By Madeleine Pollard
France’s third-largest city and culinary capital blends tradition with digital innovation.
Lyon is the international heart of women’s football. Olympique Lyonnais, who won the Champions League for a fourth consecutive season this year, are acclaimed for making inroads towards gender equality in sport.
The women’s team attracts large crowds, sponsorship from the likes of Mastercard and the world’s best players. Ada Hegerberg, their Norwegian striker and the first winner of the Women’s Ballon d’Or, has campaigned for equal pay across the sport.
Lyon’s support of the game was rewarded in June, when the city hosted the semi-finals and final of the Fifa Women’s World Cup in Olympique Lyonnais’ 59,000-seat Groupama Stadium.
Young at heart
Although it rests on Roman ruins and is steeped in cultural history, Lyon is a hub of innovation. Its digital sector employs more than 50,000 people, according to the Lyon French Tech association. The surrounding Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region attracted €267m of venture capital in 2018, second only to Paris for investment in start-ups.
Lyon is part of the EU’s Smarter Together project, which seeks to promote sustainable technologies in cities. A trial running between 2016 and 2021 in the city’s La Confluence district, the first urban development in France to be recognised by the World Wide Fund for Nature as a “sustainable neighbourhood”, aims to create more than 1,500 new jobs in clean technology.
Lyon is widely considered to be the gastronomic capital of France and, according to locals at least, the world. It has more than 4,000 restaurants; 15 in the city centre have Michelin stars.
In 1965, the late Paul Bocuse, the so-called “Pope of French Cuisine”, clinched three stars for L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges on the northern outskirts of the city — an accolade it has retained.
At the other end of the dining spectrum are the reasonably priced bouchons, unique to Lyon. These traditional bistros serve generous helpings of local cuisine, such as Lyonnais salad of bacon, croutons and poached egg. Their red-and-white chequered tablecloths are a hallmark of the cobbled streets in the city’s old town, Le Vieux Lyon, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie, a culinary museum and food experience, opened in October, cementing Lyon’s reputation as “the belly of France”.
Gateway to the Alps
Lyon is an ideal base for skiers and hikers, as day trips to the mountains are possible year round. The nearest resort, Les Plans d’Hotonnes, is an 80-minute drive to the north-east, while Les Arcs and Tignes each take around three hours by car.
The glacial river Rhône brings the Alpine feel into the city, flowing down from Switzerland’s Lake Geneva to meet Lyon’s second river, La Saône, in the centre.
On a clear day, panoramic views of Mont Blanc and the Vercors Massif can be admired from the Gros Caillou, a glacial rock in Lyon’s Croix-Rousse district, or from the 19th-century Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, which towers over the city.
Space to breathe
Lyon’s “lungs” are the Parc de la Tête d’Or, which covers almost 300 acres and is one of France’s largest city parks. As well as a 40-acre lake, it is home to a free zoo, botanic garden and velodrome. The “Tête d’Or” (a treasure with the golden head of Christ) is rumoured to have been buried there in the 16th century.
Barnes International Realty is offering a two-bedroom apartment with views of Parc de la Tête d’Or for €1.39m. A four-bedroom apartmentÂ in a mansion dating from 1889, with views of the Rhône, is on the market for €2.85m.
Beyond its green spaces, Lyon’s streets come alive with free open-air festivals. The most famous is December’s Fête des Lumières, when the city’s historic façades glitter with spectacular light shows.
Photographs: Dreamstime; Alamy; AFP via Getty Images