Kick off the Bastille Day celebrations in France's gastronomic heartland, says Aoife O'Riordain

Why go now?

Sunday will see Bastille Day celebrations all over France, and the welcoming city of Lyon is no exception. Among the festivities is a choral concert of Republican songs at 9pm on the banks of the Rhône, followed by a firework display at 10.30pm. The annual Nuits de Fourvière (, a festival of dance, theatre, opera and classical music, is also in full swing until 15 September, with performances in the ancient Gallo-Roman theatre on Fourvière Hill above the city. For further information visit

Down payment

Air France (0845 0845 111, is offering return fares this weekend from London Heathrow to Lyon for £118.50. Rail Europe (08705 848 848, is offering a fare of £330 return this weekend on Eurostar and TGV which takes around six hours. From 3-25 August, Ryanair (0871 246 0000, will be flying from Stansted to Lyon, while construction work is being carried out at St Etienne airport.

Instand briefing

Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport (www.lyon. is about 30km from the city. A taxi costs around €30-35 (£23). A cheaper option is to catch the airport shuttle bus, Satobus (00 33 4 72 68 72 17), to the centrally located Lyon-Perrache station. The journey takes around 45 minutes and costs €8.20 (£5) one way.

In 1998 the central district of Lyon was given Unesco World Heritage Site status in acknowledgement of its rich architectural heritage spanning more than 2,000 years. This history goes hand in hand with some serious food. Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France, with more restaurants per square foot than anywhere in the world. Take a stroll down rue Merciere on Presqu'Ile, and you'll get the picture. The rivers Rhône and Saône flow through the city, the banks linked by a series of bridges and footbridges. Between the two rivers lies the Presqu'Ile, dominated by grand 19th-century buildings and the Place Bellecour, one of the largest public squares in Europe, which is also home to the tourist office (00 33 4 72 77 6969). The Croix-Rousse district, occupying the slopes of the northern tip of the Presqu'Ile, grew up in the 19th century to accommodate Lyon's silk-weaving industry.

Rest assured

Two of Lyon's most atmospheric hotels, La Tour Rose (00 33 4 783 72590, tourrose) and Cour de Loges ( see Room Service, below right) are located on rue du Boeuf, in the old quarter, Vieux-Lyon. Each of the 12 suites at La Tour Rose has been decorated by local silk designers. Double rooms cost from €230 (£153). On Presqu'Ile, the Hôtel Globe et Cecil, rue Gasparin, (00 33 44 78 42 58 95, www.globeetcecilhotel. com) has rooms from €119 (£79). A good budget option is the Elysée Hôtel, 92 Rue President Edouard Herriot, (00 33 4 78 42 0315) with doubles from €59 (£39).

Must see

The Musée des Beaux-Arts (00 33 4 72 10 17 40) is home to one of the country's largest art collections and is second only to the Louvre in importance. Admission costs €5.50. Much of Lyon's wealth stemmed from the silk industry. Maison des Canuts, the silk-weavers' house (00 33 4 78 28 62 04), at 10-12 rue d'Ivry, has a shop selling locally made textiles. Admission €4 (£2.60). Take the funicular railway to Fourvière Hill for panoramic views and the huge Fourvière Basilica (00 33 4 78 25 13 01). In the Vieux-Lyon and Croix-Rousse quarters you can explore the traboules, ancient covered passageways used by the silk weavers to transport their fabrics safely.

Must buy

Your first stop should be La Halle de Lyon, 102 Cour Lafayette, a giant indoor market selling everything from fruit and vegetables to snails, pigs' trotters and cheeses. (Closed Mondays.) Quai Saint-Antoine is also home to an open-air market on the banks of the Saône (Tuesday to Sunday mornings). The main shopping district is around rue Du President Edouard Herriot, offering big-name designers and small boutiques.

Must eat

Lyonnais cuisine is legendary, and in the evening the aroma of cooking hangs in the streets. Some of the world's most influential chefs, including Paul Bocuse, have come from this area. Disciples make the pilgrimage to Bocuse's restaurant 10km north of the city at 40 rue de la Plage, Collonges-au-Mont-D'or (00 33 4 72 42 9090,

But it's not all haute cuisine: hearty regional dishes, such as Lyonnais salad (lardons, bread and poached or hard-boiled eggs) and pike dumplings can be found in the city's many atmospheric "bouchons", such as the Café des Federations, 8 rue Major Martin (00 33 4 78 28 26 00).

Into the night

If you can still move after your gastronomic extravaganza, sip a nightcap outside Grand Café des Negociants (00 33 4 78 42 5005), Angle rue Edouard Heriot, rue Grenette, on Presqu'Ile – a grand café/bar in the truest French sense.