We arrived in Lyon to an evening of heavy snow. We were running late after getting the tram and two metros from the airport to our hostel on the quays of the river Saone. The Cool and Bed Hostel is clean and the staff is friendly but there’s an air of disorganisation and zero security, not a key or code in sight. Still there’s always someone at the reception-come-bar and the kitchen is decent (not enough mugs). There’s even wifi though it was pretty slow. That would have only affected me if I’d had my netbook with me but oh no I needed to travel light and show off.
The next morning we got on the TGV to Nimes, south of the snow for a day at least. The wind was still fairly biting but it was a step up.
Just outside the Nimes train station are the buses that go to the Pont du Gard (€1.50 each way). The Pont du Gard, Roman aqueduct in its day supplied ancient Nimes with water. It is seen most often on the five euro note. It takes about half an hour each way but factor in the buses not being that regular once you get out there. The visitors’ centre has a good gift shop, an edible café and an interesting museum to explore before or after you make the pleasant five minute walk over to the famous aqueduct after you pay the €3.50 charge.
It’s worth the trip just to walk around and marvel at the architectural achievement of it; a monument to the height of Roman engineering. But there are also the sweeping views back across the valley to Nimes.
Nimes is a beautiful town and a very easy one to explore on foot. If you leave the train station on the opposite side to the bus station you walk straight into the old quarter. A tree-lined street mixing old and modern architecture leads you up to the square with a cathedral and the amphitheatre.
The next day, back in Lyon, we headed up the hill (in the venicular – metro tickets apply) at the St Jean quater to the Roman theatre and odeon. The sites are free to visit for anyone but there is a small charge (€3-5) for the Gallo-Roman museum beside them.
While we were there the museum was having a brilliant exhibit on depictions of the classical world in cinema.
After the museum we went to the impressive cathedral, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere, which is a breath-taking building of white stone that can be seen from all over the city.
The main cathedral was close for renivations but the chapel of St James was open and is a beautiful space. St James is particularly important for Lyon as it is the beginning of his pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago.
The view from outside was spectacular. We split into smaller groups to explore and get lunch. I wandered down the hill on foot back to the St Jean quarter.
The cathedral of St Jean-Baptiste looms over the square that begins Rue St Jean.
This is a great shopping street that balance tourist traps with beautiful secondhand bookshops, unusual boutiques and a army surplus/vintage clothing shop near its end.
About halfway down is Chez Nous, a little cafe where we got a delicious and good value lunch. €12 for 2 courses and €15 for three courses with pots of good tea and hot chocolate (€3). The lasange is particularly good.
Beside Chez Nous is a lane that houses one of the best shops I have ever been in.
Mandragore sells a fabulous mix of medieval gear and generally beautiful leather and silver goods. I bought a replica map of the world made in 1602. If I had the money I would have bought everything.
The next day was less snowy but full of a fog that gave Lyon a touch of mystery. I had wanted to visit the synagogue while we were there but it was all locked up when we arrived.
Place de Bellecour (it has a metro station) is pretty and if you walk (south) out of the square for five minutes you’ll find the Basilica of St Martin of Ainay built in the 11th century on the 9th century priory.
We wandered back up through Place de Bellecour, Rue Emile Zola (where there’s a brilliant cafe/patesserie) to Place de Jacobins and Rue de la Republique where you’ll find all the high street shopping.
This is also a good place to find restaurants and cafés. Barocco is particularly good choice, lovely food with main courses between €9-16 which plenty of space for groups.
Lyon is a city I could have spent more time in a would love to go back some time (maybe to start the Camino?).