Get a lungful of fresh air and immerse yourself in nature in the hills of Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-D'Or, a historic town that has close links with Lyon's 9th district and is home to some exceptional heritage gems.
A mysterious Ermitage
Many hermits lived at the Ermitage over the centuries, but it was the last of them, Émile Damidot, known as Frère François (Brother Francis), who created the remarkable rockery perched on the hill, following his arrival in 1878. Over the course of three decades, this eccentric character planted, sculpted and shaped his personal prayer space, as he built caves, niches, pools, tiny chapels and a panoramic viewpoint, using cement and recovered materials (metal, stained glass, etc.), with his own hands.
Recently reopened (€7, 45 mins, reservation required) following a major restoration project, the rockery is now the pride of the village. If you wish to stay on the hill a bit longer, you’ll find a four-star hotel with a spa and panoramic restaurant just opposite.Jardin de Rocailles de l'Ermitage du Mont Cindré
Chem. de l'Ermitage, 69450 Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d'Or
Visite à réserver ici !
Standing at the foot of the verdant Monts d’Or (including Mont Thou, Mont Narcel, Mont Cindre, Mont Py and Mont Verdun, a peak that stands out with its spherical military radar dome, which can be seen for miles around), Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or is one of the greenest towns in the metropolitan area. In fact, half of its land area is in a natural or agricultural zone. Mentioned as early as 984, among the possessions of the Church of Lyon, Saint-Cyr was visited by Pope Clement V and King Louis XIII.
During the Gallo-Roman period, the many surrounding sources were directed to Lugdunum (as Lyon was then known) via the aqueduct of Mont d’Or, some of the remains of which are still dotted around the local area. At the town’s entrance, for example, a landscaped car park project, including vine and fruit tree replantation, has just been halted due to archaeological finds on the site. The village was also in the news for less pleasant reasons back in 1859, following the triple murder of the Gayet ladies and the on-the-spot execution of the three perpetrators.
Formerly a land of vines, agriculture and livestock farming, in the early twentieth century, Saint-Cyr became a popular holiday destination for rich industrialists from Lyon, who moved into large mansions with wooded grounds. Demand for property has resulted in many plots of land being divided up, but some of these properties can still be seen today, along some of the many walking paths that run from the village centre, through woods and up to scenic viewpoints with stunning views over the urban agglomeration. In less frequented areas, if you keep quiet, you may well spot a roe deer or two.
Trail runners and ramblers remain the most common species, however, in the undergrowth and on the slopes, sometimes very steep, that wind through the woods. One of them, known as ‘Le Grimpillon’, leads up to the Ermitage of Mont Cindre, if you’re not afraid of a challenging walk. At the top, you’ll find a chapel made of the famous local ‘golden stone’, adorned with frescoes by the painter Louis Touchagues, and two gardens: one kitchen garden and one rockery, reminiscent of the “Ideal Palace” built by Facteur Cheval. Recently reopened to the public following two years of renovation works, the site can only be visited with a guide and by reservation. It is well worth it, if nothing else for the absolutely breathtaking panoramic viewpoint.
Places to eat in Saint-Cyr ?
There’s no shortage of places to choose from here: Le Comptoir de Saint-Cyr, with its excellent seasonal dishes and home-cooking style; La Brasserie des Monts d’Or, a stylish eatery with a lively evening atmosphere; Là-Haut sur la Colline, a restaurant with bags of rustic charm.
This is a well-heeled area and the prices aren’t cheap, but you’ll also find more affordable options, such as the pizzeria Greggo, and Les 2 Caves, run by the cheese and wine sellers Lydia and Jean-Baptiste, who serve up platters to share in the afternoon and evening
Et... où sortir ?
Cultural attractions including a keep, the presbytery’s garden and Sainte-Juliette church, known as ‘La coquette des monts d’Or’, will reveal their histories and secrets through 17 new educational signs to be installed in the village centre in early 2024. A clever QR code will enrich the visit with explanations given in French, English and Italian, especially for the twin town of Bolano.
From the car park on Mont Cindre, if you came by car, or after walking from the church, if you came on the number 20 bus, set off for a beautiful round walk of 7.5 km, with a 225-metre climb, past the former quarries, known as the ‘Sentier de l’Homme et du paysage’. In between scenic viewpoints, you will come across many ‘cabornes’, old dry-stone huts that were once used as shelters. Plan for a two-hour walk.
Need some refreshments before or after your march? Make your way to the deli C Gastronomie, the cake shop La toute petite pâtisserie by Anne, with a wide selection of cookies, doughnuts, mini-tarts and pastries, or Joseph, a brand new bakery in Saint-Cyr, which will soon be joined by another cake shop : Diane.