You left us last week having toured the charming town of Beaune, north of Lyon, on the river Saone. Since then we have headed back south, stopping at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers, in Lyon, for a full day of exploring.
While we thoroughly enjoyed our time on board Crystal Cruises, there was more than a whiff of indulgence on board. Meals were regular and plentiful, while our exercise regime was virtually non-existent. Unless you counted walking to the buffet counter. We had started our holiday in need of total relaxation. We wanted, and did, as little as possible. However, we were now ready to have a bit more fun.
The night before we arrived in Lyon, on board Uniworld’s beautiful ship, the SS Catherine, our cruise manager ran through some tour options for the next day. We could take a bus ride through the city, visit the ancient cathedral on a tour designed for slow walkers or take the active option, a bike ride through the city. Later on, after dinner, there would an open top bus ride to see the city at night. As well as these excursions, which are included in the price, there was also a paid for option to the cookery school of Paul Bocuse, the father of modern French cuisine.
Having already acquired a taste for cycling from the moment we stepped on board, my new wife and I needed little encouragement to take the active option. It also might help repair some of the damage done by some of the before mentioned indulgence…
As mentioned in a previous post, France is one of the most cycle-friendly countries in Europe. It puts the UK, and London in particular, to shame. Our tour guide took us past the town’s medieval cathedral, taught us about Lyon’s silk weaving heritage and took us through the secret traboules passageways that proved so useful during Second World War occupation. These alleyways provide a secret city, by linking up Lyon’s streets with a secret network of tunnels, that the Nazis never managed to quite comprehend.
We then visited modern districts, including the newly built Confluence Museum, and cycled past construction sites and new malls. Within one morning it felt like we had been given a great insight into how the city has developed from ancient trading hub, to France’s third biggest city. And the best thing about this great experience? It was included in the price.
We made it back on board, famished, in time for the lunchtime buffet, which was being served in the Cezanne restaurant. Speaking as a man who has married a (fussy) vegetarian, I can say that the Uniworld buffet definitely gets the thumbs up. Salads, pastas and sandwiches were served alongside joints of meat and beautiful soups, all made on board. Luxury food that gave quite an indication as to the quality of the surroundings.
In the afternoon we meandered through the city’s shopping region and allowed the day to slip by while we enjoyed the warm weather. We got back on board in the evening and headed straight back out (having chosen to eat in Lyon instead of on board) onto the night bus tour.
Lyon is beautiful by day, but by night, it is stunning. The city, which is the real city of lights according to our tour guide, is overlooked, and according to legend protected, by the virgin Mary, who stands on top of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The 19th century church dominates the skyline, and imperiously looks down upon all it surveys. With the basilica as our destination, our guide took us through neighbourhoods we would never have otherwise seen. From hipster hangouts to Jewish districts, all banked on top of one another. A great example of modern day multiculturalism. Once we reached the basilica itself, it was easy to see why it had been built up there. The view was incredible. Lyon, in all of its glory, was laid out below like a carpet of stars – with the two rivers running like arteries through the city.
So far our tour of France has been a phenomenal experience. The bus (which was the poshest night bus I had ever been on) gave another great dimension to an extraordinary city, which would otherwise not have been available to us. Through their all-inclusive programme, Uniworld, like many other river operators, make far more of their destination. Even compared to their ocean-going rivals.
Next week we reach the Rhone Valley.
Picture credit: Leniners