by Anaïs DerSimonian
When you think of France, it’s likely that Paris is the first city that comes to mind. And that’s fair–most of the signifiers of French culture that we think of (the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge, the Louvre) call Paris home. But if you’re looking for some quintessential French charm without the chaos of the overwhelming, tourist-heavy capital, then Lyon might be just the city for you.

Situated about equidistant between Paris to the North and Marseille to the South, Lyon meets at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône. Known for its historic and architectural landmarks, and for being the gastronomical capital of the world, it’s a lovely place for some sight-seeing and authentic eating.

So when my French high school penpal reached out saying she was getting married outside of Lyon, I simply couldn’t miss it.

My advice: post up at a bridge to catch the river at sunset, when the orange light reflects off the pinks and tans of Lyon’s historic building facades.
I rented a quaint room in the city’s old district–Vieux Lyon–which I’d highly recommend. Walking out onto a cobblestone alley and getting lost in the tight, winding streets was definitely something special.

If you want the classic Lyonnaise experience, you have to try a Bouchon restaurant. Bouchon is essentially a type of traditional cuisine that centers dishes like sausages, duck paté and more. You’ll have no problem stumbling upon a bouchon (or a dozen) as you stroll the old town–they’re everywhere.

The moment you get claustrophobic of the old town’s tight alleys, you can simply walk 5 minutes and you’re by the beautiful river. Lyon’s districts are bisected by the Saône, connected by a series of walkable bridges. My advice: post up at a bridge to catch the river at sunset, when the orange light reflects off the pinks and tans of Lyon’s historic building facades.

Now let’s talk shopping: once you cross the river, you’re in the shopping district. From boutiques to chains, you’ll find everything you need while still being able to enjoy the architectural beauty around you.

If you can rent a car, I would recommend driving 45 minutes out into the Beaujolais Wine Region to experience some of the most breathtaking wine country views I’ve ever seen. If you can, find the Saint-Amour winery–they’ve been making award-winning French wine by hand with just 5 acres of vineyard for generations.

If anything, take the vernacular in the old town to the top of the hill, where you’ll be able view the spectacular La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière–a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is thought to have saved the Lyonnaise from the worst of the Bubonic Plague in the 1600s. Even more stunning, you’ll have prime views of the city below, with the burnt-orange rooftops and church domes peaking out that give Lyon that quintessential French charm.

Wholesome, friendly and quaint, Lyon left me happy–and very well-fed. This city was definitely worth stepping off the beaten path for.
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