‘The gastronomic capital of France’ is a rewarding destination for over 50s travellers on city breaks and river cruises. Gillian Thornton picks 6 of her top reasons to visit.
Lyon is easy to reach by river and rail, road and air, making it popular choice for both independent silver travellers and escorted tours for over 50s, so here are a few reasons why you should add it to your holiday wish list.
1. Meet The Romans
The Romans founded Lugdunum, capital of the Gauls in 43 BC, and 2000 years on, you can still walk in their footsteps through the twin theatres on the hillside at Fourvière. Visit in summer for the added bonus of an al fresco performance during Les Nuits de Fourvière arts festival, and don’t miss Lugdunum Museum next door for five centuries of archaeological treasures.
A short walk from the Roman remains stands the 19th century hilltop basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière. Step inside for the glittering mosaic murals and out onto the terrace for a panoramic view of the city, awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO for its 2000 years of urban history.
2. Explore Vieux Lyon
Jump onto the funicular at Fourvière for the short ride down to the atmospheric streets of the Renaissance Old Town. Walk through the narrow passageways known as traboules which enabled silk workers to move their goods from one street to another, and admire hidden courtyards with Italianate balconies and spiral staircases.
Then cross the Rhône to the Presque’Ile to visit elegant squares such as the vast Place Bellecour – one of Europe’s largest – and Place des Terreaux, home to the Fine Arts Museum, Opera House, and a magnificent Bartholdi fountain. Browse the boutiques on smart streets lined with 17th and 18th century properties and stroll the quaysides of the Rhône and Saône to watch life at water level. On Sunday mornings, I can’t resist indulging in some retail therapy at the art market, second hand book sellers, and produce sellers along the river banks.
3. Shop for silk souvenirs in Croix-Rousse
Lyon’s long history of silk weaving began in Vieux Lyon, but with the invention of the Jacquard loom by local inventor Joseph-Marie Jacquard in 1801, production moved to tall, purpose-built ateliers on the Croix-Rousse hillside. Two hundred years later, the steep streets, courtyards and traboules still give the area a distinct village feel and many young designers have their studios here.
4. Visit Magical Museums
Lyon has an eclectic range of museums. My personal favourite is La Villa Lumiere where brother Louis and Auguste Lumière invented the cinematograph in 1894, Invest in a Lyon City Card for free access to many museums and exhibitions as well as public transport for 1, 2 3 or 4 days.
Among the city’s best free attractions are the murals and wall paintings that adorn public buildings. Joseph Jacquard is just one of the 31 famous local figures depicted on the Fresque des Lyonnais Célèbres on the banks of the Saône. Equally stunning is the Fresque des Canots (silk weavers’ wall) in Croix Rousse.
5. Treat Your Tastebuds
The city recently became a key player in the Vallée de la Gastronomie tourism initiative to promote food, wine and local produce in the Rhône and Saône Valleys from Dijon to Marseille. The city boasts than 4000 restaurants including 21 certified bouchons, traditional restaurants that were started by modest female cooks – les Mères Lyonnaises – in the 19th century. Look out for the quality label Les Bouchons Lyonnais to sample authentic dishes that include delicate fish quenelles and hearty meat meals.
Lyon’s indoor produce market, Les Halles, has been renamed in honour of gastronomic supremo Paul Bocuse who held three Michelin stars for 53 years before his death in 2018 at the age of 91. His legacy continues through his city brasseries and the many chefs he trained. Enjoy an apéro and lunch amongst the tempting food stalls at the Halles Paul Bocuse and stock up on irresistible edible souvenirs to bring home.
6. Be A Hands-On Foodie
Take part in the foodie culture with the many interactive activities on offer through the Vallée de la Gastronomie promotion. I learned how to blend my own bottle of wine at Chai Saint Olive urban winery; enjoyed a small group cookery lesson at the Institut Paul Bocuse; and spent a magical evening enjoying a gourmet dinner with fine wines on the top deck of the Wagon Bar bus as we toured the city after dark.
For short breaks to Lyon, or for river cruises which visit the city, call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.