The Saône: Lyon

Wanderlust enters Lyon on the River Saône.

As we left Macon we were within range of our next major destination, Lyon. Lyon is a little less than eight hours by boat Macon. As long as we didn’t get distracted by another mooring, which we didn’t, we would make it easily in a day.

I like entering cities by water. The sights evolve slowly as you creep though the industry and the suburbs towards the old town. From the water it’s rarely clear where in the metropolitan area you are. Often the old towns, like in Lyon, appear suddenly, or at least as sudden as anything can at ten kilometers an hour.

Modern buildings line the bank of the Saône near Lyon’s new port de plaisance, La Confluence.

Cruising into Lyon, the historic center appears around a bend. By car navigating through the traffic to Vieux Lyon, Lyon’s old town, can be harried and hectic. By boat the approach is more relaxing. Yes, the river traffic increases but it’s mainly easy to dodge day-trippers and tourist cruise boats. It’s hardly comparable bumper-to-bumper road traffic.

Lyon offers numerous barge friendly mooring options. An unserviced quay on the Saône near the old town is the most central option, though it does not provide convenient electricity or water. Most popular mooring is the modern port de plaisance adjacent to a shopping mall in the La Confluence development. The port has all of the modern conveniences: The electrical power is 16A and the water pressure is good. There’s also a large supermarket in the mall shopping cart distance from the quay. For day-to-day life on a boat, it’s hard to get more convenient.

Wanderlust moored at La Confluence.

Riverside industry

The port and the shopping mall take their name from the joining of the Saône and Rhône Rivers nearby. La Confluence district is former industrial warehouse area that is undergoing rapid redevelopment with ultra modern buildings springing up all around. It is not central to the restaurants and culture that make Lyon famous. However La Confluence’s lack of immediate convenience is made up for by the presence of the tramline, which leads directly to one of Lyon’s transportation hubs. Though this is not the heart of the action, it is possible to get pretty much anywhere in Lyon quickly from the port.

There is an advantage to being away from the center of the action in the port de plaisance: The press of the tourist throngs remains elsewhere. Lyon claims six million tourist visits a year; staying in an out of the way location can be a big plus during the busy season.

Evening in Lyon’s port de plaisance

Boats moving in the port

As we arrived we figured we’d stay in Lyon for three weeks or so. There was nothing drawing us forward at the moment; we knew that we would have to return back up the river to Saint Jean de Losne at some point in the future. So it was a surprise to us when the capitaine of the mostly empty port told us that stays were limited to four days. We asked nicely; the capitaine extended our stay for another three days. Still seven days seemed very limiting in such an interesting town. What we didn’t know when we arrived is that as long as the space wasn’t reserved by other boats we could keep extending our stay four days at a time. And there was always room for more boats. In the end, between a few out and return trips, we spent six weeks at Lyon’s port in 2017, four days at a time.

We could have easily stayed longer. There are plenty of motivations to extend a stay in Lyon. Lyon is considered to be France’s second city for culture, behind only the much larger Paris. It has a long and deep history.

Lyon’s modern metro makes getting around the city easier.

Popular as a sight-seeing boat, the Vaporetto shuttles passengers from La Confluence to Vieux Lyon. If your your schedule matches, and the boat isn’t full, the Vaporetto is the fastest and most enjoyable way to get to the old town.

There’s an experimental “autonomous” minibus that runs from the port to a nearby point downriver. It is free to ride but it travels very slowly, roughly walking speed. When we were there there was someone onboard to make sure things didn’t go haywire.

Lyon, tucked between the Beaujolais, Burgundy, and Northern Rhone wine appellations, is considered a gastronomic capitol of France. It is the source of many of the country’s culinary traditions. Good restaurants are easy to find in Lyon with the food ranging from traditional to modern. While we stayed we acquired a taste for some of the local favorites such as tablier de sapeur (a beef tripe dish that literally translates as the apron of a military engineer) and Quenelles de brochet sauce Nantua (a pike fish dumpling served with crawfish sauce). Our appetites were fully engaged and the belt lines tightened.

The weather was a contributing cause to our extended stay in Lyon. It was July and the weather was hot. Wanderlust’s master cabin is air-conditioned, though the Webasto air conditioner had developed a fault and the control panel no longer functioned. At least we could still turn the unit on and off at the power switch. The AC would only work at full power but that was hardly a problem in the hot weather. But to use the air conditioner Wanderlust needed to be on shore power or we would have to fire up her problematic generator. Running the generator all the night wasn’t an attractive option, no matter where we moored. If the air con is desired it always best to settle at a place good shore power feed. The electrical feed was robust at La Confluence; there was no guarantee that it would be as good as Wanderlust moved down the Rhône.

One of Lyon’s many bridges.

Wanderlust heading upstream with the old town to port

Creature comforts encouraged us to extend Wanderlust’s stay in Lyon. In the process we acquired an unexpected affinity for the city. Becky didn’t really care for Lyon after our first visit by car. But her attitude changed the longer we stayed this time through. When it was time to leave the city for the last time this season we left with regrets. We felt at home in Lyon. It is a hard place to leave.


A modern shopping mall coexists with the port

Lyon from the water

Clicking on this link will bring up a map of Wanderlust’s route.

There is 66 kilometers of river with two locks between Macon to Lyon. Wanderlust’s engine ran 7.6 hours on this leg.

The port is used for many activities.

“Mowing the water”: The waters of the port are kept clean.

Only Lyon: English words are creep into use in France in some odd ways.

4 thoughts on “The Saône: Lyon

  1. Pingback: The Rhône: Vienne | Wanderlust

  2. Pingback: The Rhône: Ampuis | Wanderlust

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