They're battling post-Brexit restrictions to live in a French city cheaper than Paris. Here's why you should visit

My first visit to Lyon was over 10 years ago, when I was 20 years old and working in a secondary school in the French countryside during my Erasmus studies.

I had an insatiable thirst for alcoholic beverages and the energy of a rabid dog, so every weekend I drove straight to the nearest big city, Lyon, never imagining that one day I would call it home.

But here I was, on my way back there after a death in the family and a pandemic. My car was piled high, I'd just quit my job, and I was 28 years old and in the midst of an unplanned crisis somewhere between a quarter and a mid-life crisis.

Friends and family back in England were supportive, skeptical or confused – most of them knew very little about Lyon.

January 21, 2018 - Lyon, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France. Beautiful cobblestone street of Rue de Boeuf with shops and restaurants in Old Lyon, France, on a rainy winter day. Colourful Old Lyon buildings. Architecture of Lyon. French city. Winter in Lyon, France
Lyon's cobbled streets are packed with great value restaurants (Photo: Getty)

They were confused as to why I would choose to remain in France, jumping through the post-Brexit red tape – the red tape required to move to France as a British citizen includes French language tests, compulsory civics classes, health checks and significant costs.

In total, he spent more than £1,000 on the visa process, including fees, translation of official documents and the cost of hiring an immigration lawyer when he feared he would be deported after running into administrative trouble.

The civics training, on the other hand, covers everything from memorizing the lyrics to “La Marseillaise” to the far more useful “How to Find a Family Doctor in France” and runs over four days. I've been living here for over two years and am far from done dealing with the bureaucracy.

But Lyon was once associated with a carefree period in my life, and that's what drew me back. During my Erasmus studies, I had no real responsibilities, not even a university assignment, one hedonistic weekend after another, and the city was so green.

The mountains add to Lyon's charm, and just like on my first visit, I was immediately captivated by the city's natural surroundings: two rivers whose banks turn into giant picnic spots on sunny days, vast urban parks, and the promise of Alpine adventures on the skyline.

Panorama of Lyon cityscape with the French Alps and Mont Blanc in the background during the day in spring 2019. Part-Dieu buildings and district.
The French Alps can be seen from the city's highest point (Photo: Yannis Oulaba/Getty)

On a clear day, you can see Mont Blanc from Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the 19th-century cathedral that sits on Lyon's highest hill. Climb to the church's dome after dark for even better views of the city lit up below.

The mountains are very close, with the nearest ski resort only a 90 minute drive away.

Adding a day of skiing to your city break is easy – a ski pass and transport costs less than £50, and Skimania runs trips three times a week from December to March to ski resorts across the French Alps.

Lyon also offers a cost-effective getaway compared to bigger cities: a five-star hotel in Paris will cost you over €800 a night on average, but in Lyon even a luxury stay is affordable. I particularly like Villa 216, a two-room townhouse, with double rooms available from €219 including breakfast.

According to cost-of-living comparison tool Numbeo, consumer prices in Lyon are 5.6% lower than in Paris, and restaurant prices are nearly 12% lower.

Lyon is easily reachable by train from the UK, with the journey taking less than five hours from London. Train fares aren't always cheap though, so it's best to book as early as possible, especially for the Eurostar. One-way tickets can be found for as low as €44, but this is not during sales.

Lyon, France - January 2020: Street in Old Lyon, Europe
The cobblestone streets of Vieux Lyon add to its charm (Photo: Getty Images)

Instead of Paris, go via Lille, where the journey from London takes just 1 hour 20 minutes. TGV (high-speed) trains leave from arrival station Lille-Europe and take 3 hours to reach Lyon. As with Eurostar, the earlier you book the cheaper the fare. Trainline has some cheaper train operators such as OuiGo and Italy's FrecciaRossa. The train ride from Lille is mostly rural, with church spires peeking out from endless fields.

With Beaujolais to the north and the Rhône Valley to the south, Lyonnais often joke that although their city has two rivers, it also has a third river through which wine flows in abundance.

My favourite wine bar, Les Assembleurs, sells wine on tap for €4 a glass, which compares to the €6 I paid for a black coffee in Paris recently, and my favourite coffee shop in Lyon, Un Brin de Folie, doubles as a florist, the aromas are amazing, and they also run wreath-making workshops, with coffee for €1.40.

Lyon has more restaurants than any other French city except Paris, and its old town is home to the street with the most Michelin stars in France, Rue de Boeuf, where Jérémie Galvin's lunch menu is an experience for the senses.

Being asked what you ate Give it a try (just let them know if you have any dietary restrictions) and prepare to be eating with your hands one moment with headphones in the next. Flair's lunch menu is just 25 euros, a cheap three-course meal that feels like fine dining.

When you're not craving the cuisine, Lyon's art scene is endlessly fascinating, with the futuristic Musée des Confluences hosting an exhibition themed around love. To our loveIn this exhibition that runs until August, the repurposed sugar factory La Sucrière will host a major exhibition of photographer Elliott Erwitt's work until mid-March.

The Jean Couty Museum of Contemporary Art is showing an exhibition on Matisse and Chagall until the end of January. In addition, much of Lyon's art is exhibited outdoors, including the ” Optical illusionMy favourite piece of street art is the painting on the stairs leading up to Croix-Rousse, a former silk factory. neighborhood.

LYON, FRANCE - JANUARY 31, 2023 : Urban panorama of the city of Lyon, France in winter at sunset
Lyon's cityscape is lined with skyscrapers (Photo: Michel Pérez/Getty)

A third of Lyon's annual tourists visit the city for Europe's biggest light festival, Fête des Lumières (7-10 December), a crowded but spectacular event, but if you're visiting outside of this time, walk past Universite Jean Moulin III after dark to see its beautiful windows lit up in every colour.

With the Olympics coming up and Lyon only hosting football matches, it's much quieter and cheaper than Paris, so it's well worth the detour by train.

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