A Day in Lyon
Lyon is an ideal city for quickly switching off from one’s daily routine and returning home with one’s batteries charged. Here, you will find everything you’re looking for, from fine cuisine to myriad musical, historical and artistic offerings.
But, before strolling through Lyon’s streets, let’s review some features that will help us come to grips with that amazing city.
Founded by the Romans, Lyon has long been a compulsory place of passage between northern and southern Europe. Further, its privileged position at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers and its proximity to the Alps has rendered it an essential setting over the last 2,000 years. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998, the city breathes that blend of tradition, modernity and sophistication so endearing to tourists. The fact is you can stroll along the medieval backstreets in its old city or promenade along its luxurious boulevards; eat traditional food or shop in its boutiques.
We begin our itinerary on high. To that end, we take the funicular railway from the Vieux Lyon station and go up to Fourvière hill, the spot where the city was founded. Added to the splendid views are vestiges of the Roman Theatre and Odeon, two backdrops still used for summer art festivals. The impressive Gallo-Roman Museum, embedded in the hillside near the archaeological site, makes a compulsory visit for anyone wishing to discover the origins of the city, as well as to enjoy the sublime building which Bernard Zehrfuss designed in 1975. Still on the hillside and not far from the Roman precinct stands the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, its design inspired by Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, the perfect spot for a spiritual retreat and noteworthy for its dozens of mosaics.
After descending on the funicular, the route proceeds through Old Lyon, site of the Cathedral of St John, with its blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles. It is set in one of Europe’s best preserved medieval and Renaissance quarters which is well worth ambling through to soak up the atmosphere. It is also an ideal area for stopping off to eat in the odd bouchon, a traditional Lyonnais restaurant which has helped earn the city its international fame. Consider that Lyon is regarded as the world’s gastronomy capital, the cradle of such chefs as Paul Bocuse and Eugénie Brazier. Make sure you try the local tablier de sapeur, the quenelles, Lyonnais sausage, salade lyonnaise and onion soup. But, make sure the restaurant features the Authentique Bouchon Lyonnais label to avoid anyone pulling the wool over your eyes.
To work off your meal, we recommend crossing the river Saone and venturing along the Presqu’île, a peninsula formed by the confluence of the rivers Rhone and Saone. Prominent landmarks here are the Place Bellecour and Place des Terreaux, the luxury Carré d’Or district lined with boutiques, the sumptuous City Hall and the interesting Fine Arts Museum and Opéra de Lyon. The latter, designed by the acclaimed architect, Jean Nouvelle, sees a large modern structure superimposed on an older, original building – the result is a colossal artwork that will not leave you indifferent. If you check out its website, you are sure to find a show to round off your day.
Here, then, are some pointers for spending an unforgettable day in Lyon. Check out our flights here.
Text and images by Aleix Palau for ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Lyon Sparkles In Light
What started out as a religious festival in honour of the Virgin Mary has become one of Lyon’s – and, by extension, France’s – standout cultural events. Worship of Mary the mother of Jesus in the capital of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region goes back a long way, its origins steeped in the Middle Ages. During the plague which ravaged France in 1643, for instance, the city was placed under her protection.
To uncover the roots of the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights), you have to go back in time to 8 December 1852, the date on which a statue of the Virgin was unveiled. Executed by the sculptor, Joseph-Hugues Fabisch, it was placed in the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière. The event was widely celebrated in the city and, in keeping with the traditional way of marking important commemorations in those times, the facades of well-to-do homes were lit up with candlelight. What might have been just an isolated event in Lyon’s history was later reenacted each year on 8 December, when the nativity of the Virgin is celebrated, gradually becoming the festival of lights which we know today. Over time, the religious nature of the festivity has been replaced by one more akin to cultural entertainment, while the candles have been replaced by grand spectacles of light designed by renowned artists, and the celebration itself has been extended from one to four days.
The festival has grown so popular over the years that it now attracts up to 4 million visitors who flock to Lyon, eager to witness for themselves the huge, charming and magical display of light. This can be daunting for newcomers arriving in the city to discover and enjoy the Fête des Lumières. We advise you to book your accommodation in advance and to be patient when attending the various light shows, as you are bound to encounter large crowds. What we can guarantee, however, is that you will be amazed by the earnestness with which the Lyonnais celebrate this festivity, and by the sheer number and quality of the visual displays, most of which are held in the old town and around Lyon’s major landmarks.
Apart from visiting Lyon for its Festival of Lights, which this year runs from 8 to 11 December, we recommend you take the opportunity to discover some of the city’s other charms, too. Be sure to visit its historic centre or Vieux Lyon, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998, where you can breathe the medieval atmosphere, visit Roman ruins – most notably the Roman Theatre of Fourvière – and do a spot of shopping at the Carré d’Or. Cuisine is another of the city’s fortes, and has earned it international accolades. Indeed the city features such standout chefs as Paul Bocuse and Eugénie Brazier. So, make a point of dropping in on at least one of the countless bouchons, as restaurants are known in Lyonnais parlance, and treat yourself to their excellent local cuisine.
Come and experience first-hand this stunning festival of lights – book your Vueling here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Images by Fulvio Spada
The Traboules – Lyon’s Imposing Secret Passageways
Lyon is a sprawling city, stretching over 400 hectares. In 1998 it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its expanse includes Vieux Lyon, a medieval and Renaissance quarter on the banks of the river Saône, Croix-Rousse, once the quarter of the silk weaving industry, Fourvière hill and Presqu’île, the new city centre.
An alternative way of touring this heritage-listed town is by heading along the traboules, a series of passageways connecting the inner courtyards of buildings and providing quick access from one street to another. According to the historian, Amable Audin, the origin of the word traboule is the Latintrans ambulare,meaning “to traverse on foot”. In addition to Lyon, this kind of architectural curiosity also exists in the French towns of Villefranche-sur-Saône, Mâcon, Chambéry, Saint-Étienne and Louhans.
Traboules date back to the 4th century when they were built to transport water from the Saône river to the upper districts of old Lyon. Hardly any vestiges of that period have survived. A large number of extant traboules originated in the Renaissance, particularly the ones in the Old Town. However, the 19th century saw the greatest expansion of these structural features, prompted by the heightened activity in Lyon’s silk weaving industry. Located mainly in Croix-Rousse, the silk weavers used these shortcuts to convey their woven goods to the lower city, where the cloth merchants were established.
Passages Studded with History
The traboules witnessed and even became the protagonists of some of the city’s most historic moments. It was in these alleyways that the earliest uprisings related to social and labour grievances took place – the Canut Revolts. En 1831, the harsh working conditions of the silk weavers – known as canuts – led to the first of the revolts now considered to be one of the earliest worker uprisings in history. The canuts protested to the cry of “Live free working or die fighting!” This uprising was followed by two others, in 1834 and 1848, all of which were violently put down.
This maze of passageways also played an important part in World War II, when it was used by the French resistance to flee from the Nazis.
Planning Your Visit
Lyon features some 500 traboules, most of which lie in Vieux Lyon (215 courtyards and traboules), Croix-Rousse (163 courtyards and traboules) and Presqu’île (130 courtyards and traboules). Some 400 of them are open to the public. This website provides a map with directions and photos, and you can even download an app (in French and English) for finding your way through this labyrinth. The tourist office also has street maps showing the major traboules.In most instances, if a home provides access to a traboule,this is shown on the door and, in some cases, you have to ring the bell to be let in. As the passages lead into private courtyards, visitors are asked to be respectful and not make a noise that might disturb neighbours. The best time to visit them is in the morning as nearly all of them are locked at night. Get ready to discover a world full of astonishing precincts, with amazing staircases like the Cours des Voraces, Renaissance courtyards and beautiful corners. It’s a whole adventure!
Eager to venture into Lyon’s secluded architectural maze? Check out our flights here.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicaciónmore info
10 bites of Lyon (with Paul Bocuse’s permission)
By Josep Sucarrats from Gastronomistas
The fact that in Lyon you can eat like nowhere else in the world has been known since time immemorial. But it was Curnonsky, a renowned food critic from the early 20th century, who first said it in black and white. In 1925, following the construction of the N-25 road linking Paris to the Mediterranean coast, he set about creating a travel guide for lovers of fine cuisine. In Lyon, Curnonsky discovered foies, cheeses, wines and sweets. He was seduced by the ‘bouchon’ (local version of the famous French bistros) and succumbed to the flavours cooked up by the mères. The mères were women chefs with unrivalled culinary skills. People in Lyon regard them as the heart and soul of local cuisine.
The city’s culinary legend was born and there was no going back. The fusion of great produce and even greater chefs gave substance to Lyon’s status as an international capital of good food. This fact was ultimately driven home by a top chef famous the world over: Paul Bocuse.
Today, the mark left by of Paul Bocuse, his imposing countenance, tall white chef’s hat and authoritative look can still be found all around Lyon. In his four restaurants, in the photos of market stalls in Les Halles where he gets supplies – did we say Les Halles? Let’s get it right: a couple of months ago, it was renamed Les Halles Paul Bocuse— or in the dreams of anyone from Lyon who has yet to visit his legendary L’Auberge de Pont de Collognes.
Very soon, from 6 to 9 December, the capital of the Rhone-Alpes region will be celebrating its famous festival of lights, when all the city’s monuments are lit up to create spectacular artistic performances. A great excuse to visit Lyon and indulge yourself in this culinary paradise.
1-An authentic ‘bouchon’: Café des Fédérations
We haven’t eaten at every ‘bouchon’ in Lyon, far from it, but we have eaten here and it has to be one of the best and most authentic in the city. We recommend going there when you’re very hungry: traditional Lyon cuisine is very rich and hearty. As an aperitif, pork crackling. For first course, poached egg au vin with crackling or endive frise with crackling (so much crackling!). Lentils: “it’s not caviar, but still”, they warned us (they came in a mustard sauce and were simply delicious). That’s settled then: lentils are good and caviar is overrated. Chicken with vinegar or pike soufflé. Cheeses. Sweets. Such a banquet encompasses the very best of authentic Lyon cuisine, superbly prepared and with two further enticements. The first is Yves, the owner, the restauranteur who awaits you in his house, who serves you, who wines and dines you and is so friendly you’d ask him to share your table. And the second: the prices (€15 for the set lunch menu and €25 for the set evening menu).
Café des Fédérations. 8, 9, 10 rue Major Martin. Tel. 00 33 4 78 28 26 00.
2-A gastronomic monument: poulet en démi-deuil
The prices may not be its greatest attraction (after all, this restaurant does have two Michelin stars), but, if you can afford it, you really should treat yourself. They don’t serve just any old dish! Poulet en démi-deuiles is a veritable orgy for the taste buds. Imagine free-range poultry raised on the finest farms near Bresse, well fed, meaty and tender, imbued with the taste and aroma of real truffles. The recipe consists of stuffing the space between the skin and the meat with sliced truffles. You have to be a glutton….for pleasure! Poulet en démi-deuiles (which means something like ‘chicken in half mourning’) is what made the first female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars famous. That was back in the 1930s and the chef in question was Eugénie Brazier. Eugénie, a motherless, illiterate country girl, had a very strong character indeed. The walls of Lyon still shudder whenever a chicken comes out of the oven overcooked. Paul Bocuse learnt his trade at her legendary restaurant, La Mère Brazier. Today, it is owned by master chef Mathieu Viannay who, along with his innovative creations, has kept many dishes of his illustrious predecessor on the menu. He’d never dream of forsaking the poulet en démi-deuiles that has enticed so many celebrities to Lyon.
La Mère Brazier. 12 rue Royale. Tel. 00 33 4 78 23 17 20
3-Choose from a 3-take menu with one eye on Japan: Do-Mo
Lyon’s gastronomic heritage, popular or bourgeois, is so mega famous, so legendary the world over and, at the same time, so full of itself, it’s hard to ignore. Yet a short stroll along the city centre streets, even with blinkers on, shows us that Japanese cuisine is fast gaining a foothold. It must appeal to the locals because Japanese restaurants are opening all over the city. Here’s our recommendation for a rather unique experience. At Do-Mo, the produce on offer is given three takes: French, Franco-Japanese or Japanese. So you can, for instance, order your beef French style, with a hint of wasabi for that touch of fusion, or in a 100% Japanese tataki. And the same applies to their three takes on spring rolls, sea bream or chocolate, to give a few examples. Do-Mo provides an ultra-modern setting in the new neighbourhood that has sprung up along the banks of the Saône. During the day, it offers picture-postcard views. At night, it’s teeming with beautiful people. On a nice day, it would be a crime not to enjoy its delightful terrace. And any evening visit simply must end in its fashion lounge next door. As well as the a la carte menu, it also has two set menus: €49.50 and €39.50. It even has a kids’ menu, which they don’t actually call “kids’ menu” and doesn’t consist of sausage, chips and beans. It’s called the Jeune Gastronome and includes a dish from the 3-take menu plus a dessert for €12.
Do-Mo. 45, quai Rambaud. Tel. 00 33 4 37 23 09 23
4-Cheesemakers: Let’s try some Saint-marcellin!
Many shops in Presq’île — i.e. the Peninsula, which is the popular name for the area of Lyon between the rivers Saône and Rhône — as well as numerous market stalls in Les Halles, showcase the fact that people from Lyon are also mad about cheese. The most typical local cheese is Saint-marcellin, a soft cheese with a fermented crust and made from cow’s milk. You can find this cheese and many more besides at La Mère Richard, a famous cheese stall at Les Halles, whose owner is an expert at recommending cheeses for her customers, uses only the finest suppliers and has a colourful character to rival even Madamme Brazier herself. The women from Lyon would seem to be as intriguing as the cheese: we love it. Both the intrigue and, especially, the cheese.
Mère Richard. Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Tel. 00 33 4 78 62 30 78
5-Cool lodgings: bed and breakfast at Mama Shelter
We all need to rest. Lyon is a city of commerce full of comfortable hotels, it’s easy to find somewhere to stay. But if you chance upon somewhere unusual, all the better. If you like to feel cool, look no further. Mama Shelter is the hotel for you. The staff are young and friendly. Each room has a Mac screen displaying a personal welcome message. The clientele are all easy-going and take full advantage of the hotel’s nighttime DJ sessions as well as the wholesome breakfasts. Despite its loud colour scheme and hip decor (which we don’t dislike), the dining room at Mama Shelter transmits a decidedly zen-like ambience which helps set the mood and opens your appetite for the days’ gastronomic tour. While it may not be located in the most central area, it is well connected by underground, bus, tram and trolleybus. Lyon pulls out all the stops when it comes to public transport.
Mama Shelter. 13, rue Domer. Tel. 00 33 4 78 02 58 00
6-Stop off at a cake shop and buy a cream puff
Lyon is also the perfect destination for those with a sweet tooth. Among the many treats on offer, one stands out above the rest. They are light as air with a creamy filling. Need more clues? Ok, just one more. They are made from choux pastry and usually come with a cream or truffle filling. You got it, cream puffs and profiteroles. Yet Lyon’s choux pastries are the same as you’d find in any French city, such as Toulouse, or Courbevoie, to use the birthplace of Louis de Funes as an example. Lyon does, however, have its own local sweet treats, such as coussins (literally, pillows) or cocons (literally, cocoons). One option is to sample these traditional specialities. Another, which we highly recommend, is to drool over the tasty treats on display at Clostan Traiteur. And, once you’ve finished drooling, you can buy and enjoy exquisite cakes, mousse, tiramisu and a thousand variations on traditional desserts, which led to this master confectioner’s being named the best in the world in 2012.
Clostan Traiteur. Magasin Halle Paul Bocuse. Tel. 00 33 4 78 62 93 03
7-Quenelles never seen (or eaten)
Lyon may be far from the sea, but its inhabitants have always enjoyed eating fish. Back in the middle ages, some local monks created artificial pools in order to farm pike. Today, the area has been turned into a nature reserve. But let’s get to the point: this ensured a plentiful supply of fish, and with one kind in particular — pike, or brochet in French — they created the quenelles that are so typical of Lyon. They are usually made with choux pastry mixed with wheat pasta, butter, eggs, milk and, of course, brochet. The chef uses two spoons to shape the mixture into semicircles, which explains why everyone associates this shape with quenelles. They can be so big that one alone is a meal in itself. Other times they’re smaller, so you can try lots of different kinds. At Giraudet, they give them their own creative touch – adding squid ink and other innovative ingredients – leading to long queues of people anxious to buy them.
Giraudet. Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Tel. 00 33 4 78 62 34 05
Giraudet. 2, rue du Cl Chambonnet. Tel. 00 33 4 72 77 98 58
8-Jesus! We’re not being blasphemous, it’s a kind of salami
Cold sausage deserves a chapter all to itself in any good food guide to Lyon. While the city’s sausage makers use recipes that share a common base, they all add their own special touch, so you won’t find two establishments selling the same thing. This special touch is a closely guarded secret that gives each sausage a unique personality. Basically, it’s all about aromatic herbs and spices. Some of the more popular varieties include cerveuil (which must be cooked, contains pistachos and, in its more luxurious form, truffles), saucisson a cuire (literally, sausage to cook), rosette (a long, slender cured sausage) and, above all, Jesus. The cured sausage known as Jesus is made from the widest part of the intestine and gets its name from the fact that, during the production process, it is wrapped in twine which, according to legend, gave it a quality reminiscent of baby Jesus. Who would have thought? What we do know is that it’s Lyon’s greatest cold sausage and that any Jesus like this makes even the most hardened atheist pray for more.
9-Browse around the market and have lunch there
There’s Bresse chicken. There’s foie. There’s truffle. There’s cheese. There’s wine. Lovers of good food be warned, if you enter Lyon market, you’re doomed. You’ll no doubt come away with a little more cholesterol and a little less money. But that’s the cross we foodies have to bear! To avoid breaking the bank or punishing your taste buds, we suggest that you stay at Les Halles for lunch, where there’s something to suit every pocket. We’re huge fans of Passionnement Truffes, a small bistro inside the market where truffles rule supreme. At lunchtime, they offer an affordable set menu for €19 (dish of the day — a big serving —, dessert and a glass of wine). We had the tenderest chicken ever covered in mushroom sauce. And it filled us with bonheur.
Passionnement Truffes. Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Tel. 00 33 4 78 60 15 98
10-Le beaujolais est arrivé!
The area around Lyon is famous for its wines, boasting no less than four denominations of origin. Beaujolais is one, and it’s been made popular thanks to the beaujolais noveaux, the first wine of the year, the youngest wine. It’s uncorked barely two or three months after harvest (between November and December) and fussier wine lovers will tell you that it’s not worth the effort, since it’s better to let wine age. But the anticipation of wine growers to try the first fruits of their labours infects all of us as well. Let’s hope we’re never deprived of the chance to raise a toast, cry out Le beaujolais est arrivé! and celebrate the fact that we, and our taste buds, have fallen in love with Lyon. And such love lasts forever.
Makes you want to go, right? Do it! Check out our prices here!