Due to good planning, if I do say so myself, we had a short layover at Charles de Gaulle terminal 2. We took a 55 minute flight – what felt like a commuter – to Lyon Saint Exupery airport. Passport control and customs were a breeze at this smaller, provincial airport. We made our way to the ground transportation area just outside of the main terminal, and were able to “hail” an Uber directly from the airport. Very convenient, and no local currency needed to be exchanged, meaning no need to hunt for an ATM machine at the airport. There would be plenty in the city.
The Uber ride from Saint Exupery airport to the Presqu’ile neighborhood in central Lyon was almost as long as the flight from Charles de Gaulle to Saint Exupery! Our Uber driver – a young man – was sporting a BMW 5 series. I eventually engaged him in conversation, testing my French for the first time on the trip. I complimented him on his vehicle being so well maintained, and I asked how many kilometers it had on the odometer. I was surprised to hear that the 5 Series had 300,000 kms given that it was in such fabulous shape. Then the conversation turned to the challenges of driving on French roads, with their so-called “safety cameras” used to enforce speed limits. I was curious because I had a traffic violation when I was last in France in 2015, issued via the automated safety camera network. When I shared this with the Uber guy, he curiously asked how much I was charged for the citation. When I replied €45, he reacted with “Ooooooo… superr speederr!” rolling his Rs in the way only a Frenchman could. When I asked him what happens if you have too many of those, he eventually replied that for tourists, nothing, but for citizens there’s a number beyond which they take you to prison, and he laughed. I actually thought €45 was quite affordable for a super speeder violation. At that price I may budget for a couple of them per trip to France going forward.
Having arrived at our apartment at the appointed time, and after proper introductions, our host gave us the grand tour of what would be our home for the next four nights in Lyon. Among the more important parts of our tour was getting a basic tutorial on how to work the washing machine – a key element for us because we travel with carry-on only. We simply admired the brilliant views from the apartment for the first time – across the Saone River to the Notre Dame de Fourvière. I looked forward to the views later that evening after nightfall, and I wasn’t disappointed.
We set off looking for something to eat as it had been a long day with nothing but airline and airport food. We walked about for at least an hour investigating the surroundings in the vicinity of the apartment along the Saone River in the Presqu’ile neighborhood. We stretched our legs after the day-long transportation confinement as we evaluated the restaurant recommendations made by our host. With the first couple of options booked full for the evening, we eventually decided on Le Grand Café des Négociants for our first Lyonnaise meal, which was not disappointing – high quality French food paired with complimentary French wine.
This section has a complimentary Google Maps route and photos. To follow the Discovery Trek on Google Maps, go to the map at the bottom of this post and click on fullscreen mode. Then select both “Route – Discovery Trek”, and “Photos – Discovery Trek” layers from the menu on the left side of the map.
The weather wasn’t exactly cooperative on the first full day in Lyon, and what was a drizzle in the air, with overcast skies looked to be an all day affair, per the weather forecast from Meteo France on my iPhone. But we came prepared both with clothing and equipment. And so we grabbed our umbrellas and set off for a day of discovery.
A short distance from the apartment, just as we set off, we stumbled upon a little café with indoor seating, thankfully. We stepped inside eager for a bite to eat to get ourselves prepared for walking around all day in the colder weather. I nearly caused an international incident by expressing a preference that my eggs should be cooked in any fashion different from that which the chef (yes in Lyon the dude that prepares your eggs is called a chef) had intended. More on that drama in the food scene section.
Next we walked to the Renaissance Quarter across the Saone River from the Presqu’ile neighborhood. There was an organized run of some sort in progress with a large number of participants as we made our way into the quarter. They didn’t pick the best weather for it, and neither did we – but the difference was we had umbrellas, and warm clothes on. This thought somehow made me feel better. We toured a small section of the Renaissance Quarter just north of the Cathedrale Saint Jean Baptiste, but were focused on finding our way to the top of the Notre Dame de Fourvière hill.
So we moved away from the Renaissance Quarter, climbing the Notre Dame hill. Due to the inclement weather, there wasn’t a lot of pedestrian traffic on the way. We did however have to contend with the runners from the organized event as they completed their circucuit, getting wetter as they went.
We departed the high Notre Dame hill and headed down toward the ruins of the 2000 year old Roman amphitheater. There was a complete Roman residential complex built around the amphitheater, and we took it all in void of any crowds, a weather-provided bonus.
We next found ourselves back in the Renaissance Quarter, at the Cathedrale Saint Jean Baptiste, which was situated on a square allowing for good photo opportunities. A little farther down river, we made our way through some classic narrow streets of that period. Turning on a narrow lane, we suddenly found ourselves facing Eglise Saint Georges. However, the streets are too narrow to accommodate good photography of the church front. But there’s always the close-up of the pediment above the entryway of Saint Georges slaying the ubiquitous dragon. Photos of the back of Saint Georges were possible from the Saone side of the Church.
The Renaissance Quarter wasn’t large. It was longer than wide, sometimes just a few streets deep along the Saone River. It was a lovely area with narrow medieval lanes, buildings very close together, and it didn’t take very long to work our way through the entire section. We ended up taking a lovely walk along the Saone, heading south to its confluence with the Rhone. We had a memorable luncheon at the appropriately named Le Petit Glouton – I rave about this place in the Food Scene section.
Le Grand Café des Negociants
This was our first meal in Lyon after a long day in transit. It wasn’t our first choice because we got a late start, but the café was quite impressive on the inside with formal French decor, and well dressed staff. We started with something simple, pâté de foie gras for starters, sea bass accompanied with black rice (which was unusual). The pâté was very rich and went well with the Côtes du Rhône wine recommended for me. The sea bass was also good, but not memorable like the pâté. It’s noteworthy that this was the only restaurant I felt was pricey on this trip.
Le Rocambole Café terrasse du Vieux-Lyon
As mentioned in the Discovery Trek portion of the post, I nearly caused an international incident. I ordered eggs over medium, and our lovely young waitress immediately put the palm of her right hand to her head, uttering “Mon Dieu.” It was serious. She invoked the name of the Lord. She indicated in English that she would try to explain my request to the chef. I immediately backed down on my unreasonable demands. But by this time she had already committed herself to do battle with the chef, with customer satisfaction and an American-sized tip in the balance. It turned out OK, although I think the eggs were a bit bien cuit.
Le Petit Glouton
We stopped here for lunch to fortify ourselves on the day of our grand discovery trek. I was very hungry from all of the walking in the cold, drizzly weather that day. We happened upon this restaurant – the name translates to “the little glutton.” I had ordered a pork knuckle – not something you’d find in Paris, but apparently it works in Lyon. It was absolutely fabulous – crispy skin, and all. And the mustard complimented the meat so well, a strong horseradish Dijon that opened the taste buds like no other mustard I’d tried.
Brasserie Léon de Lyon
This is the restaurant we were turned away from on our arrival day because they were booked and we didn’t have reservations. The food was very good. The foie gras in particular was very rich and noteworthy. Grilled, glazed cod over a bed of fresh spinach in a slightly mustardy, slightly sweet sauce, and grilled hake with carrot, beet, turnip on turnip sauce for the main courses.
L’Auberge du Lyonnais
What a delightful meal, and a great discovery in Annecy. The portions were generous by French standards, especially for lunch. We opted for a menu, which turned out be an excellent orchestration of entrée, main course, and dessert. This meal necessitated a long stroll around Lake Annecy to assist with digestion.
Another meal where I felt more like I was dining in Germany, Czech Republic or elsewhere in Central Europe. The escargot were definitely French, and from Burgundy. I even had beer with the meal, making the meal feel even more Germanic. The boiled pork knuckle and sauerkraut were perfectly prepared. And the bacon steak was too good to describe. Eau de Vie de Poire was recommended and worked well as a digestif.
A l’Ecu d’Or
One of the best meals in France, and we found it in little Le Puy. We tried terrine of fish and shrimp – just a lovely appetizer. Grilled duck breast and beefsteak as the main courses. Followed by a cheese plate with 3 super selections. And finished with tiramisu, and creme brulee. The reason we walk, so we can eat like this.
Le Bistrot de Lyon
Starters of Lyonnaise salad with thick sliced bacon, and a terrine of duck pâté, sweet breads, pork fat, and gelatin. Insanely good, very rich, with big contrast between the ingredients. Main courses of pork sausage over a bed of lentils with a white wine sauce, and pike dumpling in a crayfish sauce. Both very good. Fromage blanc and rum biscuit with Chantilly and dried fruit.
Road Trip – Annecy and Chambéry
This section has a complimentary Google Maps route and photos. To follow the Road Trip – Annecy and Chambéry on Google Maps, go to the map at the bottom of this post and click on fullscreen mode. Then select both “Route – Annecy and Chambéry,” and “Photos – Annecy and Chambéry” layers from the menu on the left side of the map.
We walked to our Sixt Car Rental location not far from our apartment. It was an interesting walk because it was first thing in the morning, as I was shooting for an 8:00 AM arrival at the car rental location. Along the way we could see people going about their lives, heading to school or work, and just starting their day. We got in and out of the car rental location in about 15 minutes, as we were their first customers of the day. One of the reasons I like Sixt is because it’s a very well-run organization, and this is typical of previous engagements with them. Car rental isn’t the same in Europe as it is in the US. The Europeans are more bureaucratic than Americans, so it’s a pleasure getting through the process of car rental in short order.
Annecy was smaller than I had imagined based on my readings on and off the internet. There’s a lot of material out there on Annecy, as it’s been discovered by mainstream tourism. Most people that have traveled France to any extent likely have heard of it. For me, the only points of interest in Annecy were the riverwalk in the old part of town, and a couple of long walks possible around Lake Annecy itself. We had a wonderful lunch at the Auberge du Lyonnais restaurant along the river, and we spent about an hour there. Had it not been for that, we would’ve completed the Annecy tour in a couple of hours or less.
As we left Annecy, we had originally intended to visit Grenoble next. But based on the experience in Annecy, and my recollection that Grenoble was less interesting than Annecy, we decided to explore other options. Chambéry came to mind as a possible alternative, and it may be a bit off the beaten path – at least to me. Checking Google Maps revealed that Chambéry was closer to our location than Grenoble. And then we checked the top activities for Chambéry and Grenoble on Tripadvisor to get a big picture view of of interesting things to do in each destination. Grenoble’s top rated activity was a nearby national park, while Chambéry’s was its Ville Ancienne (old town). Based on that little research we decided we would go to Chambéry.
Chambéry was a lovely little town, and we very much enjoyed exploring its 19th century-feel Ville Ancienne architecture. The town was sparsely touristed, and less densely populated – less than half the size of Annecy, for example. But large enough to have all of the desired amenities, like cafés and restaurants. I probably say this too often, but the photos don’t do lovely little Chambéry justice. This is another place that only being there brings true appreciation.
Road Trip – Le Puy
This section has a complimentary Google Maps route and photos. To follow the Road Trip – Le Puy on Google Maps, go to the map at the bottom of this post and click on fullscreen mode. Then select both “Route – Le Puy,” and “Photos – Le Puy” layers from the menu on the left side of the map.
The drive to Le Puy was a bit longer than the trip to Annecy and Chambéry. Once we got out of Lyon and into the countryside, we started to gain some altitude as we were ascending the Massif Central, the grand plateau that occupies a good portion of south-central France. It was noticeably cooler because of the elevation as compared to Lyon.
On arrival to Le Puy we noticed immediately how much undulation and elevation change there was in town. Hundreds of steps, separated the lower part of town from its upper part. It was hard to imagine how one would get around Le Puy in winter time. This part of France does get winters with significant snowfall. Le Puy with its cobblestone lanes all over the town would be quite the challenge in winter. I couldn’t imagine walking on snow and ice laden cobblestone in the middle of winter while trying to descend from the upper part of town to the lower or vice versa.
Le Puy is the stuff of picture postcards. The Cathedral of Notre Dame du Puy is both historic and impressive, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Le Puy is noted as being the departure point for the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route, also known as the Camino de Santiago. This super cool video gives an overview of the Camino originating in Lovely Le Puy.
We had a fantastic lunch in Le Puy at a restaurant on its main square, then headed for the most visibly impressive attraction in town. It’s a few hundred step climb up to the Notre Dame de France monument at the top of its hill – it looked like the hill was made for the monument, but most likely vice versa. This Grand Statue reminded me more of the Statue of Liberty than anything else. But wow, what amazing views from the very top of the monument. The statue was actually hollow and had a tight spiral staircase that allowed access to the top – covered by the admission charge. At the top of the monument, there’s a portal inside the head of the statue allowing access to a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding area.
The map shows all of the places discovered and photos taken along the way for Destination Lyon. To use the map to its potential, click the rectangle in the top right corner of the map to open it in a new tab. Set your browser to fullscreen mode so that you can see as much of the map as possible. Browse the map layers by selecting or deselecting the check boxes on the left side of the map. A good example in selectively exploring the map would be to check only “Photos – Discovery Trek” and “Route – Discovery Trek” on the side of the map. This would display just the Discovery Trek elements on the map. Then zoom in as tight as you like to view parts of the route of interest, along with the photos taken there. I’d love to hear feedback on this use of Google Maps to enable interaction with travel content. Enjoy!
Reflections on Lyon. Big. It’s far larger than Annecy, Chambéry, or even Bordeaux. Busy. It has more traffic, and feels to me like a larger city than it actually is. While its population within the city limits is in the 400 thousands, the greater Lyon cosmopolitan area is well over 2 million – which what I think contributes to its larger city feel. Classical architecture. Architectural eye candy all over the parts of town we visited – from Roman, to medieval, to 19th century, reminiscent of Paris. Great food. To die for, unpretentious good food. I need to return for the food alone, to stopover for just one day and hit an untried Bouchon and indulge.