Tour Guide – Lyon with Michael

Michael - Lyon

Michael is an amazing person, he should run for President! After living in France for 5 years, he is back in Chicago and continues to build an interesting career. Michael has this social skill that just a few of us have, he always knows someone wherever he goes. Spend 5 minutes with Michael and you will feel comfortable, with a glass of wine in your hand and happy to meet new people. Michael remains involved with the French Embassy and remains a great friend.


How would you describe Lyon to someone who has never been?
Lyon represents the best of French culture at a less imposing scale than Paris. But it’s a big enough city to always have a variety of things to do – metro area is over 2 million, 2nd biggest in France.

It has a rich tradition of gastronomy, history, the arts and sports and has seen tourism increase in the past decade. I love the emphasis on the outdoors in the city – from the large Parc de la Tête d’Or, to the long river walks along the Saône and Rhône Rivers, to a variety of parks sprinkled throughout the city. Like Paris, it’s composed of 9 arrondissements, far fewer than the 20 in Paris but it still makes for a variety of neighborhoods.

Of course, les bouchons Lyonnais – family run bistros primarily located in Vieux Lyon and the Presqu’île (downtown) areas are a staple of the city’s reputation, as are the historic former silk workshops of la Croix Rousse hilltop neighborhood and the winding, hidden “traboules” passageways that helped transport silk and later hide locals during WWII.

Paris is known for romance, but Lyon has a lot of mystique and romance to its sites, surroundings and the layout of its beautiful neighborhoods. The Rhône and Saône Rivers have been the object of poetry for centuries – especially their alternating conjuncture and disjuncture. One of the best newer sites in the city, where the rivers join at the southern tip of the Presqu’île, is known as les Confluences and features a large beautifully modern shopping center, with restaurants, a museum and entertainment options. That’s one of my favorite new sites.

Somewhere super touristy you still like to visit?
Place Bellecour in front of the statue of Louis XIV was always a good meet up spot for seeing friends – and that’s also a tourism area as one of the biggest squares in all of Europe. I also love Vieux Lyon, the most touristy spot of all Lyon – from the St. Jean Cathedral up the hill to Basilique Fourvière. I still have yet to dine at Paul Bocuse’s world famous restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, but I hope to in the near future.

I also went to the famous Fête des Lumières around Dec. 8th every year for five years. The population of the city essentially doubles that weekend, but it’s well worth it for the mesmerizing light show around the city.

What is your city’s philosophy?
I think it would be, take life as it comes and enjoy every day. People seem to take advantage of opportunities in Lyon and look for a strong work/life balance. I appreciate that.

Lyon is an international city as you are American?
There are a lot of international students and workers who live in the Lyon area – including several expatriate groups and international associations that foster global connections. That being said, it’s not at the level of Paris.  But that’s OK. Lyon is very self-aware that it cannot beat Paris on scale, but it can beat it and does beat it on quality of life and breadth of opportunities. It’s the heart of the 2nd most powerful economic region in France, and competes with the likes of Frankfurt, Hamburg, Barcelona, Zurich, Geneva, and other Tier 2 cities in Europe for investment and tourism.

What do you love about living in Lyon?
I love my friends there, the interesting history and culture (including food and wine of course), and the overall beauty and layout of the city and its rivers. I also respect its efforts to promote itself in tourism and investment around the world. I’m an official volunteer “Ambassadeur ONLYLYON” and in that regard I work to promote it.

Lyon’s close proximity to other European countries, and different parts of France and the countryside make it geographically amazing. You are essentially two to three hours from Paris, the Mediterranean, Burgundy and the Alps by high speed train – and relatively close to Switzerland, Italy and Germany.

Tell us about your neighbourhood…
Well, I lived on the outskirts in the 9ème but I spent significant time in the hilltop neighborhood in the 4th arrondissement, La Croix Rousse. With regular farmer’s markets, bistros, cafes, and bars, it overlooks the whole city much like Montmartre in Paris. There are loft apartments with high ceilings that are essentially converted silk workshops from past centuries – it all makes for a beautiful scene, and it feels like a separate town altogether, high above the hustle and bustle below.

What is the best way to get around Lyon?
The local public transport system, TCL, serves Lyon and the suburbs well and it has metro, bus and tram lines. It’s one of the cleanest networks I’ve used. I also find the public bike system very practical, the Vélo’v system. It actually came before the bike share program in Paris. Walking is always a great way to discover Lyon as well.

Lyonnais love their weekend brunch, right. What are your favourite spots?
L’Epicerie (le bar à tartine), also good for light meals in general. Great vibes, great dessert, shared tables and outdoor seating on a cobblestone street.

How do you stay fit in Lyon?
Biking, walking, hiking up the steps to La Croix Rousse, running along the Rhône River…

Name your favourite place for…
·         Your favourite coffee shop in Lyon:
Honestly, Starbucks has a few solid locations. I like the one on Rue de la République. It’s a completely different offering from French cafés, where you can lounge. There is also a fancy café and restaurant downtown called Grand Café des Négociants that has a great patio and good coffee. You can see a lot of business lunches there.

·         Your favourite bar:
Sirius (a boat bar) on the Rhône has open mic nights on Monday, where I played guitar and sang. So I’m fond of that whole boat bar scene. I also like the intimate spot of the Irish pub called Paddy’s Corner in Croix Rousse. I was there when it first opened, so I have nice memories.

·         Your favourite park:
You can’t beat Parc de la Tête d’Or for size and diversity. But I also recommend Parc des Hauteurs for its intimacy and views of the city.

·         Your favourite restaurant:
Les Retrouvailles in Vieux Lyon.

Describe your perfect Lyon weekend…
I would arrive by train at La Part Dieu, stay in the Croix Rousse neighborhood and visit a museum or two, a farmer’s market, picnic by the Rhône River, walk in Parc de la Tête d’Or and bike along the Rhône. I would also indulge in one of the Bocuse restaurants like Brasserie L’Est at the Gare de Brotteaux, a former beautiful train station that is converted into boutiques and restaurants in the 6th arrondissement.

Lyon is full of great cultural spots. Where do you love to go?
I love these sites: Musée des Beaux Arts, Opéra, Croix Rousse, Musée des Confluences, Vieux Lyon, St. Jean Cathedral, Basilique de Fourvière.

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Cécile lives in Chicago though is originally from southern France. She’s an avid traveler and is always excited by new adventures. After living in Ireland, Australia and Canada, Cécile is an advocate of having a routine but not staying comfortable for too long.

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