The weekend: Tired of visiting Paris because you’re tired of, well, Parisians? I don’t like to give much credence to stereotypes, but Paris is a hard city for those who thrive on politeness. Unlike the capital, Lyon has buoyantly friendly people who, when I visited at least, mocked their Parisian neighbours in the same way us Brits do. “Don’t worry there are no Parisians here!” my guide assured me. Lyon is great: a maze of streets with independent boutiques like Paris, only with less to see, which, let’s face it, means more time to see things properly.
Where? A straightforward two-hour TGV train ride south of Paris, Lyon is easily accessible from London via the Eurostar, cutting out an exhausting airport slog. Perched neatly in France’s midriff, Lyon has more of the southern climate, but with the hustle and bustle of the capital. Occupying a peninsula amid the Rhône and the Saône rivers, we stayed at the Mob Hotel, a happening spot that attracts locals for relaxed DJ sets in the bar at weekends, with good, locally-sourced food and river views to boot. It’s a ten-minute taxi ride downtown, but worth the trip. I taxied it, especially after the bowlfuls of Bourgogne I’d hoovered up in the 2nd Arrondissement, which rendered my legs incapable of further movement. (Like Paris, Lyon is split into numbered districts, the 1st, 2nd and 4th being where I spent my time, as they house the Presqu’île area at the heart of the historic city.)
The sights: Lyon merges old and new. In the Presqu’île district, windy-windy streets will allure visitors for hours, allowing you to peruse dainty shops selling artisanal wares such as lavender soap, popular of the region. Keep eyes peeled for traboules: discreet passageways that are an exciting way to traverse from one part of the city centre to another.
They seem private to look at but plenty are publicly accessible. Some traboules are clearly left open, but if you aren’t sure, book onto a tour group. More fun is to chance it, my guide cheekily suggests, by pressing the ‘mail’ button on doors to get instant access to these narrow, architecturally interesting portals revealing the innards of the city, where a handful of lucky locals live. Don’t miss the views from the Basilique Notre Dame cathedral either, a cobweb-blowing hike uphill to the peak of the Fourvière hill, where there are panoramic views of the rivers and low-lying city.
The food: The streets of Lyon are lined with more than enough independent boulangeries to shake a stubbornly crunchy baguette at. In fact, Lyon is France’s innovation pot in foodie terms; the Lyon Street Food Festival runs 23-26 June and easily justifies a trip. Try a Praluline cake for afters; dainty pink morsels that line window displays and are a local delicacy. Wafts of sweet nuttiness invade the narrow traboules, so follow your nose and keep your eyes on the prize. All Brits going to France want classic French fare, right? Oui. Le Garet has fuss-free authentic local food but for something swankier, Paul Bocuse’s Auberge du Pont de Collonges has a frankly greedy three Michelin stars.
And after that: I stayed local to the hotel in the Confluence district for beers in the converted industrial buildings that line the Rhône river. It’s the city’s cool new creative quarter, developed in the 1990s. Bars stay open into the small hours, and there are places to dance, too. Make time for a stroll along the river to watch the boats meandering by, or rise early for a run to shake off the Praluline binge.
Need to know: Eurostar offers returns to Paris from £80; the TGV costs around €10 from Paris to Lyon return. The Mob Hotel has rooms from £61 per night.