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South of France by Train, a Cultural Journey


Fancy some French culture this summer? Take the train…

Is it just me who still gets genuinely excited by the prospect of a European train journey? Particularly so in fact if the train I’m travelling on is leaving from the iconic London station of St Pancras with its echoey charm and sweeping me through the flat green fields of the Pays de Calais, to the sunny southern city of Lyon…

And is it just me who still finds it astonishing that with the new and direct, state of the art Eurostar service I can be there in just 4 and a half hours? And enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a coffee as outside the window the departments of France whizz past as we head south. And surely it’s not just me who feels genuinely excited by the prospect of travelling on if I want to, to Marseille or Avignon or to any of the dozens of other wonderful southern cities, some of which I can be in, in as little as 6 hours from London? And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in liking the the idea of arriving refreshed and with a sense of style and time to fit in some sightseeing before dusk and dinner?

And why Lyon? Well actually I’d probably be excited if I was traveling anywhere by train but having travelled to Lyon recently, I was struck by its very distinctive personality and perhaps more importantly by its fabulous agenda of cultural events which take place throughout the year, and which have tempted me to keep going back.

A little bo’ ho’ chic.

Lyon’s vibe is very different to Paris and I was intrigued by how many women dressed with a more colourful and bohemian chic than their Parisian cousins. And it definitely didn’t feel like one of the coastal towns of France either although you can still feel a real dash of southern swagger.  And actually under all the tradition, the history and the architecture, it’s got a very modern feel.


You’ll notice it first perhaps in the Croix Rousse district where you’ll find street art, quirky boutiques and creatives crammed into cafés that simply ooze bohemia. There’s a sort of street culture and it’s clearly where the city’s budding talent chooses to gravitate to. And then there’s the re-invented Confluence district with its very trendy restaurants and bars and astonishingly modern architecture. But Lyon also has a simply buzzing appetite for culture with more museums and summer festivals than you can shake a stick at and whoever you are, I suspect there’s an event there that’s right up your street.

Love art, love the Biennale de Lyon.

If you’re a lover of contemporary art then you’ve probably already heard of the Biennale de Lyon event which has an international reputation, which brings together over 60 artists from 26 countries and runs from September to January. In 2015 the exhibition titled La Vie Moderne looks at some of life’s 21st century challenges. The city hosts other major exhibitions too, you can find more information about these at www.biennaledelyon.com and  www.mac-lyon.com  and if you are a lover of art, I mustn’t  forget to mention the city’s famous Musée des Beaux-Arts . For street art and something modern, the Tony Garnier Urban Museum or the Institute of Contemporary Art are all permanent fixtures.


Festival lover? It’s the Nuit Sonores for you.

Fancy a summer festival which will see upwards of 20,000 festival goers descend on the Confluence district in this celebration of indie culture, music, design, visual arts and food? It runs in May and the opening event is held in the massive warehouse La Sucrière, which used to be a sugar factory and sits on the banks of the River Saône. The website has lots of information and you can also get tickets www.nuits-sonores.com for the festival which takes place at dozens of venues across the city.

A cocktail of music and performing arts – Nuit de Fourvière.

If you need a little more time to get organised what about an open air festival from June to July set in the Roman amphitheatre and overlooking the city? You can expect several dozen performances of a mixture of music, theatre, circus and dance, with a wonderful diversity of everything from opera to electronic and quite a bit in between: www.nuitsdefourvière.com Some of the more renowned acts of 2015 include George Ezra, Iggy Pop, Florence and the Machines and Bjork but to just reference them doesn’t really do justice to the event.

Need more temptation?

lyon-lifeIf all that still hasn’t given you reason enough to get on a train to Lyon, perhaps I can tempt you a little further. Some of my group went on to Spain, Milan, Rome and Germany. The journey to Spain particularly captured my heart as it skirts its way in between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean before it dips down and into Barcelona. Tempted? I certainly was.

I think somehow, many of us have forgotten the indulgent pleasure of travel by rail. And it’s also all too easy to forget quite how much the many cities of Europe have to offer and how easy they are to get to if you’re already based in Europe. In my view, it’s worth thinking up any excuse to go on a journey because travel by train really still does carry a sort of 1920s elegance and in Europe, there’ll always be something wonderful to go and see.

[You can pre-book your tickets in advance to a multitude of cities across Europe at uk.voyages-sncf.com Fares on the new Eurostar service to Lyon start at £89 Standard Class and £189 Standard Premier 2015 prices.]

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