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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

Silk Road

My original trip to Lyon was for the fantastic food reputation it has garnered over the years, like it holds 20 Michelin stars, but like always there is so much more. Lyon straddles two river both the Rhone and the Saone which merge at the Confluence, now a modern center. And it is crowed by two hills, La Fourviere with its great basilica and La Croix-Rousse, the summit of the silk industry. The locals call them the hill that prays and the hill that works. Fourviere is the Latin word for “old forum” and the basilica actually sits next to the site of the Roman amphitheater still used today for concerts and plays.

This is also a city of lush fountains, one is of a woman holding the reins of four charging horses at the Place des Terreaux, designed by Bartholdi the same creator of the Statue of Liberty. Interestingly, this fountain was destined to Bordeaux the city that commissioned it, but ran low on funds, thus it found it permanent home here in front of the Hotel de Ville. Then Fontaine des Jacobins a beautiful work of art by Gaspard Andre. And the fountain at Place du Marechal-Lyantey to the modern ones at Place Antonin Poncet and the jumping jets at Place Gailleton.

Lyon is lucky to have a very well preserved Renaissance historic quarter that is one of Europe’s largest and is very much a part of the day-to-day life of Lyon. Hoteliers have turned marvelous old mansions into stylish places to lay your head. One is the Cour des Lodges, a Renaissance jewel blending several buildings and styles into a dreamy luxurious experience. This gives you the opportunity to be in the heart of Vieux Lyon old world architectural gems; strolling the narrow streets with their chic boutiques and ateliers. Through the heavy doors you find the secret covered alleyways almost 300 of them, called traboules, these unique lanes were used by the traders to transport the bolts of silk to the river for transport and today still used by the locals as short cuts to go from one street to another. They are very unique.

It truly was silk that shaped the city’s destiny. Through the determined efforts of Francois I, Lyon found its way with silk and then with the invention of the Jacquard looms it thrived exponentially. Ateliers with high ceilings and large windows were built on Croix-Rousse to accommodate the expert silk weavers. Bolts and bolts of this fine fabric have been moving about town since the 1600’s, silk fabrics were installed in Versailles for Marie-Antoinette’s bedchamber as well as beautiful mansions all over the world. Lyon’s sumptuous silks, satins and brocades were so prized, it earned the nickname La Grande Fabrique.

Today there are less than 300 canuts ‘weavers’, were as in 1930 there were 15,000 and back to the nineteenth century at its height a record 50,000 weavers worked the industry. Everything is mostly automated and synthetics are woven, but there areas that are innovating by producing high technology fabrics for space programs and weather balloons. There is an amazing Musee Historique des Tissus with a formidable collection to visit.

Do not miss:

Villa Florentine, on the Fourviere hillside overlooking the city. A former convent now a Relais & Chateaux property.

Musee des Beaux Arts in a 14 century convent.

Opera House, designed by Jean Nouvel

Café des Federations. My favorite bouchon in Lyon and there are plenty!


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