Lyon, la capitale gastronomique du monde et une merveilleuse ville! I’m starting with quite a strong statement, that I plan to prove till the end of the article. One important note to myself: I didn’t use Google Translate for the phrase. Seems like I haven’t completely forgotten French, although I haven’t practiced it in almost ten years. It took me quite some time to travel to France. But finally, I managed to add the French stamp to my passport. And guess what, the first city I’ve visited was not Paris.
Lyon is considered France’s second most attractive city, a place were old and new coexist in perfect architectural harmony. With over 2000 years of history, the former capital of the Gaul region (does anyone remember Asterix and Obelix?) is situated at the confluence of two of the country’s major rivers: Rhône and Saône. Here are more facts about Lyon that are worth mentioning:
- it’s recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO;
- it’s home to 22 of the best restaurants in France and 14 Michelin star restaurants;
- it’s the place were the Lumière Brothers invented the cinema;
- for many centuries, it was the silk capital of the world.
Remember how I’ve started the article? Well, it’s time to speak about the local food, probably the essence of French cuisine. I could write an entire article just on this topic, but I prefer not to, it’s not my style. Lyon’s cuisine has always been defined by simplicity and quality. The city is worldwide popular for its food and bouchons, its traditional restaurants. It’s a must to go to at least one; I’ve tried two: Bouchon Les Lyonnais (1 Rue Tramassac) and Le Poêlon d’Or (29 Rue des Remparts d’Ainay), plus Brasserie Georges (30 Cours de Verdun), the city’s oldest and largest brasserie. The atmosphere inside is friendly, lively, and enjoyable. Before you go, you need to know that the dishes are fatty and usually oriented around meat. Here are some examples: quenelle des brochet (fish dumplings with sauce), tablier de sapeur (beef tripe), gras double (another tripe dish), coq au vin (chicken braised with wine), duck pâté and pork sausages (Rosette, Saucisson, Sabodet, Andouillette).
But Lyon is not all about traditional food. It is also the home of Paul Bocuse, considered the father of nouvelle cuisine. His restaurant, situated just outside the city, named L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, is the longest holder of three Michelin stars in the world (since 1965). Good luck in finding a table! In case you are not able to, it might be a good idea to pay a visit to les Halles de Lyon, the city’s main market, offering fine French products.
And Lyon is not all about meat, either. Other local treats include: the Lyonnaise salad, cheeses (Saint-Marcellin, Saint-Félicien), wines (Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhone) and, last but not least, desserts: marrons glacés (chestnut candied in sugar syrup), coussin de Lyon (chocolate and marzipan based sweet), brioche ou tarte aux praline (I recommend La Praluline from Boutique Pralus, it’s amazing).
How to reach the city from the airport?
Well, there aren’t many possibilities. You can either take a taxi, which will take out of your pocket between €50 and €70, depending on the hour (day/night) and on the day of the week, or the Rhônexpress, a special train line, which is connected to the Lyon Part-Dieu station. Booking online is the cheapest and best solution for the service, but you will still have to pay a lot, around €15, and the drop-off point is a bit far from the center, which means that you will probably have to take the metro. A small minus for Lyon, for lacking an easier and cheaper connection between the city center and the airport.
I was more than happy to find decent prices for central hotels, compared to other cities I’ve visited lately. Campanile Lyon Gare Perrache (17 Place Carnot) offered me exactly what I needed: a comfy room, a clean bathroom and a good location. Breakfast is, in general, not included in the room price, but taking into account the large number of great-looking pastry shops that are in the area, it’s a no-brainer: don’t pay the extra amount and go to a local bakery, for the morning snack.
Guide to Lyon
The three days proved to be enough to enjoy and discover Lyon. Sure, you’re always tempted and would like to stay for a longer period of time, when travelling to new places. But then reality checks on you. The weather was quite strange, changing from sunny to cloudy, then to rainy and back to sunny, in just a few minutes. And, when you thought it’s all over, you had to endure a short sun shower. But enough about the weather, the guide starts now:
- Presqu’île is the heart of the city, a picturesque district, very representative for the French architecture of the last centuries. It’s a place that has a lot of government and cultural institutions, cafes, restaurants, luxury shops and banks.
- The highlights of Presqu’île are: l‘Hôtel de Ville (the city hall), Place des Terreaux, Place Bellecour, Place des Jacobins, Église Saint-Nizier, Palais Saint-Pierre (hosting the Museum of Fine Arts), Palais du Commerce and Théâtre des Célestins. My conclusion: it’s simply a joy to walk around.
- If it’s Sunday, don’t miss the peak of the Saint-Antoine outdoor market. You’ll find a lot of regional delights, from meat, fish, fruits and vegetables to bread, cheese, wine and pastries.
- A bit more to the north, La Croix-Rousse is the neighborhood of the silk weavers. It’s a special part of the city, with an unique spirit. In case you want to know more about the silk industry, go to La Maison des Canuts, the museum which depicts the silk production in Lyon, throughout the centuries. Don’t miss the huge fresco Le Mur des Canuts, nor La Cour des Voraces, a building court known for its enormous six-floor stairway.
- Fourvière hill, overlooking the city from the west, still keeps marks from the Gauls and the Romans, visible at Théâtre Gallo-Romain. Dominating the hill is the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which impresses with its size and rich interior. If you enjoy panoramic views as much as I do, then this is the place for you.
- Down below lies Vieux Lyon, the Renaissance part of the city, with its imposing 15th century cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste) and the legendary traboules passageways (used by the silk manufacturers to transport their products from their home to the river). It’s a charming area, with nice, narrow streets (Rue Saint-Jean, Rue de Gadagne, Rue du Bœuf), many pastry shops and bouchons.
- Since you’re in this area, stop and have a tea or a coffee at Le Luminarium (9 Rue des 3 Maries), a stylish, cosy tea house.
- La Confluence district is emblematic for nowadays Lyon; it’s a booming area and one of the largest city-center urban projects in Europe. Here you’ll find a shopping mall, many new residential and office buildings and the modern Musée des Confluences, a science center and anthropology museum.
- In terms of parks and gardens, Parc de la Tête d’or is the largest and most spectacular the city has to offer. It has a lake, rose gardens, greenhouses, a botanical garden and a zoo. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy a long walk, due to the rainy and cold weather.
Again, the story has to come to an end. No surprise…I hope that I successfully managed to show you a small piece of this truly amazing city and that I was able to bring enough arguments to withstand the statement I made at the beginning.
The title, Only Lyon, refers to the name of the city’s rebranding program, started back in 2007. The key phrase of the program caught my attention: You only live once…Life is about making choices, not compromising on things. Lyon is described as the “ideal compromise” between city and nature, work and family, career and quality of life, the sea and the mountains, Paris and the countryside. After three days, I started to believe that the motto of the campaign is right.
Lyon is a city of contrasts, with great restaurants, welcoming people, traditional bouchons and mysterious traboules. Therefore, what are you waiting for? Go and visit it!
À bientôt, j’espère!
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.