Spoilt for choice in Lyon

There is, as the Lyonnais say “un embarrass du choix” (an embarrassment of choice) in their fascinating and beautiful city. Whoever you are, Rugbyman, foodie, party animal, nature-lover, shopaholic or film buff and whatever your particular penchant, you’ll find it in Lyon.

Lyon lighting up for the night
Lyon lighting up for the night

With over 1,500 hundred restaurants, many of them award-winning establishments with world-renowned chefs, Lyon enjoys a reputation as France’s capital of gastronomy. Most restaurants are located in Rue des Marroniers and Rue Merciere between Bellecour and Terreaux. Of particular interest to the visitor, and unique to Lyon, are “Les Bouchons”, the hundred-year-old Brasseries where the atmosphere is relaxed, friendly. and old-world. Here you can sample typical Lyonnais charcuterie as well as machons, the before-work snack once eaten by Canuts, or silk workers and chase it all down with “pots” or special thick-based 46cl bottles of Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhone.

Lyon night-life offers many choices. For the party person, there are bars galore around City Hall and Opera. Down on the banks of the Saône, discotheques and pubs pump till dawn. For those with quieter tastes, the night-time streets are perfect for a stroll; they hum with life and people; shadows throw a different cast of beauty on the ornate old buildings; light plays on the rivers; and buskers entertain the passing crowds on every corner.

For a daytime promenade and for a glimpse of the Lyonnais at leisure, the left bank of the Rhône is the place to go, especially on warm weekend afternoons. You can walk for five kilometres along the river and enjoy the chain of parks, playgrounds, skate parks and petanque areas which stretch from the Tete d’or Park to Park Gerland; you can laze on a bench on the riverbank and watch roller bladers, cyclists on velo ‘v (the communal bikes provided as part of the public transport system throughout France) and joggers zoom by, while water-skiers and pleasure boats cruise up the river behind you.

Shopping in Lyon is a pleasant and easy experience – no long-haul treks across the city, burdened with shopping bags – most well-known stores, such as Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, are located in the Presqu’ile, from the Rue Victor Hugo to the Rue de la Republique. Original designs can be found in the Village des Createurs, in Passage Thiaffait, in the Croix Rousse district. But for a unique retro experience, visit the old world shops of the Passage de l’Argue. In the gastronomic capital of France, a little gourmet shopping is a must and the best place for this is the central food market or Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, in Part-Dieu where 56 traders sell every local delicacy.

If you don’t see another Lyon Museum, be sure to visit the Musée Lumiere which celebrates the work of brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere, who invented cinematography right here in Lyon. Its 4 levels and 21 rooms trace the history of cinematography and house such wonders as the “cinematographe numéro un” which was used in the first public movie showing in 1928, a selection of Lumiere films with commentaries and “le photodrama” a kind of giant screen on which in 1901, 360 degree, 6 metre high photographs were projected for public viewing.

It was the 2007 Rugby World Cup that first brought me to Lyon. I’ll always be grateful that it did, otherwise, I might not have discovered this interesting, beautiful and welcoming city.

Buildings, boeuf and Rugby in Toulouse

Toulouse is an ancient city with a long, rich history and proud traditions. It is a city distinguished by beautiful architecture, fabulous cuisine and great Rugby.

The pink brick buildings of Toulouse
The pink brick buildings of Toulouse

Toulouse is often called “la ville rose”. This is because of the distinctive pink brick from which so many of its buildings are made. The finest and most famous of these pink brick and stone structures are la Cathedrale de St Etienne and La Capitole (the City Hall and theatre) Aside from its pink brick beauties, Toulouse also boasts some of the world’s most distinguished buildings, like St Sernin Basilica which is the oldest Romanesque church in the world and the church and cloister of Jacobins which is the most complete group of ancient monastic structures in Europe.

Rich in fertile farms and vineyards, the Midi-Pyrenees region prides itself on its bonne cuisine et bons vins. Saucisses de Toulouse or herb sausages, cassoulet or pork and bean stew, garbure or cabbage soup with poultry, foie gras, or pate made from the liver of fattened geese, are all acclaimed and delicious dishes of the region. However, one evening, on the recommendation of a Toulousain at a neighbouring table in La Boucherie restaurant, we discovered the cote de boeuf, a side of succulent beef, carved into mouth-watering slabs at the table and would highly recommend this too, especially to other carnivorous Kiwis. Well-known wines include Bergerac, Bizet, Cahors, Gaillac and Madiran. But also on the recommendation of our neighbour, we discovered a delicious local, nameless vin rouge ordinaire and washed down our cote de boeuf with a generous carafe of it.

The Crowd at the Stade de Toulouse for the 2007 match between Romania and the All Blacks,
The Crowd at the Stade de Toulouse for the 2007 match between Romania and the All Blacks,

Last, but certainly not least of Toulouse’s claims to fame is Rugby. Teams from Toulouse have dominated the sport both regionally and nationally over the years, Le Stade Toulousain is known throughout the country as a Rugby epicentre, international stars often come to play a season here and the city has produced and nurtured such national Rugby legends as Fabien Pelous and Frederic Michalak. Tout ca se voit. The Midi-Pyrenees’ passion for the sport, their pride in their place as national and international greats and their commitment to the world-wide Rugby fraternity is evident everywhere and was especially so during the 2007 Rugby World Cup.