As hotels go, the Cour des Loges didn’t need a “something extra” to help it stand out. The open courtyard with renaissance-style arches made a suitably resplendent first impression. So, too, did the cryptic entrance corridor from the cobbled corners of old town Vieux Lyon, the rooftop garden, velvet furnishings, Michelin-starred restaurant and the curious skeleton in the closet of a past history as training ground for Jesuit priests.
But then it had Gerard Ravet, a man with a see-it-to-believe-it twirly moustache and a talent for drawing sketches of himself. A concierge extraordinaire, in fact.
It was he who told me, as he should, about the world famous paintings stored in the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The Roman amphitheatre that sloped along the hill and the Basilica de Notre Dame de Fourvière that stood at its peak and looked out across France’s third largest city.
And then he mentioned the secret doorways.
Numbers 54, 27, 6, 9, 17, 10 and 2, scribbled between the lanes of Rue Saint Jean, Romain Rolland and Rue Juiverie.
“In the morning, if you open the door, you can walk in,” Ravet said.
And so I walked, on a damp November morning, along the quiet, narrow streets of Vieux Lyon, wondering what I would find. Guignol puppet dolls stared silently from shop windows and leaves spilled softly over balconies and hung watchful in the air. The street seemed residential. The numbered doorway doubly so.
No sign. No doorbell.
I looked around. A cat swished its tail at me, although perhaps I imagined it.
I pushed open the door. And walked in.
Shadowy corridor after shadowy corridor connected square spiralling courtyards painted in peach, ochre and tan. Dimly lit and eerily quiet, they magnified my footsteps and my sense of solitude as I ducked in and out of the heart of Lyon’s Old Town.
As it turns out, this labyrinth was built at some point during the 15th and 16th centuries when spice merchants and the Lord of Burgundy enjoyed a flavour of Italy before the Jesuits moved in. The French Revolution tore out all remnants of the bourgeouise and the church and the buildings meandered on throughout the years, housing shops and pharmacies before their greatest role during the Second World War.
During the Nazi Occupation, Lyon became the hub of the French Resistance and from ground level in these corridors, it’s easy to see why. In an era when meetings were monitored, politics forbidden and critics shot, the ability to move freely was probably the first in a fraught step to freedom.
These doorways and hidden passageways made secret meetings possible. The Nazis could watch one man enter a building and stand guard until he came out, with no clue of the clandestine conspiracies he’d been involved in several blocks away.
And thus, Lyon’s secret corridors helped defeat the Nazis. One unmarked doorway at a time.
The Cour des Loges hotel in the heart of Old Lyon is a sumptuous treat of five star excellence. Each of the 61 rooms has its own eclectic decor rich in tapestries, wrought ironwork and stately paintings. Service is warm, welcoming and keen on detail.The food at the Cafe Epicerie lives up to Lyon’s reputation as a capital of gastronomy.
Les Loges is the restaurant that grabs the headlines, with chef Anthony Bonnet ushering in award after award and the first Michelin star. However, that was closed on the day I was in town (Monday) and so I had the pleasure of discovering that the Cafe Epicerie excels too. Expect Lyonnaise staples such as andouillette and sliced rosettes followed by succulent dishes of roast beef, pork and lamb.
The Pure Altitude Spa makes for a relaxing spot to freshen up, although the pool is too small to swim in. The rooftop gardens provide a perfect escape from the urban congestion of France’s third largest city.
What I Loved
The dramatic decor and rich history
Fantastic location in the centre of the Old Town
Things To Know
Not every room has a shower
The pool is too small to swim in
Restaurant Les Loges are closed on Sunday & Monday
Les Cours des Loges Hotel Review – Specs
61 rooms, wireless internet throughout plus access to spa and rooftop gardens.
A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World & Sibuet Maisons & Hotels
Rooms start at 200 Euros/night
Disclosure: I paid a reduced rate to stay at the Cour des Loges for review purposes. As ever, as always, I’m free to write whatever I think about my experiences. Good and bad. Check out the exciting disclosure policy to find out more.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com