Getting Stoned in Lyon: A Visit to le Gros Caillou

If you were to spend an afternoon wandering around a city asking passers by the way to ‘the Great Stone’, you would get some very strange looks.  Unless you happen upon a follower of some sort of rock based religion, or more likely, are in Lyon.

Le Gros Caillou, sits at the top of a hill at the end of the Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse in the first Arrondissement, and is notable in fulfilling the two parts to its name.  Not wanting to be out done, the adjacent cafe is called, ‘le Café du Gros Caillou’, where trying to get information about the rock from the waitress is like trying to get blood out of a…stone.

But it proves a worthwhile spot to have a coffee, whilst simultaneously staring in disappointment at the rock you just walked up to see and laughing at the tourists trying and failing to climb it.  Le Caillou is not (as waiters like to say to tourists) the left over remnants of an ice age glacier.  Nor is it likely to be (as dramatically told by tour guides) the heart of a bailiff (called Jean Tormente) that was turned to stone by the people he had wronged.

The most likely solution is on a plaque right beside the cafe, whose staff still appear blissfully unaware of its location/information, that it must have been put up that very morning.

It was discovered in 1890 by tunnel workers constructing the first funicular train in Lyon, and placed on a plinth as a type of new age urban street art.  Today it sits plinth-less, staring forlornly, like an old horse, at a bleak and cloudy Lyon landscape passing the time stoically as it is prodded, poked and mounted.

As rock tourism goes, le Gros Caillou is much cheaper than Stonehenge, druid-free, with better views and climbing availability.  Long live the Great Stone and its myth.

  • Le Gros Caillou, 180 Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse (Opening hours: forever and eternity) – Metro: la Croix-Rousse
  • Le Café du Gros Caillou: open monday to sunday from 09:30 – 01:00

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