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The Other Sides of France

Paris and the cities at French Riviera may have the allure that’s famous for tourists, but France has more to offer. A visit to the Burgundy and Rhône-Alpes regions proved three other beauties worth discovering. Lyon

Paris and the cities at French Riviera may have the allure that’s famous for tourists, but France has more to offer. A visit to the Burgundy and Rhône-Alpes regions proved three other beauties worth discovering.

Lyon

The historic capital of the Gauls (Lugudunum or Lugdunum), the cradle of Christianity marked by the blood of martyrs of 177 A.D. -an important cultural and trading center during Renaissance period, city of silk then an important industrial hub during the 19th century, Lyon also played a great role during the 20th century, in particular during the World War II when it served as the center of French resistance to Nazi occupation. Rich in savoir-vivre, with an emphasis on taste and gastronomic savoir-faire, Lyon has managed to retain all the advantages of its long history including the city center’s districts of Fourviere, Croix-Rousse and Vieux-Lyon (listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1998).

In the early 21st Century the Greater Lyon is once again in full bloom: the Rhône-Alpes regional capital is positioned as one of Europe’s most important cities. The Technopole (Science Park) is a perfect illustration of the city’s ever-growing involvement with innovative research of great economic interest being pursued in scientific and technological domains – the legacy of Lyon’s textile and automotive pioneers.

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As for the city’s urban development projects (in the Part-Dieu, Gerland and Perrache districts and at the confluence of the city’s two emblematic rivers, the Rhône and the Saône), they happily preserve Lyon’s status as a popular tourist destination with an enviable quality of life.

But for tourists coming to Lyon, the (best or worst for those who hate huge crowds – you decide) time to visit the city is 8 December. The long history of “Fête des Lumières” or the Festival of Lights is linked to the city’s traditional worship of the Virgin Mary who purportedly saved the city from a deadly plague in the Middle Ages. For the past years, thanks to the enormous efforts of the city to embellish streets and monuments with artistic public lighting and the extension of celebration over several days, this festival has become a huge popular event bringing in light shows and installations all over the city, blending the profane and the sacred, and attracting tens of thousands of visitors from all over France and abroad.

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Dijon

Where else would the world-renowned Dijon mustard have come but from this city of the same name in eastern France, capital of the Côte-d’Or départment and of the Burgundy region? Yet aside from its fame in gastronomy, Dijon is home to France’s architectural wonders. Among them are churches such as the Notre Dame de Dijon, St. Philibert, St. Michel and Dijon Cathedral, dedicated to the apocryphal Saint Benignus, the crypt of which is over a thousand years old.

The earliest archaeological finds within the city limits of Dijon date to the Neolithic period. The city has retained varied architectural styles from many of the main periods of the past millennium, including Capetian, Gothic and Renaissance. Dijon architecture is distinguished by, among other things, toits bourguignons (Burgundian polychrome roofs) made of tiles glazed in terracotta, green, yellow and black and arranged in geometric patterns. Until this date, many still-inhabited town houses in the city’s central district date from the 18th century and earlier.

Dijon was once a place of tremendous wealth and power, and one of the great European centers of art, learning and science. It was the home to the Duke of Burgundy from the early 11th until the late 15th Century, and now the Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne or “Palace of the Dukes and the States of Burgundy” is one of the most popular sights in the city.

Tourists marvel at the amazing museums that abound in the city – some of which are Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, Musée Archéologique, the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne, the Musée d’Art Sacré, and the Musée Magnin. But what would be totally amusing (and amazing) is the Owl Trail that keeps on popping around the city’s cobbled streets and leads visitors to the city’s olden belief. For legend has it that any visitor who would touch the owl – the stone relief sculpted at the church of Notre Dame – would receive the good luck charm.

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Annecy

A place perfect for wanderers looking for peace and quiet is this beautiful town tucked away at the edge of the lake with a mountain backdrop, Annecy, the capital of Haute-Savoie. In an outstanding position downstream from the lake, it has retained its architectural and historic heritage, restored its old quarter, restored the lake water’s transparency through work which is often held up as an example and developed its canals to which it owes its name of the “Venice of the Alps”.

Spoiled with the Alpine views every single day, Annecy’s impeccably charming Vielle Ville (old town) is filled with ensemble of pastel-painted, geranium-bedecked houses; and the turreted château, looking for all the world, like a castle straight out of the Middle Ages (which it is).

Sspeaking of castles, Annecy boasts of its Palais de l’Isle, a castle in the centre of the Thiou canal, built in 1132. It was the primary residence of the Lord of Annecy as early as the 12th century, and later became the Count of Geneva’s administrative headquarters, then alternately a courthouse, a mint, and finally a jail from the Middle Ages until 1865 and then again during World War II. The Palais de l’Ile was classified as a Historical Monument in 1900, and today houses a local history museum.

Other sights to see in this quintessentially French small town are the European Gardens, made just after the annexing of Savoie in 1863, where one can admire the very rich and diverse vegetation, the ‘Pont des Amours’ or Lovers’ Bridge, a beautiful example of the iron architecture typical of the 20th century, the Basilique de la Visitation, was built in the 20th Century, home of the tomb of François de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal, offers a magnificent view of the town and the agglomeration, and the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, built in the early 16th Century as a Franciscan friary, was the cathedral of Francis de Sales and is home to a number of baroque pieces from the 16th Century.

by Sherry Tenorio

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