Byline: DON WALKER
MILLIONS of Britons slip over to France for their holidays - but you can miss a lot of the true taste of the country if you don't look any further than Paris or the South.
Lyons may be France's second city but it should be first on every visitor's list. It's more or less midway between Paris and Marseilles and offers the bustle of a big city without the stress.
Straddling the ancient silk road, Lyons' Roman history has left it with some astonishing sights, including a huge amphitheatre only discovered in 1933 by a nun digging in a convent garden.
Lyons was actually the capital of Roman-occupied Gaul. It was much loved for its access to the twin rivers of the Rhone and Saone by Renaissance bankers when the city was a major centre of culture and trading, and they gave it a distinctly Italian feel with galleried townhouses and echoing courtyards.
Its atmosphere today comes from a cheerful commitment to trade fairs and good food. One of the many special events held around this time of the year is the Tapis Rouge (Red Carpet) night when the shops along the Rue Auguste Comte stay open until the small hours.
No-one seemed to know quite why they started this jolly event but it's agreed (especially by me) that it's fun to stroll around the streets with a glass of Cotes du Rhone ogling the stunning fashion models and wandering in and out of the boutiques and antiques shops.
Live music from flutes and a jazz band add to the festive atmosphere as they roll out a bright red carpet the whole length of the street that links the two centres of social life - Place Bellecour and the Place des Terreaux on the Presqu'ile, the area between the two rivers.
The city has an excellent public transport system. Get the Lyons City card, which gives unlimited access on the bus and underground plus entry to museums, guided tours and river cruises. They should be available at your hotel and cost from 15 euros (about pounds 10) for one day.
If you want to clear your head from a Cotes du Rhone hangover, take a cable car ride up to Fourviere Hill. The overpowering Basilica is worth a visit, if only to drink in the spectacular view over the city.
Come December the city holds its Festival of Lights, and up on this hill on the eighth day of the month you get a wonderful Christmassy feeling as the residents follow the tradition of lighting all their windows with candles in honour of the Virgin Mary. The astounding Roman theatre discovered by that digging nun is here on Fourviere Hill and not far away is the more sombre arena where Europe's first Christians died. …