A WALK down the back streets and alleyways opposite the Opera House in France’s second largest city, Lyon, may seem a bit like home for the Arab traveller.
The aroma of grilled meat mingles with the sweet smells of the sheesha as a bit of the Arab world opens up around you. Immigrants from North Africa and the Levant have left their mark on this historic city whose glorious past can be traced back to over 2,000 years.
Located at one of Europe’s major crossroads and at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers, Lyon lies against the twin hills of Fourviere and Croix Rousse. Wearing its history on its sleeve, every district of the city reflects the past through its magnificent monuments and architecture. Unesco has listed Lyon as a World Heritage Site.
It is the City of Light, where the monuments and contours of the rivers are lit up at night, adding an aura that enchants. It was here that the Lumiere brothers invented cinema. Silk was also woven into the very fabric of Lyon from the 16th century.
The mixture of modernity amidst history makes Lyon an attractive destination for the Arab traveller. Tourism Lyon is making every effort to promote the city in the Gulf.
For the Arab traveller, Lyon offers a relaxing destination where busy Gulf life can be exchanged for an absorbing, historical and culturally rich experience, all done at a gentle pace. The wide range of shopping and the famous cuisines add to the pleasure. With Geneva just an hour-and-a-half away and Paris two hours by rail, Lyon can easily be woven into the itinerary along with those destinations.
A good place to start any tour would be the Lyon Opera House. Built in neo-classical style in 1926, all that remains of the former theatre are the facades and the public foyer. It was redesigned in 1992 and is topped with an imposing glass dome.
Close by is the Place Bellecour, the centre of Lyon. Don’t be surprised if you find the square and streets at Place Bellecour thronging with humanity all times of the day or night. The square, with the equestrian statue of King Louis XIV, is the most popular meeting place and constant buzz brings atmosphere.
The 17th-century Town Hall stands tall and handsome nearby. The Hall has superb parquet floors, paintings and tapestries and at the centre of the buildings is a courtyard.
The imposing Fourviere Basilica on the Fourviere Hill can be accessed through winding roads lined with charming houses. This powerful landmark of Lyon's landscape is very popular with tourists with more than a million making there way there. The brilliance of the basilica is reflected in paintings from different periods which adorn it.
Every evening, the city flashes under the magic of lights. This happens at over 200 monuments, sites and bridges. The lights have been an essential part of Lyon urban planning. The city was among the first to put a light plan in France. The Illuminations Festival is celebrated every December 8 when every household joins in.
No visit to Lyon can be complete without sampling its world famous cuisine. The bouchon or small typical restaurants are part of the Lyon tradition. The well-known Paul Becose has his restaurant, Le Sud, where meat and fish delicacies can be savoured both indoors and outdoors. Many small restaurants also cater to Arabic and Subcontinent tastes.
Lyon’s nightlife may not be booming, but it certainly buzzes. There is a variety of entertainment to choose from including the theatre to casinos. Lyon by night is also Lyon by light. This evokes a feeling of warmth, of being in a place where the chapters of history unfolds everywhere. The magic of Lyon will draw tourists from anywhere, anytime.
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