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Lyon - 1-2 September 2021

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

I decided to come back from the summer spent in Beaumes de Venise via Lyon, never having been there, except possibly as a student staying at the youth hostel. This time the accommodation was definitely superior. Two friends had independently recommended the same hotel, the Sofitel. It turned out to be the most expensive hotel in the city with many turrets in the Michelin guide, all coloured red. Breakfast is the high point of any visit to the hotel, fully justifying the red turrets. It is served on the top floor and offers a spectacular view of the city, as well as all sorts of delights, even including orange marmalade, normally almost unknown in France.

The concierge gave me a highly efficient five-minute tour d’horizon, drawing a route on a map – all I needed.

Lyon is divided very clearly into sectors, caused partly by its being on the confluence of the two big rivers, the Saone from the north, and the Rhone from the north-east. There’s the old city (Vieux Lyon) on the west of the Saone, and the relatively modern (19th century, post French Revolution, I guess) in the middle of the two – in the so-called Presqu’ile – where my elegant, and certainly very comfortable hotel is located.


The concierge’s directions took me to the remains of the Roman city, the city having been established on the hill that overlooks the old city and the Saone. Definitely worth a visit.

It was founded the year after Julius Caesar was murdered. The Senate instructed one Munatius Plancus (who the French, in their Gallic way, refer to as Munate le Planqué) to get up there speedily and create a colony – which he did, calling it Lugdunum.

As I say, definitely worth a visit, partly because of the spectacular view from the top of the Roman theatre, the impressive theatre itself (above), but perhaps mainly because of the amazing, even unique, museum. It is built into the hill on which the city was sited. You go in at the top (near the top of the theatre) and proceed down endless vast, impressively constructed, concrete tunnels, all the exhibits being displayed as you go down. You emerge near the bottom of the theatre.

The exhibits include the usual broken pots and small domestic items that, frankly, always leave me rather cold. But the pièce de résistence is a large sarcophagus dating from the second century AD, decorated with high relief statuary matching anything you can find in Rome. One side (see right) shows a satyr pursuing a nymph and failing, indelicately, to conceal his enthusiasm at the prospect before him. The front shows a bacchanalia in full swing; and the other side a more delicate romantic encounter; all dedicated to the cheerful god Bacchus.

All the above is accessed by a funicular. You can also visit the basilica that is situated at the top of the hill and dominates the whole city, the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière (see the photo at the beginning). This was built at the time of the Franco-Prussian War when the Prussians had invaded Paris in 1870. The Lyonnais did a deal with the Virgin Mary: if she saved them from invasion, they would build a church. The result is an architectural curiosity (see left). It seems to be in every style of European architecture known to man, ranging from Romanesque, through baroque, to Byzantine with its glinting and gilded mosaics. What would John Betjeman have said?


I always like to pay a visit to the local art museum, in this case the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Somewhat of a disappointment, although I may have been put in a bad mood by the curious re-routing that seems to have been dictated by the Covid rules: one has to go in through the doors firmly marked “Sortie” and it doesn’t get any less confusing after that.

However, moving to higher thoughts, the first exhibit is a magnificent Perugino altarpiece, originally intended for somewhere in Perugia, but having found its way to Lyon, perhaps through the machinations of Napoleon.

Otherwise, there are many large Rubenesque paintings of people massacring each other. Also a small collection of Impressionists, none of them particularly inspiring. Sorry to be negative, but I should add that there is a good collection of statues, including some by Rodin.


Lyon is a lovely city to visit, with spectacular views along the two rivers and, as its central point, the Place Bellecour, said to be the largest square without traffic in Europe, with Louis XIV presiding on horseback in the middle. Around that area it has the feel of a university city; many young people managing to pursue their studies lying in the sunshine.


Lyon is famed for its restaurants, particularly those referred to curiously as “Bouchons” – the word meaning a cork as well as a traffic jam. How it gets to mean a restaurant is a mystery to me.

My friendly concierge recommended one called Les Trois Maries, which I spotted on my stroll through the old city, which looked just the ticket but was sadly closed. I left it with him to select another and he booked me into Le Poelon d’Or, not in the old city but close to the hotel. Dinner was simple but excellent; the atmosphere nothing to write home about. There were two women sitting in a corner, reminding me - somewhat unfairly - of Degas’ lugubrious painting of the absinthe drinkers. It would be nice to try out the Three Marys at some time when they aren’t on holiday.

* * * * *

Covid addendum

In these times of Covid or, hopefully, post-Covid, I need to add an addendum on the exigencies of returning to England, as well as the restrictions still in place in France.

First, the return. You have to have a negative Covid test within three days (it used to be 72 hours) of arrival in the UK, with a written confirmation. It can be either a PCR or an antigen test. You also have to have booked and, crucially, received a booking reference, for a PCR test on Day 2 of your return

You also have to fill out the very tiresome Passenger Locator Form: this can only be done within 48 hours of arrival. This Form is the reason you have to have a reference for the Day 2 test, as it’s one of the questions. Why the Form is required at all as we no longer have to be in quarantine, and why the tricky time requirement, escape me – but I keep being told not to ask questions – JFDI, which I will refrain from translating.

I was able to do the test easily enough with the nurses at the Cabinet d’Infirmières in Beaumes de Venise on Tuesday, the day before leaving. It had to be an antigen test, in view of the timing.

But I couldn’t do the Locator Form before leaving because of the 48-hour requirement. I had to do it at the hotel in Langres where I was staying on the Thursday night. To say that this was straightforward would be, as Bertie Wooster used to say, “paltering with the truth”. The problems included the tricky wifi/internet connections at the hotel; the fact that the Shuttle website doesn’t seem to have a link to the Form; and the ambiguity of some of the questions on the Form itself. Eventually, all was accomplished and “submitted”, with help from the patient man at the desk of the hotel; the additional help of son Dan on the phone; and of a fellow Brit who had worked out the meaning of the ambiguous questions. When will all this nonsense ever end – but sorry, here I am again asking questions. Stop it!

Getting to the border, as most people had predicted, all was sweetness and light. You first drive up to a ticket booth, where the man asks for your papers. When faced with my paper test result but my electronic Locator Form, he gave me a ticket saying that I must report to the terminal. This I did, to be confronted by a row of ladies behind a desk, each helping people to complete the requirements. (No queues to speak of.) I handed one of them my mobile and opened the Locator Form. She glanced at it, said it was fine, and told me to go to the ticket office opposite to get the proper ticket to hang on the windscreen. Armed with this, one can proceed, first to the French border control, then to the British equivalent, both of whom were only interested in passports, as in times gone by. The only queues were the normal ones leading up to the British border control.

On reflection, how would one avoid having to report to the ladies in the terminal? On coming to France in July, we did avoid the equivalent because I had been able to print everything out and simply hand it all over to the ticketing man. I imagine the same applies in Calais, although I was told that I could have downloaded it (surely uploaded it?) onto the Shuttle website. That would have been beyond the powers of either me or, I suspect, the kind man at the desk of the hotel.

And finally – how about the situation, Covid-wise, in France?

In a word, we are more relaxed here in England. In France, you can’t get a cup of coffee to drink at a café, even outside, or go to a restaurant, without showing a Pass sanitaire, that is to say a certificate with its magic QR code, saying that you are fully vaccinated. You also have to wear a mask inside almost anywhere – and sanitise your hands when you go in. As an example of the way the French have become more rule-abiding than they ever used to be, when I was in the fine art museum, one of the guards asked me to make sure my mask was over my nose – in a room, actually almost all the rooms, where I (sadly) was the only visitor.

Tony Herbert

4 September 2021

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