Not many countries can boast a gastronomic capital. But this is France, and food is never taken lightly. Lyon, an industrial city along the Rhone, is known best for its nurturing of haute cuisine and its pork-filled bouchons. While the restaurants are certainly the highlight of the city, Lyon has far more to offer than just a place setting–although the food isn’t to be missed.
Bouchons: Found throughout the city, the bouchon serves typical Lyonnaise fare: basically, a whole lotta meat. Instead of the haute cuisine focus on unlikely combinations and exquisite presentation, bouchons emphasize quality home-cooking, a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner. I tried La Mère Jean, and was impressed by the quality of the food and the friendliness of the service. Don’t miss la salade lyonnaise!
Haute cuisine: As the home of Paul Bocuse and some of the other most famous French chefs, Lyon is famously known as the capital of French gastronomy. Its proximity to two of France’s best-known wine growing regions–the Beaujolais to the North and the Côtes du Rhône to the South–certainly doesn’t hurt either. While haute cuisine can get pricey, many of the most popular restaurants offer excellent prix fixe lunch menus. I treated myself to lunch at Le Sud, a Paul Bocuse brasserie that focuses on Provençal and Southern French cooking, and was impressed by the attention to even the tiniest detail, both by the kitchen and the waitstaff. If you’re in Lyon, you can’t miss haute cuisine–take the chance to splurge.
Notre-Dame de Fourvière: It’s hard to miss this cathedral on the hill. Just above Vieux Lyon, the basilica dates back to the late 1800’s and offers a stunning view over the city of Lyon. The cathedral itself is gorgeous, but I do admit to having a bit of church fatigue after so much time touring Europe. To head up the hill, there’s a handy funiculaire. Technically, you’re supposed to pay more, but it’s easy to treat it as a regular transfer if you’re already on the Metro (and then act like a clueless foreigner, as I didn’t see one posting for the price change).
Roman ruins: Next to Notre-Dame de Fourvière, you can find the oldest Roman ruins in Europe. The two semicircular theatres held gladiatorial contests for up to 10,000 people, starting in 15 B.C. They’re remarkably well-preserved and fun to explore. If you’re interested in learning more, don’t miss the neighboring Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon.
Passageways: In the neighborhoods of Vieux Lyon and Croix-Rousse, there are a number of narrow passageways that pass through buildings and link streets on either side. These traboules were originally used by silk manufacturers and other merchants to transfer their goods. They’re symbolized by a thick orange line on the city map–don’t be afraid to poke your head into courtyards to spot them.
Trompe-l’œil murals: Throughout the city, you can find enormous wall murals utilizing optical illusions. My personal favorite was la fresque des Lyonnais, one that depicts the most famous people of Lyon, such as the Lumière brothers (who invented modern cinema).
The Rhône: A walk or bicycle ride along the river is wonderfully relaxing. Stay on the opposite side of Fourvière for an amazing view–particularly at night!
While Lyon is more likely to be a business trip destination than a vacation, its close proximity to Paris and the South makes it a fabulous weekend getaway. Even if it’s just for dinner and a wander along the Rhône, it’s a lovely alternative to the Seine.
Have you ever been to Lyon? What were your impressions?