The lights of Lyon

Lyon Cathedral 2019

“You know, it’s dangerous for us to watch TV,” is what Bill said to me last month when he asked me what I wanted to do one evening. That response was prompted by my suggesting that we view one of the two programs we sometimes record: Ëchappées Belles (Beautiful Escapes) and Les 100 Lieux Qu’il Faut Voir (The 100 Places You Must See). They typically feature destinations in France and we even keep a rail map near the television just to see if can activate our motto, “if there’s a train station, we can go there”. Such was the case when the familiar sight of Lyon appeared on the screen. We’d been there in the spring of 2017 but the sparkling lights, decorated yule trees, and the small wooden chalets of the Christmas Market made it look different and inviting, as did the Grand Illuminations.

In December 1852 the residents of Lyon were looking forward to the installation of a tall statue of the Virgin Mary on Fourvière Hill overlooking the city. When that didn’t happen as scheduled, disappointed homeowners placed candles in colored glasses on their windowsills to brighten the dreary winter evenings One hundred years later the trend caught on with shop owners, followed by the city government that began to highlight historic buildings with floodlights that lit up entire districts. Initially these were static lights that simply embellished the monuments but in 2004 artists were encouraged to use these buildings as huge backdrops for annual “sight and sound” shows and we got to attend that this week.

Saint Paul Railway Station

The official program for this year’s Fête des Lumières lists 36 installations across the city that could be accessed along 4 different walking paths. I’m not sure that we saw even one quarter of the displays but we were definitely impressed by the ones we visited. Some were simple, others complex and all delightful.

A bonus for us during this trip was the Christmas Market that was also open while we were in town. The city’s large square, Place Carnot, was turned into a village of 140 small wooden “chalets” filled with crafts, gifts, and decorations for the tree. A warming cup of vin chaud (hot mulled wine) really hit the spot as we walked around on a chilly evening.

Hôtel de Ville de Lyon

Sound and light shows are popular all across the country, especially at this time of year and with such wonderful historic monuments as backdrops, it’s no wonder. But the rest of the year has its attractions too. There’s an amazing theme park called Puy du Fou built around the concept and a former quarry near Avignon has been turned into an immense theater. During the summer in Carcassonne the walls of the castle seem to move each night with the aptly named spectacular, La Cité des Pierres Vivantes (The City of the Living Stones). We’re fans of Son et Lumière all year long.

Travel tip: Lyon’s Fête des Lumières attracts over 2 million visitors during the 4-day event. Hotel space is at a premium and prices reflect that so booking early is recommended. While viewing the illuminations we experienced massive crowding, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of people gathered in various squares watching the shows. As each 10-minute show ended we moved as one giant crowd along the designated route to the next square.

Fête des Lumières official site:

Our visit short YouTube videos:

Puy du Fou:

Les Carrières de Lumières:

La Cité des Pierres Vivantes:


Hôtel de Ville de Lyon(2)

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