Journey to the south
As Eurostar launches a direct rail service from London to Provence via Lyon, Zoë McIntyre discovers more about the three stops along the route
LYON Best for… dining out
Often described as the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes has 25 Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as innumerable other foodie addresses.
What to do:
If you favour rustic dishes over haute cuisine, head for the city’s famous bouchons. These informal eateries ooze charm and serve robust dishes from bygone years.
Walk off lunch in the Vieux-Lyon district, which is full of impressive Renaissance buildings such as the Cathédrale Saint- Jean-Baptiste, with its astronomical clock. Then take the funicular railway to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière for panoramic views of the city or stroll beside the River Saône.
In the old silk-making district of Croix-Rousse stroll along the historic traboules; covered passageways once used by weavers to ferry around their goods.
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AVIGNON Best for… history
As the seat of the Papacy for nearly 70 years in the 14th century, Avignon is blessed with magnificent architecture and contains several Unesco World Heritage sites. What to do:
Visit the Palais des Papes, the world’s largest Gothic palace, which was built after Pope Clement VI moved the Papacy from Rome in 1309 (www.palais-des-papes.com). n Walk along the remains of Saint-Bénezet bridge, made famous by the nursery rhyme Sur le Pont d’Avignon.
Enjoy fine views of Avignon and the River Rhône from the ramparts that extend for more than four kilometres around the city.
Avignon is a convenient base for visiting the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. Avignon Wine Tours offers a day trip from €80 (www.avignon-wine-tour.com).
AIX-EN-PROVENCE Best for… culture
With its elegant squares and boulevards lined by plane trees, Aix-en-Provence exudes l’art de vivre. As birthplace of painter Paul Cézanne, the town is an art lover’s paradise.
What to do:
Walk in the footsteps of the artist along the Circuit de Cézanne. Studs embedded in the pavement marked with ‘C’ lead to where the artist lived, worked and socialised. n See some of Cézanne’s paintings in the Musée Granet, along with works by Rembrandt and Picasso. From 13 June, an exhibition entitled Le Grand Atelier du Midi explores the south of France as a source of inspiration for artists (www.museegranet-aixenprovence.fr).
For a cultural café experience, head to Les Deux Garçons in Cours Mirabeau. Dating from 1792, it was a favourite of Winston Churchill, Jean Cocteau and Picasso (www.les2garcons.fr).
Eurostar is running a return service from London to Lyon, Avignon TGV and Aix-en-Provence on Saturdays from 4 May to 29 June. Inbound immigration checks will take place at Lille-Europe. Prices start from £99. Tel: 0844 848 4070, www.raileurope.co.uk