France’s best kept urban secret?

Despite being very well known in France as the gastronomic capital of the country (for a few dissidents, maybe even of the world), Lyon is not a city likely to feature heavily in your average travel guide books. For a big urban city, Lyon seems surprisingly small and manageable; and with tourists mainly from other parts of France, feels ‘French’ even! The good connections with Paris (despite the distance, it is just about 2 hours by the high speed TGV trains) made Lyon the perfect stop for the last leg of my 18 days France tour.

Panoramic view of Lyon

At the risk of sounding derivative, Lyon’s old town is charming and worth spending some time being lost in. The claustrophobic long narrow passageways, known as the ‘Traboules’ have no trouble sending visitors down the memory lane; where many years ago, these streets- vital for goods transportation, planted the early seeds for Lyon’s powerhouse economy of today. The uneven cobbled streets may test the sturdiest of shoes, but it’s a small price to pay for the inspired views of the next gorgeous courtyard these passageways frequently encourage.

The Traboules of Lyon

Maps are useless in Vieux Lyon (Old town), for the most confusing of Traboules will be easily undone by the scent of crêpes or other goodies sending the lost for the main streets. It is not difficult to see why Lyon is known as the food capital in France- the most obscured of vendors seem to have watery-mouthed tourists queueing eagerly for. My own gastronomic adventure is limited by my general inaptitude with all things food, but it was a joy joining everyone else window shopping for the best bouchon to satisfy their growling stomachs.

Be encouraged to join in the queue

Paris’ La Seine they may not, the 2 magnificent rivers of Lyon, the Saone and Rhone, are great resting places to admire the city when it illuminates at night. The designation ‘City of Light’ does not appear to apply solely to Paris alone.

St Jean cathedral emits a lovely glow at night

For those wanting to experience a piece of urban life in France far away from the jostling tourists in Paris, Lyon is a tantalising treat of a destination.

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