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Lyon: the Presqu'île by Vélo'v

Lyon: the Presqu'île by Vélo'v

Georges Rouzeau - 2009-12-03

Lyon today is discovering the appeal of the bicycle with Vélo'v, a self-service fleet of bicycles. It is indeed an ideal means of locomotion for exploring the Presqu'île ("peninsula") district, which forms an attractive city centre and whose architectural heritage serves as a setting for numerous museums, shops and restaurants. See map of Lyon

 
The latest craze in Lyon - long renowned for being the capital of the automobile - is the bicycle! The young and not-so-young, students and lawyers, retired and working people, everyone in Lyon is using Vélo'v, a self-service fleet of bicycles, free for the first 30 minutes (see box). It's understandable: you can get to wherever you're going in the city centre in less than twenty minutes... So it was more than tempting to become a cyclist to explore Lyon's Presqu'île district by Vélo'v!
 
Outside the Gare de Perrache station
 
Once the redevelopment of the confluence (the tip of the Presqu'île where the Saône and Rhône rivers meet behind the Gare de Perrache) is finished, travellers will no doubt be happy to alight from their trains. For the time being all of this area, long given over to industry and warehouses, is the scene of a gigantic urban building site.
 
The culmination of this project is eagerly awaited: the opening in 2008 of the Musée des Confluences, a museum devoted to science and society created by Coop Himme(l)blau, a collective of avant-garde architects. Today, we hurry to find a Vélo'v station; luckily there is one just outside the railway station, on PlaceSadi Carnot. There is even space for a small case in the large basket attached to the bicycle's handleba...
 
The Vélo'v craze: how it works
 
First obtain a free 7-day card from a terminal in a station. There is one approximately every 300 metres. Once the card has been issued, you can start a bicycle hire session. Choose a number, detach the bicycle from the corresponding anti-theft bollard-style stand and you can then use the bicycle free of charge for half an hour; every extra hour thereafter costs 1 euro.
 
Abbey of Saint-Martin d'Ainay
 
With just three turns of the pedals we reach rue Franklin, which marks the boundary of the part of Lyon designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In passing we salute the statue of Ampère, illustrious native of Lyon, on the square bearing his name, before stopping in front of the abbey of Saint-Martin d'Ainay. This fine Romanesque complex, dating back to the late 11th century, miraculously survived thanks to the late urbanisation of this part of Lyon, which for a long time remained a marshy wasteland.
 
The corner of rue Bourgelat and rue Adélaïde-Perrin affords the best view of the chevet, the square tower of the transept and the bell tower on the façade. Inside, you will be struck by a superb anachronism: the project manager helped himself to ancient ruins from the surrounding hills to raise the colonnades in the nave, which are a vivid throwback to the first early Christian basilicas.
 
Next to the church is a typical Lyon restaurant, the Café Comptoir Abel, an ideal place for lunch. Once you have eaten, walk to Quai Tilsitt, which offers a superb panorama of the opposite bank, the slopes of Fourvière hill and its basilica, the remains of the surrounding wall of Lyon and, in the distance, the Saint-Jean cathedral.
 
A look at the antiques dealers
 
In the Auguste Comte district and the adjacent streets (such as rue de la Charité), the stalls of craftsmen and art restorers flourish alongside old cafés with their original counters and panelling.
 
This is also the district of the nobility's hôtels particuliers, or mansions, which developed under Louis XIV and Louis XV at the same time as Place Bellecour (formerly Place Royale).
 
Number 50 rue Auguste Comte is a superb example of this noble architecture, as is the Hôtel de Villeroy (1730) at number 34 rue de la Charité, which houses the collections of the Musée des Tissus (Textile Museum).
 
A soft spot for the Place des Célestins
 
We mount our new steed once again and head due south, past Place Bellecour where all the great events in Lyon take place, taking rue duPrésident Edouard-Herriot then rue des Archers to the Place des Célestins, where a bicycle shed awaits (on the right).
 
This charming square shows to advantage the aristocratic façade of the Théâtre des Célestins. The recently completed restoration campaign has returned it to its former glory. If you sign up for one of the tours organised by the tourist office, you will discover a magnificent Italianate crimson and gold hall and a luxurious lobby.
 
A sort of high-tech public garden stretches out in front of the theatre, with parquet in the place of grass and a curious periscope in the centre. Take a quick look and you will discover a view in perspective of the access ramp to the Parking des Célestins car park, created by Daniel Buren and Christian Drevet. When art and architecture combine with a car park, the result is a superb evocation of a Renaissance gallery with arcades...
 
In the summer months, people fight for the benches on the Place des Célestins to sit and have their lunch, bought at Pignol. This is one of our favourite places in Lyon, particularly for a spot of reading, or to kill time before heading back to the Lyon Part-Dieu TGV station.
 
Shopping in the Carré d'Or district...
 
Shopaholics be warned: the famous Carré d'Or ("Golden Square") of Lyon (70 luxury boutiques located between Place Bellecour and the Place des Jacobins) is within credit card range. Some boutiques also boast the finest creations of the Lyon silk industry.
 
You can carry on shopping all along rue du Président Herriot and rue deBrest. A long street, opened in the 19th century by the Prefect Vaïsse (Lyon's answer to Haussmann) on the old developed site of the Presqu'île, rue Herriot is lined with beautiful façades that are eclectic and neo-Classical, as at number 63.
 
 Just after the Place des Jacobins, adorned with a beautiful Carrara marble statue dedicated to four artists from Lyon, it opens on each side onto the Passage de l'Argue arcade, a veritable institution in Lyon with its quaint shops selling umbrellas and hats, and its comical Bar du Passage.
 
On the left side of the street, the passageway opens onto the inevitable rue Mercière - the Gallo-Roman Via Mercatoria, i.e. market street - where Renaissance façades rise above the restaurants and cafés. People come here during the day to visit, and in the evening to dine or have a drink, for example at the Eden Rock.
 
In praise of sustainable modes of transport
 
In addition to Vélo'v and an outstanding public transport system combining buses, trams and metro, Lyon also has some sustainable forms of transport, which are fun to use for a weekend.
 
One such is the Segway, a big electric scooter fitted with special Michelin tyres, which the rider steers by shifting their body weight.
 
From March to Christmas Eve, you can also travel by "cyclopolitain", an electrically assisted tricycle with driver - a sort of modern rickshaw - for a simple journey as you would make in a taxi, or a "cyclotour", a 20-minute sightseeing tour.
 
There also remains the possibility of hiring an electrically assisted bicycle, which enables riders to effortlessly climb Fourvière hill, or the steep slopes of the Croix-Rousse. Based in Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), the ZoneCyclable company offers two types of tour: alone, with itinerary and booklet in hand, or accompanied by a professional guide.
 
Three must-see museums in the Presqu'île district
 
Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum)
 
The Musée des Beaux-Arts occupies the Palais Saint-Pierre, a former Benedictine convent that took only young girls from the aristocracy with four quarters of nobility in their pedigree. These socialites turned the cloisters into an exotic garden filled with rare tree species. Any highborn person passing through Lyon had a duty to pay their respects with a visit. Today the place remains a haven of peace amidst the urban hustle and bustle, and people come to here recharge their batteries in the company of statues by Bourdelle and Rodin.
 
The museum houses an exceptional representative overview of world art. In addition, the "Six années d'acquisition 2000-2005" exhibition presents around one hundred works displayed within the permanent collections, which illustrate the variety of acquisition procedures at the disposal of a large museum today: donations, bequests, purchases, deposits and payments in kind.
 
Le musée des Tissus  (Textile Museum)
 
Presented in the beautiful Villeroy mansion, the collections of silks, embroideries, hangings and other magnificent fabrics take us on a voyage between East and West, from ancient times to the present. A special place is of course reserved for the talent of Lyon's silk manufacturers.
 
Musée de l'Imprimerie (Printing Museum)
 
Did you know that the first book printed in French was a holy bible, printed in 1476 by Jean de Tournes in Lyon? It was during the Renaissance that this city of trade fairs gave decisive impetus to the typographical art, so much so that in one century it became the third publishing city in Europe, putting printing on a par with the banking and silk industries. The collections notably include an exceptional series of 600 woodcuts used to illustrate the Bible, and also woodcuts by Gustave Doré, which were destined for the works of Rabelais.
 
The Lyon City Card: a must!
 
This passport enables you to explore the city of Lyon on the cheap. Available in 1-, 2- or 3-day formats, it gives free access to public transport, 21 museums, guided tours by the tourist office and the guided rooftop tour of the Fourvière basilica (a must!), the Orchestre National de Lyon's "Expresso" concerts, most Amphithéâtre de l'Opéra National concerts, and numerous discounts in various shops…
 
Around the Place des Terreaux
 
Before reaching the famous Place des Terreaux, turn left into rue de la Fromagerie for a quick look at the magnificent Renaissance door of the church of Saint-Nizier, which according to legend was the site of the first shrine in Lyon.
 
Last stop on this bicycle tour, the Place des Terreaux forms something of a natural barrier at the foot of the Croix-Rousse hill. In fact, an old course of the Rhône river used to pass here before being filled in with earth (or terreaux). The square is bordered to the south by the long façade of the Palais Saint-Pierre, with the magnificent Louis XIII façade of the town hall to the east. In the centre stands the fountain commissioned from Bartholdi in 1889 by the city of Bordeaux. This Char de la Liberté ("chariot of liberty"), which symbolises the Garonne and its tributaries flowing into the ocean, was rejected on account of its price. Displayed and admired at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, the fountain was installed in Lyon in 1892 after a journey by road and sea lasting over two months! Only a boat could bear its 50 tonnes of hollow lead.
 
Redeveloped in 1994 by Daniel Buren, the Place des Terreaux now boasts a dark granite base concealing 69 jets of water. At night, subtle lighting highlights all the monuments.
 
Office de tourisme
Place Bellecour,
BP 2254 Lyon
04 72 77 69 69
 

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