Green Traveller's Guide to Lyon
Harriet O'Brien provides a few tips for how to have a green eco escape in Lyon.
With its Roman amphitheatres, medieval cobbled streets, secret passageways, Renaissance townhouses and absorbing museums, Lyon is one of France’s under-sung glories. Dramatically built around two rivers, the Saone and the Rhone, and two great hills (Fourviere to the east and Croix Rousse to the north), it has a wonderful natural setting. And perhaps this is what has endowed it with extraordinary energy: for above all Lyon is a dynamic city of innovation. It has been a pioneer of silk weaving, of cinema (the Lumiere brothers invented moving picture technology here) and, of course, of gastronomy - with Paul Bocuse currently the most celebrated of its long line of food heroes. And there’s more. Much more. Today, Lyon is making huge strides in green developments.
It was in Lyon, in May 2005, that the first of France’s public bike schemes was launched – open to visitors and residents alike. Velo’v now comprises a fleet of about 4,000 bicycles and nearly 345 pick-up and drop-off points spread through Lyon and outlying Villeurbanne. But that’s just tip of the iceberg. The city has become a centre for clean technology, creating a public transport system (of tram, metro, trolleybus) much praised as a model for sustainable development. And, even more importantly, it is in the throes of orchestrating a huge project of urban regeneration which is set to become a benchmark for energy efficiency and sustainable living. Phoenix-like, the once rundown old port, prison and gasworks site at the confluence of the Soane and the Rhone is being transformed into a vibrant residential and leisure area, with construction strictly meeting France’s High Environmental Quality standard.
Getting to Lyon: Lyon is under 5 hours by train from London (via Paris). For how to travel from the UK to Lyon by train and to book train tickets, see our step by step guide: How to travel by train from London to Lyon
Getting around the city: Lyon has a good public transport network. From Part Dieu train station, there are trams, metro and buses that take you around the city centre and out to the city’s suburbs. Lyon’s handy City Card provides free admissions and discounts to many of the city’s main cultural and visitor attractions, including guided tours and unlimited access to the city’s public transport. It is valid for one (€21), two (€31) or three days (€41). For more information, see www.en.lyon-france.com/Book-a-Lyon-City-Card and to book guided tours call the tourist office: +33 (0)4 72 77 69 69 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Some museums are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
From outside the station, you can pick up a bike from the city’s bike hire scheme ‘Velo’v’, for more information, including a map of all the docking stations and the city’s cycle routes, see: www.velov.grandlyon.com.
Where to stay
Villa Florentine: Its terraced gardens are dotted with sculptures; its views eastwards over Lyon are superb; its 28 rooms are furnished with rich fabrics - and each has its own private terrace. Set on the Fourviere hillside, this is a gloriously upscale hotel in a 17th-century mansion. The luxury here is created with impressive environmental care, from water conservation to recycling and reduction of energy consumption. Meanwhile the gourmet restaurant places an accent on locally sourced ingredients and offers vegetarian options. 25 Montee St Barthelemy (+33 (0)4 72 56 56 56; www.villaflorentine.com). Doubles from €225, room only (breakfast €25).
Hotel de la Cite Concorde: Looking like a space ship from one perspective, an ultra-sleek apartment block from another, this is one of the newest of the city’s four-stars. It is beautifully set on the banks of the Rhone near the Parc de la Tete d’Or and was designed by Renzo Piano as part of his Cite Internationale development to the north east of the centre. The 164 rooms offer contemporary, restful furnishings and facilities include an increasingly well regarded restaurant which, under chef Vincent Penot, prides itself on using seasonal market produce. The hotel utilizes low-energy lighting, environmentally sensitive use of water and recycling measures, among other eco efforts. 22 Quai Charles de Gaulle (+33 (0)4 78 17 86 86; www.lyon.concorde-hotels.com). Doubles from €210, room only.
Home Sweet Home: Go local – and don’t be put off by the name of this charming and very welcoming little establishment. Set on Fourviere hill, this leafy chambres d’hotes offers home made breakfasts (using organic ingredients where possible) and much Lyon insight from host Chantal Menut. There are three warmly decorated bedrooms and a pretty, plant-filled terrace. Fourviere’s rose gardens and its Gallo-Roman remains are all within easy walking distance. 6 rue Cleberg (+33 (0)4 72 32 15 66; www.home-sweet-home-lyon.com). Doubles from €65, including breakfast.
Radisson Blu Lyon: Head here for jaw-dropping views westwards over the city: this member of the Radisson Blu chain is set over the top nine floors of the Tour du Credit, at 164m Lyon’s tallest building. There’s an argument that you’re better in that out at this building: constructed in the latter 1970s the tower is no beauty. But looks aside, it is conveniently located close to the Part-Dieu station in the business district. Meantime the hotel itself offers cool efficiency, a comfy ambience in its 245 rooms, and a panoramic gourmet restaurant. Holding Clef Verte certification, it has an ongoing commitment to sustainable tourism, reducing paper consumption where possible, encouraging guests to take public transport, conserving water and more. 129 Rue Servient, Part-Dieu (+33 (0)4 78 63 55 00; www.radissonblu.com/hotel-lyon). Doubles from €200, room only, or €214 including breakfast of seasonal produce.
Hotel Novotel Part-Dieu: Convenient, well priced and pleasingly functional, the 124-room Novotel Part-Dieu is in the heart of the business district and about 10 minutes by tram from Vieux Lyon. Like many other Novotel hotels it follows a programme of sustainable development, and since 2008 has been committed to reducing emissions, water consumption and energy by 20 per cent before the end 2012. Progress is monitored by the environmental organisation Earthcheck.
47 Boulevard Maurice Vivier Merle (+33 (0)4 72 13 51 51; www.novotel.com). Doubles from €120, room only.
Where to eat
La Voute Chez Lea: The modest exterior gives little away. On the banks of the Soane, La Voute Chez Lea is one of the oldest restaurants in town and it is the genuine article for food and décor. Step through the door and you’re in a world of the 1930s on the ground floor while upstairs furnishings evoke the early 1900s. The cuisine meantime offers an authentic taste of Lyon – and considerable pride is taken in obtaining market-fresh, strictly seasonal ingredients for the changing menu. Try one of the traditional specialities: quenelles de brochet (pike dumplings in a creamy sauce), local sausages, tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe) among them. Two courses will set you back about €28. 11 place Antonin Gourju (+33 (0)4 78 42 01 33; www.lavoute-chezlea.com). Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday.
Le Coeur en Bouche: Imaginative presentation is part of the appeal of this small bistro near the Part-Dieu station in the business district. Simple, seasonal organic ingredients are used, with an emphasis on local products although occasionally an avocado pear or a banana might sneak on to the menu. The resulting dishes include the likes of organic fillet of salmon with leek mash, and crème brulee with hint of lemon. There is also a deli section stocked with oils, chocolates, wines and more, sourced from small producers across France. Expect to pay around €23 for two courses.
54 rue Ney (+33 (0)4 78 52 38 62; www.lecoeurenbouche.com). Open for lunch Monday-Friday, and for dinner on Friday and Saturday.
Toutes les Couleurs: ‘We’re 100 per cent organic and 100 per cent gourmand’ say the staff at this vegetarian restaurant set in a former silk weaver’s workshop in the Croix Rousse district. The (strictly seasonal) menu might include courgette gratin with yoghurt dressing or ratatouille crumble with lentils. Expect to pay about €17 for two courses. 26 rue Imbert Colomes (+33 (0)4 72 00 03 95; www.touteslescouleurs.fr). Open for lunch Tuesday to Saturday, and for dinner on Friday and Saturday.
Zone Verte: Helene Deffontis and Laurent Bouffanet spent several years travelling and working in Asia before setting up this vegetarian restaurant near the banks of the Saone in 2007. The fresh, organic ingredients here are given a spicy twist, with the small, changing menu featuring the likes of vegetable soup with ginger, and piquant lentil casserole with yoghurt and tahini. Pricing is keen: starter and main course cost €13. 24 quai Saint Antoine (+33 (0)4 78 38 15 18; www.zoneverte.fr). Open daily for lunch, and dinner Tuesday to Saturday.
Soline: This brightly decorated organic vegetarian restaurant has developed a great reputation – and has a loyal base of local customers. A short walk south of the Part-Dieu station, it’s a relaxed outfit offering a buffet spread of salads and hot pots - and often particularly well-regarded ayurvedic dishes. Two courses cost around €14.89. Rue Paul Bert (+33 (0)4 78 60 40 43; www.soline.net). Open for lunch Monday to Friday.
Where to visit
Fourviere Hill: A trip to this seminal area of Lyon takes in dramatic public transport, the city’s most significant spiritual site and amazing Roman remains. Make your way to Vieux Lyon funicular station from where a cable car system (known locally as ‘la ficelle’) will scoot you vertiginously to Fourviere station at the top of the hill. You emerge beside the neo-Byzantine Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, built in the 1870s. Head to its wide terrace offering stunning views of the city before taking a look inside the building – the interior of this much loved landmark is a riot of gilt and mosaic. Then walk downhill to the most remarkable site in Lyon: two large Roman theatres side by side in what is now an archaeological park. They were discovered only in 1933 in the grounds of what was then a convent. Fourviere archaeological park open daily until 9pm; free entrance.
Hotel Gadagne: Head to this superb Renaissance mansion in the medieval old town for an insight into Lyonnaise culture. It contains two museums: one tells the story of the city, from its days as capital of the Gauls to its green developments in the 21st century; the other celebrates the art of puppetry from cultures around the world and with a special emphasis on Lyon’s own Guignol. Created in the 19th century by an out-of-work silk weaver the puppet was devised as an outspoken critic of the government – and Guignol shows today continue to denounce social injustice. While you’re here, make time, too, to visit the 4th-floor cafe where an inner garden typical of the Renaissance period has been recreated. 1 place du Petit College (+33 (0)4 78 42 03 61; www.gadagne.musees.lyon.fr). Open Wednesday to Sunday; entrance to each museum €6, ticket for both €8; free admission for under-26s – bring your passport as proof of age.
Silk workshop: Visit a living museum of Lyon’s silk weavers, locally dubbed ‘Les Canuts’. Set high on Croix Rousse hill, near the Croix Rousse metro station, La Maison des Canuts is set in a 19th-century weavers’ workshop and still contains working looms from the turn of that century. It is both a studio and shop – stocked, of course, with fabulously worked silks.
10 Rue d’Ivry (+33 (0)4 78 28 62 04; www.maisondescanuts.com). Open Monday to Saturday. Free entrance to shop and studio; guided tours at 11am and 3.30pm. Adults €5.50; children €3.5; under-12s go free.
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse : Named after Lyon’s much-lauded culinary son, the city’s famous covered market is a veritable temple of French gastronomy. It contains 59 stalls of the best producers and grocers in the area as well a number of first-rate cafes and little bistros, including Chez Leon which is renowned for its oysters and mussels. The market’s food displays are fabulous. Stop by chacuterie Sibilia with its hams and saucissons. Sample the products of Seve, master patissier, renowned for his salt macaroons. Admire the great spread of cheeses at Fromagerie La Mere Richard. 102 cours Lafayette (+33 (0)4 78 60 32 82; www.halledelyon.free.fr). Tuesday to Sunday 8am-7pm (Sunday until 3pm).
Botanical garden: Lyon’s Parc de la Tete d’Or is a much loved 117-hectare green space the banks of the Rhone to the north of the city centre. It contains a wonderful botanical garden, said to be the largest in France. Established in the late 1850s, this is now home to a good 15,000 plants including 750 varieties of historical roses. It also boasts some of the country’s most attractive greenhouses – nurturing a collection of orchids, exotic camellias, and carnivorous plants, among others.
+33 (0)4 72 82 35 00; www.loisirs-parcdelatetedor.com. Open daily 9-11.30am and 1.30-4.34pm; free entrance.
What to do
Find secret passages: Take an intriguing walk through Vieux Lyon and seek out its ‘traboules’, hidden passageways between ancient streets. In medieval Lyon, the traboules were part of a neat solution to lack of space: two or more properties shared a well and inner courtyard accessed by a pathway through the buildings. During WWII Lyon was the headquarters of the Resistance and the traboules became hiding places. The tourist office can supply you with a free map that details the traboules. It also runs guided walking tours through these passages. Lyon Tourist Office, place Bellecour (+33 (0)4 72 77 69 69; www.lyon-france.com). Guided walking tours of Vieux Lyon’s traboules take place on Saturday at 2.30pm in English; adults €5; under-18s go free.
Go sight-jogging: Put on your trainers, meet your guide and off you jog. Described as ‘intelligent sport’ sightrunning quite simply combines exercise with sightseeing. For the moment Joggincity offers private tours only: your guide will meet you at your hotel and accompany you on one of three one-hour routes, explaining history and landmarks as you jog. The easiest tour is along the banks of the Soane and Rhone, more effort is required for the Croix Rousse sight-jog, while the Fourviere route is pronounced difficult. Joggincity (+33 (0)6 62 67 91 30; www.joggincity.fr). One-hour tours €40 per person, based on a private group of two sight-joggers.
Take an electric tricycle tour: They’re like Bangkok’s motorised rickshaws - but without the fumes. Electrically powered tricycles are available for clean, green tours of Lyon. Cyclopolitain offers a choice of guided tours (in French) in these dinky looking vehicles: a half-hour trip takes in Vieux Lyon, the Opera House and the banks of the Rhone; two-hour tours will also take you to the Part-Dieu district and down to the new developments at the Confluence. Cyclopolitain (+33 (0)4 78 30 35 90; www.cyclopolitain.com). In operation Tuesday to Friday noon to 7pm and Saturday 10.30am-7pm. Half-hour tours €20; two-hour tours €60.
See Lyon by canoe: Paddle through the city. There’s even a choice of rivers on which to do so. Lyon Canoe offers trips of about three hours - with or without a coach – either on the Soane and past the old town, or along the Rhone and through more modern Lyon. Each route takes you to the emerging new sector at the Confluence. +33 (0)6 98 77 95 10; www.lyoncanoe.com. Trips without a guide €25 per person based on three in a canoe. Trips with a guide €40 per person.
Climb a tree: In fact make that several trees. Just a 15-minute bus ride from the heart of Lyon (catch the 14 TCL bus from place Bellecour to Sainte Foy les Lyon) City Aventure is a magnificent open-air playground with an acrobatic-style tree-top trail. It’s the perfect antidote to urban sightseeing. City Aventure, 35 avenue General de Gaulle, Sainte-Foy-les-Lyon. Opening hours vary with the seasons – consult www.cityaventure.com. Adults €23.45 (or €2.50 if just accompanying a child and not participating); children aged 10-18 €21.45; under-10s €15.45.