Most cities have a river. Lyon has two. The well known Rhone – as in Sainsbury’s Cote-du-Rhone – and the lesser known Soane. These two rivers form the backdrop to my days and I’m lucky to be blessed with such choice. And naturally I have walked up and down them both many times. Take the Rhone east and it leads you to Mirabelle Jonage, an impressive park and lake complex where you can cycle and sail in the day and pick up hard drugs and girls in the night. Taking the Soane north leads to Vaise, where I set off on my walk to Mt. Verdun last week (see In Lyon 9). Heading south down the Rhone leads to heavy industry, motorway flyovers and unsavoury housing estates.
After spending four months here, I perceive Lyon as a city with enough charm for a day trip – no more. I went to Prague for four days once and four days was enough. Madrid is a two dayer; Granada, a three dayer; Ljubljana, a two dayer; Caracas, a three dayer; Nottingham, a noner; Bristol, a lifetime; and Venice, however long it takes you get through the crowds. These are only my subjective, ill-informed experiences of cities I’ve been to, but if I was a tourist visiting Lyon, I could do it in half-a-day. No disrespect to Lyon, but it’s just not that sort of ‘tick the box’ touristy sightseeing place. People come here to work, not waltz around the ruined temples of dead Romans saying ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ every few steps. It’s a working city, where the reward at the end of a long shift is a garlic sausage and a strong beer, not a fluty glass of champagne and sliver of Foie Gras on a buckwheat wafer.
So, before the Lyon Tourist Board discover where I live, here’s my half day guide to Lyon: Take the funicular tram to the Fourvière cathedral that overlooks the city. After an hour of visiting the cathedral and the modest Roman amphitheatre (the one in Chester is better), walk down the Fourvière hill back into the old town for a late lunch – a kebab at Ahmed’s across from the Miniature Model Museum will suffice. In the afternoon I recommend wandering the cramped repressive streets imagining what a hellhole it was to live here in the Middle Ages while stuffing your face with crepes from one of the pancake stalls. If you’re on a budget why not buy a ten pack of lagers from the Vival Minimarket at the end of Rue Lainerie and camp out for a few hours in Place Gerson swigging warm lager in the sun. Once you’ve nailed them, take the Pont Feuillee and the Passerelle du College over the two rivers to the Berge du Rhone for a leisurely walk and a small beer in one of the overpriced boat cafes. Hop on a tram back to the old town for a slap up meal of sheep intestines and diced kidney at a Bouchon. After this you should take four Rennies and return to your hotel to sleep it off, or call an ambulance. Alternatively, you could just get smashed in one of the nearby Irish Pubs and see what happens. In the morning, breakfast on croissant and strong coffee; board the plane and you’ll be back home in time for Emmerdale, a ready meal and a cup of Yorkshire tea. Job done, tick box – VISTED LYON. Next city, Milan, a four dayer according to the Phil Ogley Travel Guide.
So Lyon. Not a tourist city. More a hub for the surrounding area. In winter you’ve got skiing, walking, and mountaineering. And in summer you’ve got vineyards, vineyards and vineyards with maybe a boat trip down the Rhone to a vineyard. It’s a good location in fairness. Even the beach is only 2 hours away on the TGV. You could spend the winter skiing in Courcheval; the spring roaming the vineyards picking up several hundred crates of top-notch vino and then spend the summer getting sloshed by the Med. In autumn you could visit Switzerland to lose a few stone by doing some Alpine hiking before heading back to Courcheval for the winter. And then I wake up to the Algerian guy below shouting up at my window and life in Lyon goes on…