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Charming courtyards with worn-out spiral staircases and old water wells – although hard to find, the traboules of Lyon will reward your efforts with many beautiful surprises. These hidden passages lead not only through Vieux Lyon, the oldest part of the city, but also through La Croix-Rousse, a trendy neighbourhood with an industrial past.
Music filters out through open windows, the aroma of food fills the air and the postman makes his daily rounds through narrow dimly lit hallways. Very few monuments are as lively as the traboules of Vieux Lyon. Ever since the Renaissance, these hidden passages run from one street to another, right through blocks of houses and courtyards with galleries and spiral staircases of gold-coloured limestone. In the 1950s, this historic neighbourhood barely escaped the wrecking ball but today it is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Lyon has more than 200 of these passages but only 40 or so are accessible to the public. That is if you know where to find them – the entrances are always very discrete. This only enhances the air of mystery that surrounds the traboules. The lovely architecture you encounter along the way is truly surprising.
While the best-known and oldest traboules are found in Vieux Lyon, there are also more modern versions in La Croix-Rousse, a hill-side area on the north side of Lyon. This is where in the 19th century the weaving workshops were set up and housing was built for the silk industry workers. Therefore, these passages were built more recently than the classic traboules on the other side of the Saône. The difference can clearly be seen in the traboule that leads to the Cour des Voraces, a courtyard from 1840 with an impressive staircase. This lovely spot with magnificent geometric lines is frequently used as a film location.
“Those who know where to find the traboules can cut through all of Vieux Lyon”
In recent years, La Croix-Rousse has developed into a trendy area packed with lofts, art galleries and studios of young designers. One example is the Passage Thiaffait, an industrial traboule that now houses the shops of Village des Créateurs. Young designers and fashion designers are given the opportunity to showcase their work for 6 months and establish themselves in the industry. Here you will find a great collection of unique clothing, original accessories and designer objects. Reflect on this inspirational display with a meal in café Cousu located at the lovely courtyard in this passage.