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Everything you need to know about Lyon’s Fête des lumières

Lyon's Fête des lumières is the biggest and most famous of France's winter festivals of lights - Lyon resident and festival fan Caroline Conner explains what it's all about.

Everything you need to know about Lyon's Fête des lumières
Candles illuminate the Jacobins square during the Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumieres), in Lyon. Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

What is it?

The Fête des Lumières is a free, outdoor experience in the centre of Lyon that runs from Thursday, December 8th until Sunday, December 11th at night time. 

Lyon’s annual winter festival of lights always runs for four nights around December 8th.

Every year, different artisans create light installations throughout the city, especially in the centre of Lyon. These include large projections over some of the city’s most beautiful monuments. You’ll find incredible exhibitions displayed over the facades of major landmarks like the Hôtel de Ville and Place des Terreaux, at Place Bellecour, and the Cathedral St George. Our famous Parc de la Tête d’Or also has wonderful installations.

While the festival has a wonderful convivial energy, it can also get extremely crowded. Most of the visitors are from the region, but there is starting to be some foreign presence as well.

Saint-Jean cathedral illuminated during the Festival of Lights . Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

 The history of a Lyonnais tradition

Lyon has long been enamoured with the city’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary. The worship of Mary goes far back, and in 1643 Lyon officially placed itself under her protection. Ever since, there has been a candle-lit procession between the Cathedral and her chapel on the Fourvière hill (now part of the Basilica) on September 8th.

The first Fête des Lumières was supposed to take place on September 8th 1852 to inaugurate the statue of the Virgin at Fourvière, but the event got rained out. It was rescheduled for December 8th, when it rained once again, yet the Lyonnais people came out with their lanterns lit to show their respect for Mary anyway. 

The festival gained momentum throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, to become an international showcase of fabulous lighting installations. 

Today the festival is a free, outdoor, often interactive art festival showcasing at least 40 large scale light installations across the city. In 2021 it was estimated to have had 1,800,000 visitors. 

The people of Lyon still pay homage to Mary by lighting candles in their windows on the 8th of December.

How to make the most of the festival

Finding accommodation in Lyon during this time is doable but comes with a cost! Many locals will leave for the weekend and rent out their apartments on Airbnb.

Parking in the centre of town will be very difficult, it’s better to reserve a spot in a lot in the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 7th, 8th, or 9th arrondissements and take public transport or walk in to the centre.

Restaurants in Lyon tend to be very small, so if you are planning on going, it is crucial that you make reservations. Google reviews function well here and lead to better results than TripAdvisor.

It might rain, just as it did at the very first festival in 1852. Dress appropriately for the weather, which will be cold and likely wet. You will likely be outside in the dark and cold for a few hours, so really bundle up and wear good shoes.

The illuminated Bellecour square, with the Fourviere basilica in the background,. Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

The festival is free to enjoy but there is a security perimeter around the centre of Lyon. Consult the map to find out which checkpoint you’ll enter through, and go early so you can get in without too much of a wait.

The official times for the festival are 8pm until midnight Thursday through Saturday, and 6pm to 10pm on Sunday. To avoid the queues, it would be wise to be inside the perimeter before that start time.

Here is the official map for the Fête des Lumières 2022.

There are no Covid restrictions in place this year.

Find the official website here.

How long does it take?

It would be difficult to see everything in one night if you also wanted to go to the Parc de la Tête d’Or, but you could see most everything in the Presqu’Île (the peninsula between the Rhône and Saône rivers) and even the Old Town in a single evening if you started at 8 and stayed till midnight. 

Is there a difference between the nights? 

All of the installations are the same for all four nights.

An insider tip is to go and check out the dress rehearsal on Wednesday evening. You won’t see everything exactly as it will be, but it’s much less crowded and still a fantastic experience. 

Friday and Saturday are the most crowded.

Caroline Conner is a wine expert who runs Lyon Wine Tastings. She will be hosting a highly limited gastronomic wine tour on Sunday the 11th that includes a 7 wine tasting, a tour of the Fête des Lumières, and then an extravagant dinner at one of Lyon’s best restaurants. Find full details here.

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TRAVEL NEWS

13 of France’s best hiking and cycling routes

There’s no better way to explore the great French countryside than on foot or on two wheels. Fortunately, walkers and cyclists are well-catered for - here are our recommendations for the best routes (one for each region).

13 of France’s best hiking and cycling routes

Grand Randonees, local walks and vélo routes – France is full of them. In fact, it is estimated that there are 100,000 kilometres of walking trails in France, crossing the country in all directions offering spectacular views, lungfuls of fresh air and a beauty-filled and accessible way to keep fit and healthy.

We’ve selected 13 walks and cycle routes, one from each region, ranging from the gentle and easy to the incredibly difficult. There’s even a donkey in one of them;

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Chemin de Stevenson hiking trailThe GR70 is the unprepossessing official name of an epic route also known as The Stevenson Path, named in honour of the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, who travelled along it in 1878 and wrote about it in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (the donkey was called Modestine, by the way). 

It runs roughly north-south for 272 km from Puy-en-Velay to Alès, crossing through the Haute-Loire, Ardèche, Lozère, and Gard departments, although obviously you don’t have to do the whole 272km in one go.

The Association Sur Le Chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson promotes the trail and maintains an accommodation list.

Brittany

Sentier des douaniers hiking trail  – A well-known route steeped in history, salt and sea spray. GR34 – to give it its official route name – starts from Mont-Saint-Michel and ends in Saint-Nazaire, following the stunning Brittany coastline out to Brest at the western tip and then back east.

It (mostly) follows old customs paths (hence the name which means customs officers’ path), in use up to the early 20th century, that allowed officers to patrol the coast from their guardhouses, which were at key observation points on the Brittany coast

Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

Voie des Vignes cycle pathFrom Beaune to Santenay to Nolay, the 22km Voie des Vignes (Way of the Vines) meanders its gentle way along vineyard paths, crossing the Unesco World Heritage-listed Climats of Burgundy.

Ideal for a family day out in the fresh air, or as a way of working up an appetite for some of Burgundy’s most famous produce.

Centre-Val de Loire

La Vallée du Loir cycle path – This 330 km cycle path (the V47) starts at the source of the river between Beauce and Perche and ends of the banks of Loire at Angers.

If you still have some energy left, however, you can keep going because at this point it joins up with the older La Loire à Velo cycle path.

Corsica

The GR20 hiking trailNot for the faint-hearted, this one. The GR20 – so hard it doesn’t even get a friendly name – is recognised as one of France and Europe’s most difficult hiking challenges, running 180km from Calenzana in the North to Conca in the South.

The full route takes about 16 days to walk, and features steep climbs and descents in the north and tricky exposed ridges further south. You do get to enjoy the gorgeous and dramatic landscape of Corsica while you do it, however.

Grand-Est

La Meuse à vélo cycle path – The Meuse Cycle Route – EuroVelo 19 – follows one of the most important rivers in Europe and welcomes cyclists of all levels. 

It runs from the plateau of Langres via Hoek van Holland to Rotterdam, offering ever-changing scenery, with charming towns and villages on both banks of the river. In total the path is 1,050km long and takes in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Hauts-de-France

Sentier du Littoral hiking trailIt’s officially known as the GR120, and its more prosaic name is no more inspired – Sentier du Littoral translates as Coastal Path – but this trail, which stretches along the Côte d’Opale, from the Belgian border to Berck-sur-Mer offers breathtaking views of the Baie de Somme.

Ile-de-France

La Seine à Vélo cycle pathThe 260km cycle route, connecting the capital to Le Havre in Normandy, takes in Claude Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny, the Museum of Impressionism, and Château de Malmaison, the former home of Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress Josephine.

Normandy

The Pays Tour de la Suisse Normande hiking trailFrance celebrates its village préféré, its celebrity préféré, it’s book préféré – and it’s hiking route préféré.

In 2023, this route, which runs through Calvados and Orne was voted France’s favourite hiking trail, beating the GR120 (you may remember that as the Hauts-de-France walk listed here) and the GR71C Tour de Larzac.

You’ll need to be reasonably fit to do some of the hillier sections, but the views – particularly Rochers de la Houle, the Pain de Sucre, the Roches d’Oêtre – are worth the effort.

Nouvelle Aquitaine

Le Canal de Garonne à vélo cycle pathAt 193km long, the Canal de Garonne à vélo – which runs from Bordeaux to Toulouse along the banks of the river after which it is named – is the longest greenway (voie verte) in France, and part of the Canal des 2 Mers route which connects the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Occitanie

Passa Païs cycle path  – The Passa Païs is an 80km greenway that crosses through the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc, along the route of a former railway line, while enjoying a rich mosaic of landscapes.

Pays de la Loire

Île d’Yeu cycle path and hiking trail – Just off the Vendée coast, you’ll find the tiny Île d’Yeu. You’ll need to take a ferry to get there, but – once there – you’ll find it is perfect for cycling or walking pretty much all year round. 

You can bike to the beach, to the market in Port-Joinville or Saint-Sauveur. Or visit the Grand Phare or the Old Castle, enjoy a break at the small Port de la Meule, and admire the sunset at Pointe du But. Your choice.

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Via Venaissia cycle route and hiking pathAn easy one to finish with. The short, family friendly Via Venaissia route follows, in part, the old railway line that linked Orange to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which was last in use in 1938.

The 14-kilometre greenway reserved for cyclists and walkers takes in the exceptional views of Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail massif.

And a bonus one  . . .

The famous Camino de Santiago ends in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, but one of the routes (Le Puy Camino) begins in France’s Auvergne area and meanders through the south west of the country before crossing the border into Spain.

You don’t have to go all the way to Spain, of course, there are lots of lovely sections in France, all well marked with the route’s logo of a shell. Some people just treat it as a hike, while others do it as a religious pilgrimage sometimes accompanied by a donkey, which explains why you’ll sometimes see a donkey tied up outside a supermarket, post office or tabac in south west France.

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