Susan Williams samples its culinary delights
If you’re a skiing enthusiast heading for the French Alps, Lyon is a great entry point, especially as there is a winter flight direct from Belfast. However if skiing is not your thing and your idea of sport is inclined towards fighting your way through a seven course tasting menu, Lyon is definitely the place for you.
There are three very good reasons to visit Lyon. La Presqu’île, Vieux Lyon and La Croix-Rousse – they’re the reason Lyon is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Together they make up the city’s old quarters and sit at the meeting of the rivers Rhône and Saône. However the best reason for going is the food – Lyon is a gastronomic superstar and knows it.
Vieux Lyon, Presqu’île, La Croix – Rousse
These three areas define the city and together make up its heart. They represent Lyon’s history and have been faithfully preserved.
Vieux Lyon occupying one of the two hills – Fourvière has impressive Roman remains, Renaissance buildings and the Basilica is a landmark for everyone.
Across the river, the other hill, La Croix- Rousse contains reminders of Lyon’s prominence as a major silk producer.
In between is the Presqu’île, an area dominated by 19th century buildings and wonderful shops.
Food, Glorious Food
For many however, the main reason for coming to Lyon is its food. The Lyonnaise consider their city to be the gastronomic capital of the world. And who’s to argue – at the last count it had 14 Michelin restaurants. In Lyon everything is gourmandise – something for the eyes, always for the taste.
The Mères Lyonnaises
Whilst the gastronomic delights of Lyon have been known for centuries, they owe much of their fame to a group of women known as the ‘Mères Lyonnaises’, or Lyon Mothers. Their story begins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when prominent bourgeois families had to let go of their cooks. Some of these former domestic employees went to work in restaurants or set up business themselves.
Mère Filloux became famous by adding dishes to the menu of her husband’s café, which later became a prestigious restaurant.
Mère Brazier carved a place for herself in Lyon’s culinary history by becoming the first woman to receive three Michelin stars.
The origin of the term ‘bouchon’ as the traditional little Lyon restaurants are called goes back to the days when inns that served wine outside meal times did their advertising by hanging a truss of straw on their signboards. This sign was associated with the normal stopping points of stagecoaches. So whilst the horses were being rubbed down with straw, coach drivers could go in for a drink. Their dishes were often, and still are quite fatty, and heavily centred on offal. Le Bouchon des Filles and Le Jura are good examples of the type.
Aside from tripe sausages you could try quenelles – little fish dumplings. Local Côtes du Rhône is the wine of choice.
Did I hear that correctly? Plat du Jour, was that really roast lung! This truly is poor man’s food, elevated to a fine art.
Headed up by Paul Bocuse, other front runners include Le Neuvième Art and in the Metropole.
Eating out in Lyon is not just about traditional bouchons and Michelin stars. There are affordable contemporary options run by up-and-coming chefs – Thomas Restaurant is a hit.
Two streets worth mentioning are Rue Mercière and Rue des Marronniers. Whilst the purists might regard them as a bit touristy, they’re both regarded as worthy restaurant destinations as is the famous market Halles de Lyon.
Where to stay
There are plenty of luxury options – Cour des Loges, Grand Hôtel des Terreaux, Hotel le Royal……
For somewhere more affordable, Mama Shelter Lyon.
Near Ponte Bonaparte, in an impressive building hidden from the street is a small pied-à-terre, sleeps 2.
Maguy (Air bnb)
Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin.
Easy Jet also flies direct, problem is there’s only one flight a week. If you haven’t got a week the answer is to fly from Belfast and back to Dublin with Ryan Air from Grenoble (Isère).
Photography courtesy of Lyon Tourist Office and Convention Bureau.