Lyon

Arrival

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.

Settling in

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.

 

Discovery Trek

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.

 

Food Scene

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.

 

Brasserie Georges

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.

 

Comprehensive Map

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!

 

Epilogue

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.

Related Trips

Related Destinations

France Travel Planning – Lyon to Bordeaux

France Travel Planning - Lyon to Bordeaux

Motivation – France Travel Planning

This would not be an itinerary I’d choose for a first-time visit to Europe in general, nor for a first-time visit to France specifically. This is a combination of destinations suitable to a more seasoned European traveler, and moreover, someone having experienced France previously. Having been to France in the past, I’ve visited the Paris area, Normandy, Alsace-Lorraine, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire Valley, Burgundy, Provence, and Hautes Alpes. I truly wouldn’t have seen the rest of Europe had I not taken time off from visiting France specifically!

The south-central slice of France comprising Lyon at its eastern end, and Bordeaux to the west, with the Massif Central at its center, held for me unexplored portions of the country, promising cuisine, wine, history, and architecture to be discovered. In particular, the cuisine in the historic city of Lyon, with their traditional Bouchons, was waiting to be explored. And of course the wines of the Bordeaux region, known across France and the world, were also on the list for discovery. Both cities are UNESCO world heritage sites, and both cities have opportunities for day trips to explore the surrounding region and countryside.

 

Logistics – France Travel Planning

With Atlanta as my home base in the US, direct flights from there to Paris Charles de Gaulle are frequent, but generally not competitively priced. Delta and Air France have a lock on direct flights from Atlanta, and they’re codeshare partners, where codeshare is “code” for monopoly from a consumer perspective. A workable alternative would have been Atlanta to Heathrow, with a connecting flight either to Lyon, or to Bordeaux. Because I had Delta Frequent Flyer miles to burn, Atlanta to Paris Charles de Gaulle was the most convenient option, with a 55 minute connecting flight to Lyon as the second leg of the itinerary to start the trip.

I secured a rental car from Sixt, my favorite car rental company in Europe. I requested a BMW 5-series for 6 days, but received a Volvo S60, which turned out to be fairly competitive to the German car for quality and road worthiness. I like Sixt because they generally have German cars, and the quality of service has been very good in the past. I like German cars because they are designed for high speeds and handle very well. While the French speed limit is 130 KPH (80 MPH), there are wide open stretches where one could hit much higher speeds were one so inclined. Driving any faster than 130 KPH is unsafe in a vehicle not engineered and equipped for that purpose. Driving in Europe is not for the meek at heart, nor for the timid driver. I can understand the “horror” stories recounted by some US tourists of their driving experiences in Europe. Personally, driving is part of the immersive experience in travel. It’s not like home, but it’s not meant to be. And in some ways, it’s much better than driving at home. For example, European drivers generally yield the left-hand lane to those intending to pass when practical. Compare that to the doddering old coot perpetually in the left hand lane with his left turn signal on in your favorite locale in the US. In general, highways in France are less crowded than in the US, but only away from major population centers. In the cities, the French roads are every bit as congested as name-your-nightmare rush hour in the US.

Having secured a car for day trips in Lyon and Bordeaux, as well as the connection to Bordeaux from Lyon, what remained was the transportation from Bordeaux back to Paris Charles de Gaulle to start the first leg of the return trip home. To train or not to train, that is the question. I decided on First Class TGV accommodations from Bordeaux Saint Jean to Charles de Gaulle terminal 2. Yes, the TGV (Tres Grande Vitesse) does take longer than a 1 hour “puddle jumper” from Bordeaux to Paris. But sometimes it’s not about the quickest route. The train does take longer, but that’s actually a good thing. Enjoying the company of your fellow travelers, taking in the sun-soaked countryside, and catching up on one’s blog posts are all things possible in comfort with first class train tickets. And it beats sitting around Charles de Gaulle terminal 2 for hours on end, hunting down a place to sit with access to power for portable devices.

 

Itinerary – France Travel Planning

My choice for basic itinerary was to split the 8 nights available for this trip evenly between Lyon and Bordeaux. In retrospect, 8 nights is not enough time for a thorough immersion in both destinations. But the reality is that there is never enough time, so the even split was a best effort immersion starter – and there’s always the next time for those things we invariably miss, no matter how well considered and planned we make our itineraries. 

Definitely apartments over hotel rooms for this trip. As mentioned earlier, both cities are UNESCO world heritage sites, steeped in history and architecture. Lyon has 2000 years of history, including a well preserved Roman amphitheater, a medieval and Renaissance Vieille Ville portion of the city (Old Town), and a charming Presqu’ile residential area on the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. Lyon is the culinary capital of France – not Paris. The choice of apartments for Lyon was brilliant, with panoramic views over the Saone river to the Notre Dame de Fourviere at the top of the hill. The views at night were particularly stunning, with little justice provided by photographs taken as compared to being there, no matter the effort undertaken to take the right photo, under the right conditions. Seeing the views in real time always beats the pictures taken. That’s why we travel. It’s not the same as the photos we bring back. The views from the apartment in the centrally located Presqu’ile neighborhood were simply not available from a hotel. And the price would have been many times more for the hotel as compared to the apartment had it been possible. Moreover, it’s difficult to have the same level of immersion from a hotel experience as compared to being a temporary resident, in a residential city neighborhood for a few days.

Wine drinker or otherwise, most people have heard of Bordeaux as the famed hub of the French wine growing region. Wine growing is the most common denominator when it comes to first thoughts on the region of Bordeaux, but the city has so much more to offer. UNESCO recognized for its beautiful, and consistent architecture, the city center is clean and well maintained. Other French cities aspire to be as well-kempt as Bordeaux. Due to its smaller size, Bordeaux has a more intimate feel than Lyon. The old town is laid out in a series of medieval streets that open onto plazas and grander boulevards. Historic sites, parks, and things that simply catch the eye are peppered throughout the old part of the city. The apartment selected for Bordeaux was centrally located, right in the heart of Rue Saint Catherine, just a few minutes’ walk from the Garonne riverfront. This apartment was more about location than views, with immediate and easy pedestrian access to all city attractions, and restaurants. Bordeaux is the type of city an enthusiast could easily walk through all day , not realizing until the end that 10 miles had pleasantly passed.

 

Resources – France Travel Planning

Absolutely can’t live without google flights. It works well with mainstream carriers, as well as the puddle jumpers. I use it to analyze costs related to date ranges, as well as stopover options for those destinations unreachable directly from my home airport – like Lyon and Bordeaux. Once I have my flight schedule selected, I add my flights to the alert list for price changes, and patiently wait for a good price to come my way.

I rely on several sites for apartment rentals. In the order of preference: HomeAway, booking.com, Tripadvisor, and last and definitely least, Airbnb. Some may be shocked that I prefer to avoid Airbnb, but I have good reasons to avoid them. Their business model simply doesn’t suit me, and they have basic functional deficiencies. I’ll have to put together a Travel Tips blog post on apartment selection, and share my perspective on the challenges in using some sites versus others. But on this particular trip, I did end up using Airbnb for Lyon as they had the best apartment, and I was able to circumvent the Airbnb location ambiguity to my satisfaction before booking it. I used booking.com for the Bordeaux apartment as they had the closest to the heart of the old town. I did use the other two apartment hunting resources, but their facilities were not competitive on this particular trip with the dates I had in mind.

google maps is a staple, and I use it on every trip for a variety of purpose. France has great cellular coverage, so I didn’t have to resort to downloading maps for offline usage, like on other trips (Chile). However, France also has the so-called “safety cameras” peppered throughout their roadway systems, mostly on their 130 kph divided highways. In the many previous trips driving in France, I have received only one speeding violation in the mail. Considering my love of driving with vigor, I consider myself lucky. This time I used waze to help me navigate around the misnamed safety cameras. The app worked pretty well, alerting upon entry to and exit from the “enforcement zones.” I do have to caution that it is a data-hungry beast when in continuous use on a long drive, chewing up a lot of roaming data, which will be of concern to those on expensive international roaming plans.

Tripadvisor is awesome for advanced trip planning, as well as finding a decent restaurant on the spot. When I use it for this purpose, I select “near me now/restaurants” and filter on “open now”. Then I sort by distance – not highest rated. When I’m hungry enough to find an unplanned restaurant, I want closest, then best. Of note is the Michelin restaurant app, which I did use both in Lyon and Bordeaux. But I always cross-referenced whatever restaurants the Michelin app recommended with the Tripadvisor app, and selected what made the most sense. It was usually Tripadvisor. Yelp is not particularly useful, and I don’t even have it installed on my phone any more.

Uber works in France, and it does come in handy. It is much better than trying to hire a taxi because you need not have any communication with the driver if language challenged, aside from properly identifying yourself on pickup. I used Uber from the airport to central Lyon, as well as around town when I simply tired of walking – once or twice.

With google translate on my phone at the ready, I seek out restaurants that have no English menu available. Going to countries where I don’t speak the language, and have bare familiarity with the alphabet is possible with google translate installed. Game changer for traveling off the beaten path – or even on the beaten path where language challenged. It’s important to note that language modules are downloadable for offline usage. Again not an issue in France because the coverage is so good, but it may save some money for those on expensive roaming plans.

Meteo-France is worth a mention as a useful resource. A better weather forecasting app for France doesn’t exist. It’s nice to have a sense for the day’s weather as I set out in the morning.

 

An Opportunity Missed

I love to plan because good planning usually yields a better experience, to the extent that planning can do that. But there is no such thing as perfect planning. Too much planning is a bad thing. Good travel, immersive travel, happens with a certain element of “being there” decisions, and even chance, that simply can’t and shouldn’t be planned. So, that’s the beginning of the conversation I have with anyone asking how I enjoyed the “wine tours” of Bordeaux. I didn’t do any wine tours in Bordeaux. The village hopping we did on our one-day excursion by car from Bordeaux was my choice for an immersive experience. And Bordeaux was too lovely to spend any less time exploring her. I do like wine. A lot. So there’s definitely an opportunity when I return to Bordeaux. And there are many more villages to explore in the region. In fact, so many that it would take months to visit every little village just one day at a time from Bordeaux. And I do love little villages. And so, I may not make the wine tour next time either. Of course the real solution is to move to Bordeaux, perhaps not permanently, but at least for a year. I could hit all the wine-maker’s chateaux, and all the villages from my centrally located Bordeaux apartment, just off the Garonne River. It’s a lovely thought.

France Travel Planning - Lyon to Bordeaux

 

 

Related Destinations – France Travel Planning