Lyon, a fascinating and rather beautiful city dating back to Roman times has a history of silk-making and many of our woven jacquard silks are created there. In 2012, I was commissioned by the former Chief Justice John Murray to design the first national judicial robes for the Irish Supreme Court. The robes were made in Lyon, by the oldest costumiers in France, with a fluted sleeve and a small collar which allows the judge to wear what is known as a ‘bavette’ or tab when in court.
It’s a fantastic place to spend a day or two – a stimulating mix of art, architecture, history and great food. In Lyon, food-obsessed residents take the time to lunch, to talk about where to lunch next, whilst also planning dinner!
Lyon’s main square is elegant Place Bellecour, with its statue of Louis XIV. Every era in history since Roman times is represented in architecture – the Roman ruins at Fourviere, the beautiful 19th-century basilica built after the Franco-Prussian war, the 18th-century Opera House, the 17th-century Hotel de Ville. There is modern architecture too – the Musee des Confluences (the French Guggenheim) and La Sucriere, a former sugar factory now repurposed as a hip gallery and music venue.
Vieux Lyon is one of Europe’s largest Renaissance quarters and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its three districts are extraordinary, with tall brick buildings snaking along narrow streets. In medieval times, silk-making happened here before it moved in the 19th-century to the Croix Rousse district, where silk weavers worked in houses with specially designed high ceilings to accommodate massive looms. There you can visit the Maison des Canuts (canuts were silk-makers) and discover the history of silk making. I loved the Musee des Beaux-Arts with its cloistered garden and the little boutiques in the Carre d’Or … A beautiful old hospital – Hotel Dieu – has become an upscale shopping destination.
You simply can’t visit Lyon without getting into a foodie mood. Big buzzy Brasserie George, with famous literary regulars, Paul Verlaine, Emile Zola and Jules Verne, is wonderful, and there are also little tea rooms and odd, rather basic traditional “bouchons” or small bars. Every serious chef in France (and the world) does a stage in Lyon (it’s most famous culinary son is Paul Bocuse) and there are plenty of exciting places to eat well. The most authentic and elegant of Lyonnaise restaurants is the two-star La Mere Brazier, founded by Eugenie Brazier in the 1950s. There are chic hotels in Lyon too – Villa Maia, Villa Florentine, the tranquil Cour des Loges. The only odd thing about Lyon is that not everyone puts it on their must-see list. I can highly recommend it. Aer Lingus flies daily from Dublin.