With its fine food, enchanting festivals, rich history and wonderful festive markets, Lyon is a superb place to celebrate Christmas, as Ozel Rowland discovers
The Festival of Lights: Fête des Lumières
This four-day festival dates back to 1852 and is Lyon in France‘s biggest annual celebration that sees the city sparked with luminosity as artists take to the streets to exhibit their glowing installations for all to see. While it may seem like just a creative showcase of light art, it takes its roots as a religious tribute after the unveiling of a statue of the Virgin Mary was postponed several times due to bad weather. In true community spirit, the people of Lyon took to lighting up candles and lanterns on their window sills in honour of her and so today this unique Lyonnais tradition has grown into a huge contemporary visual celebration. This year’s event said to feature more than 70 sound and light installations projected across the city and with averages of 5˚C you’ll want to wrap up warm.
As the holiday season approaches some of Lyon’s most prestigious markets are transformed into fairytale-esque Christmas villages to bring a touch of fantasy to the routine of gift shopping. Place Carnot is popular for its numerous wooden chalets that boast tempting artisan delicacies and seasonal local fare. As well as this, the colourful stalls of the Marché de la Croix Rousse, Lyon’s largest market, usually runs right up until Christmas Eve and offers festive specialities such as crepes, gingerbread, and mulled wine as well as an array of gastronomic delights from Lyon and beyond. The district of Croix Rousse also launches an art Christmas Market at Place Sathonay where shoppers can unearth some unique gift-ideas
Time to dine
If you thought Paris was the food capital of France, think again. Lyon’s gastronomic reputation was set off during the 18th Century when the esteemed ‘Mothers of Lyon’ made it their business to make gourmet dishes more widely available to the working class. It was then in 1935 that Lyon was dubbed ‘the World Capital of Gastronomy’ by two food writers who favoured Lyonnais cuisine for its rich flavour and simplicity. Since then Lyon has been at the centre of France’s culinary culture, hosting some of the world’s best cooking schools, not to mention its fine selection of Michelin starred restaurants peppered across the city. But even so, Lyon is much more than just fine-dining, as you’ll see from its traditional eateries known as Bouchons which have preserved the city’s best loved home-grown dishes. Head over to Le Musèe in Cordeliers to sample a classic menu and get a taste of old-style Lyonnais food. In Part-Dieu you’ll come across the eminent indoor food market Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocus, which takes its name from the renowned master chef for its vast offering of gastronomic foods and decadent displays.
Vieux Lyon: The old city
Draped along the banks of the Saone River at the foot of the Fourviére Hill is Lyon’s oldest and most charming district. It once served as the core of Lyon’s religious and political power but is today appreciated for its particularly enchanting back-drop of the Gothic and Renaissance architecture that adorns it. Vieux Lyon is the largest district of its kind with remarkably preserved buildings which enabled it become a UNESCO heritage site and to be protected by the French Malraux Law. Discover Vieux Lyon simply by wandering through its well-worn cobbled streets and meandering passageways known as Traboules.
Some of the town’s oldest buildings situated in the heart of the St Jean quarter and date back to the Middle Ages, including the St Jean Baptiste Cathedral. Standing tall in Gothic glory it is a cultural highlight with intricately carved architectural details and houses a unique 14th century astronomical clock.
Lyon’s cinematic history
Did you know that the first film camera was invented in Lyon? Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière are credited with creating the first film camera in 1892 and their legacy is neatly preserved at the Institute Lumière which is a must-see for any cinematographer. As well as this there’s the Musée Cinéma et Miniature which exhibits a unique collection of more than 300 original film props and artefacts from big Hollywood blockbusters. Get up close with masks, costumes and props from the Batman and Alien franchises amongst others and learn the secrets of special effects. Visitors can also wander through an extensive set of the film Perfume which features lifelike wax models and props. The museum also features amazing hyper-realistic miniature objects and scenes made by museum’s owner, Dan Ohlmann.