Peterjon Creswell visits Lyon and the city's newly-built stadium, the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, which on Sunday hosts the visit of champions PSG.
Lyon is one of 200 soccer cities featured on Libero, the digital travel guide for football fans. Currently featured is a comprehensive, nine-city guide to Euro 2016. Regularly refreshed with new destinations and travelogues, Libero is a one-click treasure trove of football trip tips, tales and trivia.
Stade Olympique Lyonnais, Olympique Lyon-Paris Saint-Germain, Ligue 1, Sun Nov 27.
2016 has been memorable year for Lyon and its flagship club, Olympique Lyonnais (‘OL’).
First came the unveiling of the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, the long-awaited new stadium due to host six matches, including one semi-final, at Euro 2016.
Then, from February, OL went on a 14-game streak of 11 wins, two draws and one narrow defeat, a run that culminated with the 6-1 destruction of Monaco, Lyon’s nearest rivals for a group stage spot in the Champions League 2016-17, behind Paris Saint-Germain.
France’s second city and gastronomic capital only became a real football hub in the 21st century. Entrepreneur Jean-Michel Aulas had taken over his home-town club in 1987, promising to make it a European powerhouse. Producing players and signing future stars such as Michael Essien and Florent Malouda and allowing them to flourish, OL enjoyed unprecedented domestic success and made significant profits from selling players on.
As well as those seven straight titles, Lyon reached the knock-0ut stages of the Champions League every season but two over the course of the decade.
Not bad for a club that was founded as recently as 1950.
The club’s former ground of the Stade Gerland was built as a velodrome and athletics ground either side of World War I. It had been slated to host one game at the 1938 World Cup but Sweden were allowed a free passage to the next round as their opponents, Austria, had been swallowed up as part of Nazi Germany three months earlier.
Lyon did host a semi-final of Euro 84, a surprise win for Spain over Denmark, and the tense group game between the USA and Iran at the 1998 World Cup. The Gerland will also be remembered as the site of the death of Cameroun midfielder Marc-Vivien Foé, who collapsed in a Confederations Cup semi-final here in 2003.
What will happen to the Stade Gerland from now on isn’t clear. It was even passed over a site for a Euro 2016 fan zone for central place Bellecour.
Over in Décines-Charpieu, a suburb some 12km east of Lyon, the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, the third biggest stadium in France, centrepieces a 50-hectare site slated to become ‘OL Land’. Two hotels, a swimming pool and a commercial centre will be ranged around an OL Museum – and alongside training facilities to keep the Lyon gravy train running.
Lyon-St Exupéry airport is 20km (13 miles) south-east of the city centre, connected by Rhône Express tram (€16/€27.50 return, every 15min, every 30min after 9pm, last service midnight, 30min journey time). A taxi should cost around €40-€45. Local firms include Lyon Taxis (+33 4 86 68 88 77, +33 6 11 95 54 77) and Taxi Lyonnais (+33 4 78 26 81 81).
The Rhône Express runs to Part-Dieu, the city’s main train station, via Vaulx-en-Velin La Soie, towards the new stadium that you’ll pass on the way. Both Part-Dieu and Vaulx-en-Velin have match-day tramlinks.
Local transport (TCL) consists of a four-line metro, a five-line tramway system and buses. Tickets are €1.80 (€2 on board), €5.50 for one day and various other passes. Day tickets must be validated on each journey.
On match days, 2.5hrs before kick-off and 1hr after the final whistle, shuttle trams serve the stadium. Look out for the red N (‘Navette Tramway’) sign near Part-Dieu station (exit on the Rhône Express side, walk about 350 metres to the right, it’s signposted) and from Vaulx-en-Velin La Soie at the end of red metro line A. Journey times 25min and 10min respectively.
There’s also a Navette Bus from EurExpo at the end of Tramway line 5.
For these services, if you have already have a match ticket, you can obtain transport tickets by registering at acces.parc-ol.com – or use the regular TCL ones.
You can also reach the stadium every day of the week by Tramway 3 from Part-Dieu (Rhône Express side; every 7-15min, evenings every 30min) to Décines Grand Large (journey time 20min). Signs for the Parc lead you down rue Francisco Ferrer, to Turkish restaurant Le Mevlana, by a roundabout, where you turn left. After 200 metres, the stadium will appear on your right. Allow 10min from the tramway stop.
The local tourist office on place Bellecour has a room-booking service www.en.lyon-france.com/Sleep.
There’s a handful of hotels walking distance to the stadium, just the other side of the Rocade Est A-road. They are accessible for pedestrians or one stop on the No.85 bus from the Peyssilieu stop directly opposite the affordable, standard B&B Hôtel Lyon Meyzieu Grand Stade on rue de la République.
Just around the roundabout, a cluster of three chain hotels includes the 30-room Abys is a basic, clean two-star with weekend reductions and, behind it, the three-star Comfort Hotel Stadium Eurexpo Lyon, with big-screen TVs in its 73 rooms. Between them is the three-star Hôtel Grand Est.
Around Part-Dieu station, one building houses an ibis Budget, an ibis Styles and a Mercure – with a Campanile behind them. Through the station on the city side, you’ll find a Novotel, alongside the three-star Athena.
Right on Bellecour, beside the Euro 2016 fanzone, the Hôtel Royal is a classy landmark set above a culinary institute run by legendary Lyon chef Paul Bocuse. Nearby, three-star Hôtel des Artistes is a suitably awash with paintings.
By the cluster of bars on the Vieux Lyon side of pont de la Feuillée, St-Paul is a clean two-star, Le Phénix is one star above while the school-themed Collège Hotel delivers a charming four-star stay and fine local cuisine in its adjoining Baràgones restaurant – where OL games are screened over drinks.
At the height of Lyon’s hegemony, shortly after the last of seven consecutive titles in 2008, club president Jean-Michel Aulas revealed his plans for OL Land. Comprising a 59,000-capacity stadium, hotels and a leisure centre, it was sited at Décines-Charpieu, out towards the airport.
Costing some €410 million, the project was announced nearly two years before France won hosting rights for Euro 2016. Under several working titles – Stade des Lumières, Grand Stade de Lyon – the arena was eventually given the name Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
Work began in 2012, the first stone was laid in 2013 and OL opened the stadium against Troyes in January 2016. Crowds have often surpassed 55,000 – only Marseille can claim better. The stadium has also hosted major international rugby.
End to end, though, this is a soccer arena, with home fans behind each goal and the AirFibr hybrid grass pitch up close to the spectators. Sound bounces off the photovoltaic roof to create a cauldron of noise for the match-long call-and-response chants of local Gones supporters – OL have a stadium they can be proud of.
Construction of the rest of the complex will be completed after Euro 2016.
Within the stadium, the Brasserie des Lumières requires reservation on match days. Nearby, Le Couëron is an affordable, unpretentious, two-room restaurant run by Véronique and Jean-Jacques Mirzoian for more than 30 years. For match days, they put a makeshift bar on the forecourt to create a real pre-game atmosphere, with the stadium just opposite.
Nearby, on a corner by the roundabout towards Décines Grand Large tramway stop, Le Mevlana is a standard Turkish restaurant, with kebab platters at €10. It has a back yard with tables but no booze – it’s a dry ship.
In town, bouchons and Bocuse not bars and beer bring tourists to Lyon, but traditional local restaurants and world-famous chefs can be complemented by a lively nightlife driven by a significant student population.
Bars cluster around a small area between St-Paul and Vieux Lyon stations, and the river. On facing waterfront corners, the Wallace Bar and Elephant & Castle pub are pleasantly busy during happy hour – the E&C goes big on Sunday lunches, Wells & Young’s beers and TV football.
Further down the riverfront, on rue St Georges, behind the church and footbridge of the same name, Johnny’s Kitchen and Johnny Walsh’s complement each other perfectly, one great for superior daytime dishes and chatty evening beers, the other springing to life after midnight.
Over the river, by focal place Bellecour and the Euro fanzone, Ed’s is a burger-and-cocktail joint, more US in style but sure to screen big matches. Towards Cordeliers metro station, near place des Jacobins on rue de la Monnaie, King Arthur is in the same family as Elephant & Castle and other Brit-style pubs across France. TV sport is the big draw here.
If you’re looking for something more local, there’s a cluster of bars behind the Opera House, on rue de l’Arbre Sec. On the corner with rue du Garet, Café 203 attracts a loyal, funky following. Decent burgers, too.
The other side of the Opera House, tucked up rue du Griffon, Flanigan’s is a popular, late-opening venue with live music, pub grub and TVs everywhere.
Moving back towards Vieux Lyon on rue Constantine, 405 (at No.9) offers generous happy hours to sample its many draught beers and gawp at sport.
Finally, right in Part-Dieu station, facing towards town, O’Conways is convenient for a first or farewell pint in Lyon.