* The Palais Saint-Pierre, the biggest French Fine Arts museum after the Louvre
* The Institut Lumière, located in the Auguste and Louis Lumière town mansion, which retraces the history of the invention of the cinema.
Lyon is also an attractive destination for music fans. One can attend all kinds of musical performances here including ancient, classical, contemporary and world music. Lyon is also known for dance, theater, and the theater-café venues where the famous Guignol theater was invented.
The city promotes creativity and hosts productions from all over the world at the Opéra, redesigned by the famous architect Jean Nouvel, or at the Maison de la Danse or the famous Halle Tony Garnier, which can accommodate up to 15,000 spectators.
Lyon is famed for its exciting events which attract a world-wide audience. The Biennale Dance Festival makes Lyon the dance capital of the world for a few weeks each year, when professional dance companies from all over the globe parade in the streets. The Fouvriere and Old Lyon music festivals, and Biennale Art Contemporain also draw performers and art from all over the world. The yearly lights festival, (Festival Lyon Lumieres) is an exceptional event, and unique in Europe. Every December, Lyon celebrates the grace and beauty of light for three nights by illuminating buildings and homes with a thousand brightly colored and changed lights.
The unavoidable starting point for any walk: the esplanade of the Fourvière hill, close to the Basilica. From here you can contemplate the panorama and the exceptional natural setting of Lyon, at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône. In the foreground are the old neighborhoods, which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage, and in the background is Mont-Blanc, visible on a clear day.
Depending on the route you choose, Lyon offers historic walks with guides from the Office of Tourism, or walks at liberty, to satisfy all tastes: gourmet, cultural, botanical or shopping expeditions.
The shops and markets of the city offer a warm welcome and delicious local food products and interesting crafts. Some of the places in which travelers can purchase gifts for people back home (and for themselves) include:
* Les Halles, the renowned market where celebrated chefs and locals alike shop, featuring the local pork and other meats, cheese, fish and vegetables typical of the region.
* The bookstalls along the quays of the Saône.
* The market of the Création, which features works from local artists every Sunday morning.
* The craft market, every Sunday morning at quay Fulchiron.
* The Rue Auguste Comte, an antiques market with 80 shops.
Since 1989, Lyon has been implementing a unique urban policy for street lighting. As a World Heritage Site, with an exceptionally rich architectural heritage built up over 2,000 years of history, it has implemented a concept that highlights the monuments that earned this honor. Lyon’s model of urban lighting features more than 200 buildings which are floodlit each evening in harmony with a specific scenography design, filling its inhabitants with pride and enchanting visiting tourists. This brand of urban lighting has been replicated in places such as Cuba and Asia.
To visit Lyon also enables one to discover an amazing travel and tourism hub radiating out towards the surrounding region — the Pays du Beaujolais, the Dombes, the valley of the Rhône — to the Alps and the Mediterranean. Lyon and the surrounding region is a gateway to many other destinations.
It is only half an hour by car to the Beaujolais and the typical Chateaux and villages dotted around the Rhône region. In less than two hours you can reach the most attractive Alpine resorts, the Mont-Blanc, the Auvergne volcanoes or the lavender fields of Provence … and the Mediterranean is less than three hours away. With the new TGV Mediterrannee, it is now possible to reach Marseille in 1.5 hours.
At the centre of an extensive road network, Lyon is within one hour of the major towns in the Rhône-Alpes region, and there are direct roads to Geneva -1 ½ hours, to Turin – 3 hours, Paris – 4 hours or Barcelona – 6 hours.
With two stations in the city center and one at the airport, The TGV (high speed train) now puts Lyon at the heart of Europe. Two hours from Paris, 3 hours from Lille, 5 hours from London by Eurostar, the TGV also links Lyon to Chambéry, Annecy, Marseille or Brussels.
For more information on Lyon, visit http://www.en.lyon-france.com/
Courtesy of ARA Content, www.ARAcontent.com
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