France’s second city has a low profile internationally, but Lyon is still one of the country’s best places to explore and eat. Dating back to Roman times, the city long thrived as a centre for the European silk trade.
The trade’s former wealth has left sites of real beauty, including Vieux Lyon’s dense network of Renaissance buildings, the huge 18th-century squares of the Presqu'île, or peninsula, where the Rhone and Saône rivers meet, and the city’s many traboules, secluded silk weavers’ passageways later used by the Second World War resistance. The city’s Museé des Beaux Arts is France’s best fine art museum after the Louvre, while Lyon’s centre contains both a well-preserved Roman theatre on the Fourvière hill and the striking new buildings of the ex-industrial Confluence district. Proof of Lyon’s reputation as France’s culinary capital is everywhere, whether in the haute cuisine of local star chef Paul Bocuse or the hearty quenelles (fish dumplings) and sausages of typically Lyonnais, no-frills bouchon restaurants.