After a full day of activity and a dinner that featured the special chickens from Lyon, the Poulet de Bresse, the Ramblers were ready to spend a relaxing evening on the Catherine. However, our cruise director, Emmanuelle had other plans. She had added an evening event, a driving tour of Lyon at night. She also hired two busses, each with a Lyonnais guide, for a tour of the historic downtown of Lyon, famously lit up at night.
Initially the Ramblers were not too eager to go because the tour wouldn’t start until 9 PM. Of course it wouldn’t begin until full dark, and the Rambler’s night photos didn’t often turn out the way she wanted. However when we learned that one of the busses had an open top and it was a clear night, we changed our minds. Fortunately we managed to get seats on the bus with the open top deck.
If i was to get any worthwhile photos, it would have to be from on top.
As it turned out, we were glad we went. We got to see a beautiful city from an entirely different angle.
It was fun, and although we got off near the basilica on the hilltop, visible during the day from our quay, most of the tour involved no more action than craning our necks to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We also learned from our guide, Jean, how much the people of Lyon appreciated our traveling to France despite the horrendous events of a few months ago. We were happy to hear this, as you might imagine.
Our first stop was at the basilica de Notre Dame, beautifully lit to show the incredible detail of its exterior
. In the distance, we could see Lyon’s copy of the Tour Eiffel, also lit up though much smaller. After a brief stop to view the lights of Lyon reflecting on Saone River, we climbed back on the bus for a tour of the city. We didn’t realize that Lyon had over 300 wall paintings or frescoes. These has been painted by a group called CitéCréation starting in the early 80’s to revitalize the city. The murals they produced were designed not just as decoration but to help the people of Lyon rediscover their local identity, to trace the history of a particular quartier, or district, and to make art accessible to everyone.They have certainly been successful as the painting are wonderful.
Obviously we were able to see only a few of the paintings on that night. The one we got the best look at is perhaps the most famous trompe l’oeil mural in Lyon. Called La Fresque des Lyonnais, it depicts some 30 of Lyon’s most renowned citizens, past and present. Included in this group are the Roman emperor Claudius, who was born here when Lyon was the Lugdunum of Roman Gaul; the pioneer film making Lumière brothers; silk weaver and inventor of the Jacquard loom Joseph-Marie Jacquard and author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Others appear on their balconies by the Saône River. The famous Lyon chef Paul Bocuse stands in the doorway of a typical Lyonnais restaurant, and at one of his tables is crime writer Frédéric Dard. Just down the road is La Bibliothèque de la Cité, the City Library, another trompe l’oeil, which sits opposite a real second-hand book market on the banks of the river. The murals are so life like that they appear third dimensional. Certainly these murals were the highlight of our visit ranking right up there with the Bocuse Market. Both were typical of the city in totally different ways.
The next morning we woke to find the Catherine docked at the attractive small town of Tain L’Hermitage.
It is situated in prime vineyard country so we had the option of taking a tour of the town and vineyards on a mini-train or doing the same thing on a bicycle. We didn’t have to ponder this one. Since the train would take us up Hermitage Hill, famous for its terroir but a good walk up to the top, we opted for the mini-train. Quite a few of our passengers took the bike option and zoomed past us later on as we chugged up the steep hillside in the little train. Of course they had to pedal up the winding road to the hilltop first.
Although we did not visit any tasting rooms, Tain L’Hermitage and its sister town Tournon, are famous because of the wines produced there. If you have time, I would suggest visiting the tasting rooms of Chapoutier and Jaboulet. You won’t be able to ship any wine home, but both companies export to the US and Australia. Unlike in the US, wine tastings in France are free, so enjoy if you can. We had a chance to taste Tain L’Hermitage’s other claim to fame, the wonderful chocolate produced at the Valhrona House of Chocolat.
The Ramblers chose the last car of the Tiny Train as it was the best for taking unobstructed photos as we traveled up the hill, and we were glad we did. The train was open to anyone who wanted to pay the small fee. A young mother and her children asked if they could join us and although we couldn’t communicate well, we enjoyed having them on the train.
Near the end of our tiny train tour, those who wanted to visit the famous Valhrona House of Chocolat were dropped off in Tain. It is not really that big of a place, and it would be a relatively easy walk back to the Catherine even for me. The Senior Rambler opted to ride back to the ship so he missed out on tasting some terrific chocolate. He thought that they only made dark chocolate, and he only eats milk chocolate, lots of milk chocolate. In this case, he was very wrong; their milk chocolate was just as good as the dark and ready for sampling.
One of the top French brands of chocolate, Valhrona has been produced in Tain L’Hermitage since 1922. Besides the factory, they have a school where they teach chefs how best to use chocolate in cooking. They are also famous for working with growers and have long been one of the companies that produce chocolate from single bean varietal.
Visiting the Valrhona store is an amazing experience even if you are not a chocoholic. I have never seen so much chocolate available for tasting in one place. Dark, milk, filled, plain… even hot chocolate to taste, not so appealing on a warm day, but good nevertheless. As to the fillings, they ran the gamut from the more common creams and jellies to exotic flavors, and being France, liquor filled chocolates.
Although I enjoy chocolate, I only tried a few pieces, and bought some to take home. I did notice that most of the people in the store were tasting multiple samples and I expect that they suffered from severe chocolate overload later on. In a way, the experience was similar to that of a wine tasting where you are offered substantial tastes of many delicious wines too good to spit out and you pay for it later. The chocolates were so tasty that I didn’t see anyone discarding a half-eaten piece.
Unfortunately Valrhona besides being one of the best tasting chocolates is also quite expensive, so choose wisely when you visit.
Thoughtfully, the charming young woman who waited on me added a variety of samples to my bag which was beautifully wrapped.
Back on board, we gratefully sank into comfortable chairs to watch the Saone flow by on the way to our next day’s stop, Viviers.