Belle lurette


The French use the expression ‘depuis belle lurette’ or ‘il y a belle lurette’ when it’s been a good long while since the last time you went somewhere or saw someone.

It had certainly been that. ‘Belle lurette’ since we’d set foot in the capital of the Gauls. So we decided it was time to go back and visit our former hometown of Lyon.

In late December, many of the lights were still out for the Fête des Lumières, the festive tribute to the Virgin Mary that sets the city of Lyon alight each year on December 8th – and now draws coachloads of tourists to witness its famous illuminations.

When we first settled in Lyon back in 1992, the event was little more than a tradition of lighting candles in coloured jars – les lumignons – and setting them along your window ledge.


We only lived in the city proper for five years, but they were busy, productive years. Lyon was where we made our first home in France, where our daughter was born, where both our kids went through the school system from maternelle all the way to the baccalauréat. It was where we found work, started our own businesses, made friends and put down roots. When we moved to the nearby Monts du Lyonnais, we continued to commute into town each day. Lyon felt like home.

It wasn’t an easy nut to crack. Lyon is known to be something of a secret city, whose inhabitants live by the motto, ‘vivons heureux, vivons cachés’. Meaning that a happy life is one hidden from public view. (An expression that eluded me at first but one I’ve come to truly appreciate).

Since we moved to the Haute Savoie we had only gone back to Lyon on flying visits to family and friends. We had not set foot on the Presqu’île formed by its two rivers, the Rhone and the Saône, in years.

So we booked a hotel and stayed in the heart of the city. It was a trip down memory lane for us (“You remember that time when…?”), with much of the city achingly familiar.


Yet so much has changed. The city has come up in recent years; there’s a livelier, more modern vibe. The streets are lined with trendy shops, bicycles are everywhere, more languages are spoken. There are still the traditional ‘bouchons’ Lyonnais, the simple restaurants that serve classic French bistro dishes with a lot of warmth and clatter, like the façade shown above. But they are not the only option, as they were all those years ago when we dropped a pin on the map and settled in Lyon.

Il y a belle lurette.

And there are still the other kind of ‘bouchons’ that Lyon is equally famous for. The traffic kind.


Have you been to Lyon? What do you remember?


  1. poshbirdy · January 26, 2017

    I have read so much about Lyon, but not yet been there. It sounds like a dynamic and very individual kind of city. P S Love the candle picture

  2. MELewis · January 26, 2017

    Definitely worth a visit. There’s a lot to see that I’ve barely touched on here. If I were you I’d avoid both the height of summer and the 8th of December to avoid the crowds.

    • poshbirdy · January 26, 2017

      I just looked up the origin of the expression, because your posts always make me think more closely about French terms and I didn’t know the word ‘lurette’. Apparently it is a use of the word ‘heurette’. Now it makes sense

      • MELewis · January 26, 2017

        Yes, I wanted to explain that but somehow couldn’t find the words to do so simply. Thanks for doing it for me! 😉

  3. phildange · January 26, 2017

    I particularly like the expression you chose as a title . A master of French graphic novels called Gotlib created a couple of dogs in love and called them “Gai Luron et Belle Lurette” . Un gai luron is a gay fellow, a happy wanderer, and I always found these associated names brilliant .
    Do you know that still now the head of the French Church is the archbishop of Lyon, still named “le Primat des Gaules” ? Funny how very old roots remain visible in France .

    • MELewis · January 26, 2017

      Did not know about ‘Le primat des Gaules’ – and for his sake hope there is no confusion with ‘primate’. 😉 I had also not heard of Gai Luron but I do love the sound of that name for a happy wanderer. As for the old roots, you are right and it is always with great awe that I observe these – coming from a country which still feels young by comparison.

  4. francetaste · January 26, 2017

    I thought the festival of lights was in honor of St. Lucy. I get overwhelmed by the saints’ days here.
    My main memory of Lyon is going there on a weekend with a bunch of co-workers: four women and one guy. We went into an Anne Fontaine shop; the token guy waited outside. Later, he marveled to the rest of the office that we spent over an hour in a shop that was the size of a parking place and that sold only white shirts.
    We also went to two two-star restaurants (figuring they would be very good but not as expensive as three stars). One very traditional and one very modern. I preferred the modern one. I gained five pounds in two days.

    • MELewis · January 26, 2017

      Who the heck is St. Lucy? Sounds like Lyon was memorable for you – although hopefully not the extra weight!

    • phildange · January 26, 2017

      The festival of lights is not in honor of St. Lucy, as it is logical to think, but surprinsingly in honor of Mary . Yes there are and were many saints stuff in France ( after all France was called “the Church’s elder daughter” for centuries), and it is a main reason of the huge hostilty spread around the country against religions of all sorts since the first revolution and the famous French “laïcité” .

      • MELewis · January 26, 2017

        Apparently the fête is to give thanks to Mary for sparing the Lyonnais from the plague in 1643. Courtesy of Wikipedia!

  5. Osyth · January 26, 2017

    I’ve driven to the airport so many times either to fly or to meet or drop off and I’ve had the odd flying visit to the city but I have not, so far had a good solid look at it. We intend to rectify that over the next six months with it being so close to where we are at the moment. I’m certain we will enjoy it even though we can’t hope to do much more than tickle the surface as tourists!

    • phildange · January 26, 2017

      It is a very beautiful city,full of narrow passages called traboules,where strangers get lost, like in medinas of Arab cities . There is one Asterix in which the Lyonnais resistants drive the Roman legion completely lost . Of course the traboules didn’t exist by then but Lyon ( Lugdunum) was nevertheless the capital of Roman Gaul, hence the “Primat des Gaules” .

      • Osyth · January 26, 2017

        I need to seek out that Astérix ….there’s an excellent BD shop in Grenoble which calls to me virtually daily! I will enjoy skulking in the tiny streets, lurking and skulking being two of my favourite words 😊

    • MELewis · January 27, 2017

      There’s a lot to tickle your fancy, from touristy vieux Lyon (where most of the Traboules are) and Fourvière to the artier Croix Rousse area. And the new Confluence museum which I have not yet seen. Parc de la Tête d’or is definitely worth a stroll with its gardens and city zoo. I’ve vowed to go back more often from now on – it’s only 2 hours from us after all and I can easily take the train – so maybe that is where we’ll finally catch up live and in person!

      • Osyth · January 27, 2017

        What a brilliant plan! I like the idea of meeting you AND getting a free insider tour guide too! Xx

  6. phildange · January 26, 2017

    It is “Le tour de Gaule”, in which they want to bring back a culinary specialty of every region for a bet they made . In Lyon the Roman pursuers are led by their prefect, whose name IMO is the best of all Asterixes : the Prefect Encorutifaluquejelesus .”Encore eût-il fallu que je le susse” uses a subjunctive pluperfect, a subjunctive imparfait, two literary tenses . This sentence can be found only in classical literature or between educated mates for fun

  7. Suzanne et Pierre · January 26, 2017

    Lyon is indeed a very special town. Our last visit dates back to December 2013 but we missed the light festival by a week…we didn’t do our research properly before booking our dates. We were totally charmed by the city and in particular by the new Confluence area being revamped with such amazing modern buildings. The museum wasn’t yet opened but it was looking great. We were a bit disappointed that a lot of the traboules were now closed to visitors as we had quite enjoyed them on our first visit in 1994! (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · January 27, 2017

      Glad to hear your travels have led you to Lyon and hope you and Pierre make it back to France for a return visit soon! I didn’t know the traboules were closed, although perhaps it makes sense for some that are part of private homes? I remember taking a walking tour in the old town when we had visitors which was well worth it as it is otherwise hard to discover on your own. Haven’t seen the new Confluence museum yet either but it is on my list for a future visit. As for the Fête de lumières, I avoid it now because of the crowds which can be absolutely crazy in the narrow streets.

  8. zipfslaw1 · January 26, 2017

    “Encorutifaluquejelesus .”Encore eût-il fallu que je le susse” ” -> “I still had to know it??”

    • MELewis · January 27, 2017

      That’s what I understand at least. The French seem to have a lot of fun with some of those ‘usse’ endings. 😉

    • phildange · January 27, 2017

      I don’t master English enough to give a straight translation . The meaning is – to act or speak rightly-, whatever, that’s the unsaid part, the answer to a reproach, “I would have needed to know this before”, whatever “this” be . And I wrote a mistake : “eût-il fallu” is not a subjunctive, but the conditionnel passé 2° forme, another literary tense . The ordinary conditionnel passé 1° forme that you must know better is “aurait-il fallu”, same meaning .

      • MELewis · January 27, 2017

        ‘I would have had to have known that’. (I think… ;-))

  9. A year in Périgord · January 26, 2017

    I’ve booked to go there for a long weekend at the end of March. Can’t wait!

    • MELewis · January 27, 2017

      I think you’ll enjoy it – beautiful old streets, lots of good food and wine from the simple ‘bouchons’ to the gastronomic. Hope you get some warmer weather!

  10. phildange · January 27, 2017

    To Mel’s last comment : When people say that it means “-to be able to properly do or say what the other person reproaches me for having wrongly done or said-, I would have had to have known that before.” The part between hyphens is unsaid .
    The “encore” in this case doesn’t mean “still”, it is a signal of a conditional and is mostly followed by the verb “falloir” . You find it in the present tense in phrases like ” Pour comprendre ce texte de Platon encore faudrait-il que je connaisse le grec ancien”.

  11. midihideaways · January 30, 2017

    Lyon is high on my list of places to visit – especially since the TGV can get me there so easily!! Maybe this summer?!

    • MELewis · January 30, 2017

      I certainly hope you make it soon! I so love train travel and the TGV is so comfortable (aside from the frequent strikes!).

  12. fatdormouse · February 28, 2017

    I’ve come across this rather late, but wanted to chime in with my love for Lyon. It’s only an hour from us, but I don’t go often enough! You can find a self-guide to the Traboules (in the Michelin green guide, I think), but we found a free guided tour was a good way to visit them, from the Tourist Office. Whenever we go (or almost always) we eat at a Paul Bocuse brasserie – always good food, and good value too. Last time we went to the Fete de la Lumières we were frightened of getting crushed, there were so many people. We’ve not been for about 4 years. If you love cats (and I do!) I recommend visiting the Cat Café near Perruche – I think it’s called The GentleCat. There’s another in Croix Rousse but I prefer this one. You often need to book though!

    • MELewis · February 28, 2017

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments on Lyon, always welcome! Agree the tour of the old town is well worth it as you might never discover many of the traboules on your own. Love this ‘secret’ side of Lyon, along with the Bocuse brasseries – and thanks for the tip about the Cat Cafés. Not sure if I’ve seen one before but will definitely check out next trip!

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