Lyon – a city for all seasons

Lyon – a city for all seasons
  There are few cities in Europe that can be called the consummate tourist destination but in France there exists such a city. That city is Lyon. Set in the shadow of the towering French Alps, Lyon is located on the banks of the Rivers Saône and Rhône. For centuries it has been a vital gateway between the north and south. Once the capital of Gaul, it’s a splendid merger of the old and the modern. Like Paris, Lyon is a destination city. It has nearly everything Paris has to offer and more. What sets it apart is that life moves at a more relaxed pace, due to its warmer climate. Most importantly, you’ll find an outstanding array of world-class restaurants. Without a doubt, there are few cities anywhere that can match Lyon’s reputation for the culinary arts. Many considr Lyon to be one of the world’s culinary capitals. This city of nearly one-half-million people achieved its gastronomical reputation in part by its strategic geographical location. Over the years there has been a convergence of many different culinary influences. Of course, Lyon has the added benefit of being in the middle of one of France’s outstanding wine-growing regions. Who hasn’t heard of Beaujolais? Cote du Rhône and Beaujolais wines from the area’s lush, green vineyards are permanent fixtures on restaurant tables. They’re the perfect complement to any meal. In a country where the enjoyment of food is a national past time, the Lyon has the highest cafe per head in all of Europe. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot to enjoy good food. The cafés run from the simple, traditional bistro to the super-modern bar. On a recent trip to Lyon I was more interested in Roman ruins than restaurants, but at the Office of Tourism, tucked in the corner of Place Bellecour, an extremely friendly clerk spent a considerable amount of time reviewing some of the city’s finer eating establishments. Admitting that most were out of reach of my budget, he did recommend that I try a small Italian bistro, part of a restaurant complex in Place des Terreaux. I found the ravioli in a light cream sauce with chopped hazelnuts very tasty. It was served with a small salad, two slices of freshly baked bread and a glass of local wine. The bill came to less than ten euros. If money is no object, there’s the celebrated Paul Bocuse restaurant, which helped put Lyon on the culinary map. Famous the world over, it’s said to be in league of its own, and that’s reflected in it‘s prices. One reviewer referred to the food as “truly exquisite.” Reservations are required and finding it will take a little effort. It’s at 23 Quai de la Plage, Collonge-au-mont-d’ Or. Another award winning restaurant is Christian Têtedoie, 53-54 quai Pierre-Scize, Lyon. Owner Christian Têtedoie, named France’s “Master Chef” in 1998, continues to wow dinners with his innovative culinary creations. Other top notch restaurants include La Mêre Brazier, La Tour Rose, Lêon de Lyon and Les Terrasse de Lyon. Initially, it was my interest in French history that took me to Lyon. This ancient city is the location of two incredible Roman theaters. Located on the Fourvière hillside overlooking the old part of the city, they predate the Birth of Christ by nearly 50 years. The largest of the theaters, which still gets plenty of use, seats 12,000 and is the oldest in all of France. Adjoining the theaters, through an astonishing underground passageway, is the Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization and the Fouvière Archeology Park. It houses an outstanding collection of Gallo-Roman artefacts and explains in depth the history of ancient Gaul under the Roman Empire. A short climb up the hill from the theaters is the Fouvière Basilica. Completed in 1896, this eclectic white marble structure features an austere exterior and a richly decorated interior. Behind the basilica is a terrace with an incredible 180-degree view of the city below. The theaters and the basilica are easily reached by the métro and the Fourvière funicular. You’ll also find nearly two dozen other museums in and around Lyon. In the heart of the city, just off Place des Terreaux, is the world-renowned Musée des Beaux Arts. It houses one of France’s richest art collections: Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages. More to my liking were works by Ruben, Rembrandt, Delacioux, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Picasso. If one has the time, it is well worth the effort to visit to the Musée Historique de Tissue and the Musée des Arts Dècoratifs. The former houses an extraordinary collection of silks and tapestries that date from early Christian times to present. In the latter you will find displays of tapestry and furniture. Music, too, plays an important part in the cultural life of this magnificent city. Numerous clubs that cater to every taste from rock to the classical. It was the classical that got my attention on a walking tour of the city. Just off Place des Terreaux and tucked behind the Hotel de Ville is the beautiful Opéra de Lyon. Highly controversial when opened in 1993, the building’s uniqueness is that it’s shaped like a black barrel – then covered with glass and steel, and encased in a neo-classical shell. No stay would be complete without a visit to Vieux Lyon on the left bank of the Saône River. This is the site of restored old Lyon with its winding cobbled streets, first-class restaurants, lively bistros and chic designer shops. It’s here that you’ll find the site of Lugdunum, a Roman city founded by Julius Caeser in 44 BC, that served as the commercial and military capital of Gaul. If life in the city is too fast-paced, a few hours away is one of Europe’s major year around play grounds-the French Alps. This is home to a number of world-class ski resorts including Albertville, Morzine and Chamonix. Also a two-hour train ride away is the alpine city of Grenoble, site of the 1968 Winter Olympics. Spring, summer, winter or fall, there will always be something to beckon visitors to this tourist Mecca. And so it can be said, without a doubt, that Lyon is truly a city for all seasons. Originally from Canada, Bob Christman lives with his wife Joyce in Portland, Oregon. They travel to France whenever they can.
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