Our traveling companions took the car and headed out from Nîmes for an archeological site they wanted to see, and we took the TGV train to Lyon. As I’ve mentioned before, France has a very good rail system and a two-hour, high-speed ride brought us to the city known as the “gastronomic heart of France”.
Lyon is built on the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and was the capitol of the Gauls during the Roman Empire, so it’s got some history. In fact, it has some more recent history with me: in March 2020, when the world shut down in response to the first COVID surge, I was living here. My Airbnb flat was in the Old Town area, just across the Saône from our current hotel, so I’m pretty familiar with the city. Our friends John and Alyce arrived at the end of the day from their archeological jaunt and joined us for a nice meal overlooking the river.
Lyon was once the center of silk-weaving in Europe, with some 40,000 weavers cranking out the cherished cloth for royalty and clergy. Today there are just 12 weavers left and we visited one fellow’s shop to see how it’s done. The weaver demonstrated his fascinating art, up close, for us. His 200-year old loom uses “Jacquard cards”, a chain of rectangular cards drilled with holes that control the weaving pattern (truly the precursors to the IBM punch cards of the 1960s).
We crossed the river on foot and took the funicular up to the top of the hills overlooking Lyon and had a spectacular view from the Notre Dame de Fourviere basilica. Then we walked down to the Roman Antiquities Museum and the adjacent ancient amphitheaters. The museum is very well done and very pleasant to visit.
Finally, we returned to the Old Town by funicular and had lunch at Bouchon Les Lyonnais, a traditional bouchon restaurant. This type of establishment harks back to the 16th century and is famous for its hearty, regional dishes based on fresh ingredients, and for its charming, friendly atmosphere. The fare is rich – rich – rich; leave your calorie counter at home! We had a range of meat and fish dishes, and complemented them by filling our glasses with great regional wines from Beaujolais, Coteaux du Lyonnais, and Côte du Rhône.
Lyon is the third-largest city in France but its vibe is completely different from Paris; much more laid back. It’s a pretty city, too, and quite welcoming.
And so our 10-day swing through southern France came to an end. We bade our friends goodbye and boarded another TGV train for the ride back to Paris. They continued their travels through Europe, and will meet us in Paris for a rendezvous in December before flying back to the U.S.
Man, we ate some good food and drank some nice wine! We were lucky that we had very pleasant Fall weather throughout our journey, and it was nice to see some French culture outside of Paris. The Roman ruins we visited were amazing and we also saw some wonderful art. Now we’ll unpack and settle back into Paris for a few weeks and then we’re off to Barcelona!