Published on August 9th, 2015 | by Magalie Lopez0
“Tête d’Or”, the Lyon Central Park
In New York, 1857, Central Park opened its doors. The same year, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, just over 6,000 km away, a little twin (relatively speaking) opened in Lyon: the “Tête d’Or” park (Tête d’Or = golden head).
Like Central Park is for New Yorkers, “Tête d’Or” is the lung of Lyon, a huge natural space within a concrete setting.
With 117 hectares of greenery and nature (161 soccer fields or 216 U.S. football fields), the Tête d’Or park is one of the biggest in France.
Several stories try to explain the origin of the name of the park. According to some people, the name “Tête d’Or” dates to the Crusades when the Crusaders buried treasure and a golden head of Christ in what is now the park. According to other people, when creating the park (around 1857), a worker’s shovel struck something hard in the ground. To his surprise, the worker unearthed a golden head of Christ. He could not hide his discovery from his fellow workers long, and quarrels quickly broke out over the division of spoils. The impassive face of Christ then began to cry, disappointed to have triggered such a fight and from his tears sprang the huge lake in the park. The head, meanwhile, was buried in the waters and disappeared forever. Since then, as you can imagine, excavations have taken place, without success. It seems that the city even called a psychic, who didn’t see anything.
However, treasures are not missing in the park, plant treasures, visual treasures, fragrant treasures, wildlife treasures; the park is a treasure unto itself. You will discover them as soon as you cross one of the eight gates providing access to the park… one of the most beautiful is the gate of the “children of the Rhone,” all made in wrought iron and overlooking the lake of 16 hectares.
Located in the 6th district of Lyon (which has nine in total), the park is specifically located in the Brotteaux District, which means “swamps” in Lyon. Today there are no more swamps, but instead, a beautiful English-style park with huge lawns, all kinds of tree species, and a myriad of small paths that intersect themselves.
Early in the morning, you will come across squirrels looking for food in high grass, sometimes venturing out only to leave immediately and disappear in the treetops by wrapping around the trunk. A flock of geese will perhaps walk before you, waddling to let a wheeled cart towed by a beautiful workhorse pass by. Thus, following the squirrels, geese and horses, you will arrive to the zoo.
Curious mongooses will stand on their hind legs in order to see you arrive, while porcupines will laze under their long black spines. Saving their energy, the turtles will perhaps raise their heads to observe you while the crocodiles will not move a claw (but do not think less of them). While the lions will roar away, the mischievous monkeys will laugh at you, mimicking your actions or making faces at you. Farther, in the African plain, you will be greeted by watusis and their huge horns; you will see a few zebras, a giraffe and its baby (born January 30, 2015), and also some wading birds.
In the park, you aren’t limited to walking; you will meet many joggers, cyclists and other bipeds on wheels. The only motor vehicles allowed are those of the park staff and the municipal police. The park has a homologated velodrome in which Jeannie Longo, the French cycling champion won world championship titles of pursuit and points races.
The romantics will find an idyllic retreat within the 5 acres of rose gardens, counting some 320 species of roses. Of course, we can’t talk about park roses without recalling Josephine de Beauharnais, empress and wife of Napoleon the First, who donated a rosebush collection to Lyon in 1805. Each year, in the Tête d’Or Park, there is a competition for the most beautiful rose in France.
Botanists, the nature lovers, or the simply curious will love strolling in the various greenhouses of the botanical garden (however, hours of operation are different from those of the park).
With 15,000 varieties of plants, the botanical garden is one of the biggest in Europe.
Greenhouses, both hot and cold, will have you face to face with carnivorous plants, allow you to breathe the sweet fragrance of orchids and with one small step, you can travel from Madagascar to the Amazon.
But the show does not end there. You will have much to discover during your walk in the park: sculptures, memorials, a puppet theatre, a carousel, an orange grove. You can spend the whole day there, since there is something to eat (restaurants and snack bars), enough places to rest (benches and grass in abundance), places to entertain the kids (playgrounds and a carousel), a small train to travel through the park while sitting and, in case of emergency, toilets are hidden under the trees around the park.
So if you make a stopover in Lyon, head to the Tête d’Or Park and be among the 3 million visitors each year who enjoy the charms and wonders of this dream location.