Zoë Perrett discovers a French city that’s small enough to savour, yet large enough to feast on
There’s a lot of water in Lyon – not referring, or course, to the drinking habits of the ‘gônes’ (locals). Both the Rhône and the Saône run through France’s second city, converging at The Confluence, making Lyon both easy and pleasurable to explore on foot, on one of the numerous vélos (bicycles), or by boat.
Vieux Lyon is the city’s oldest district and is the perfect base for exploring. My lodgings are in the Collège Hôtel (rooms from 115€) – a quirky themed schoolhouse affair with pure white bedrooms and a dining room decked out with geometry equipment, blackboards and hot beverages served in Thermos flasks. It’s slightly surreal but rather pleasant, like reclaiming one’s childhood.
From here, it’s an easy potter up to the traboules – a wonderful Renaissance network of passages. I pick my way along narrow cobbled alleys, steeped in history, yet also home to funky Resto Pirate – a popular footballers’ hangout. I hop on the funicular to the Notre Dame de Fourvière basilica, where the stunning vista renders me a little breathless. Maybe it’s not just the view. It’s time to eat.
Amusing the bouchon
The area’s rich with bouchons – or bottlenecks – small informal restaurants, many of which still serve the traditional silk worker’s snacks. These are known in local dialect as ‘machôns’, typically consisting of a little charcuterie with a glass of Beaujolais. Bouchons are where you’ll get a true taste of la cuisine Lyonnais, deriving their name partly from the notion you’ll be packed in with the other diners like a cork in a bottle.
The bouchons have fabulous names- La Tête du Lard and Le Petit Glouton being two of my favourite discoveries. As for local’s recommendations, a friendly charcutier at Les Halles rifles through a stack of business cards and points me to Le Bouchon des Filles, Aux Trois Maries, and Restaurant Le Vieux Lyon. Rue Mercière, in the Presqu’île peninsula’s Bellecour district, is also well worth a wander.
Moving up the gastronomic scale, restaurants like La Mère Brazier continue to honour the city’s tradition of the Lyonnais Mothers – who, historically, really took cooking up a notch. La Mère Brazier’s current chef Mathieu Viannay turns out flawless dishes- a particular standout being an indecently quivering coffee pannacotta supporting a tuile filled with crunchy granita, accompanied by a Café Liégeois.
Art on the plate… and on the wall
Rue Le Bec, meanwhile, is a strident departure from the traditional. Part of the trendy new Confluence regeneration, it houses a restaurant, bar, smoking room, bakery, fruiterer, and even an exclusive suite complete with sauna. Chef Nicolas le Bec is passionate about global food and allowing the produce dictate its preparation. Thus I dine bountifully on buttermilk-rich burrata, Scottish salmon prepared Japanese-style, Wagyu salami and seared steak, and a pitch-perfect tart aux framboises.
Aside from food- and the plentiful Beaujolais – there’s plenty of culture in Lyon. The Confluence development is home to the old sugar factory- now a vibrant arts venue. In town, weird and wonderful attractions count amongst their number The Saint-Georges Silk Factory, The Miniatures & Film Set Museum, and The Guignol Theatre, showcasing the Lyonnais puppets. Pick up a Lyon City Card (from 19€), and benefit from free and reduced admissions.
You’d also be a fool to miss Cité Création’s murals, of which there are over 180 scattered throughout the city. The artists’ collective use whole sides of buildings to create stupefying canvases rich with Lyonnais heritage. On the Presqu’île peninsula, La Fresque des Lyonnais depicts a townhouse featuring 30 native notables, from Renaissance figures to modern cartoon characters- and it’s very own deli. Artist Gilbert has also worked alongside local legend Paul Bocuse, gaining 11kg in the process.
All hail Les Halles
I need to take a little taste of Lyon home – starting with little pork pies from the wonderfully friendly butcher at Moinon Traiteur in the Terreaux backstreets. They’re gone by lunchtime, though- so it’s onto Les Halles de Lyon. These days, the famous market is more about chewing-gum-flavoured macarons than little old ladies with sharp elbows doing their daily shop, but there’s booty to be had nonetheless. I fuel up with a quick oyster ‘gônerie’ (dialect for ‘snack’), and get shopping.
It’s a giddying experience, so I’ll share my picks – pungent Saint Marcellin from Fromagerie Martinet, grattons (duck scratchings) and andouillette from Cellerier, La Pierre des Monts d’Or (Lyonnais meringue-crusted pralines) from Sève, and the local speciality of tooth-achingly sweet, red-hued tarte aux pralines from anywhere that sells it.
Keep hold of your Cellerier receipt, where you’ll find a recipe for the andouillette – and drop into Chez les Gônes, a no-frills, convivial joint where you can tuck into the intestine sausage with tablier de sapeur- breaded tripe. I did, with relish. And Lyonnais potatoes.
Conveniently – and sadly – it’s a brief walk from Les Halles to the station at Part-Dieu. Overdosed on warm Lyonnais hospitality, an awful lot of offal and a little local firewater, I bumble onto the TGV and spend a happy journey immersed in my own thoughts, pleasantly oblivious to the powerful aroma of Saint Marcellin filling my carriage.
Little black book
5 Place Saint-Paul, 69005 Lyon
+33 (0)4 72 10 05 05
Le Bouchon des Filles
Rue Sergent-Blandon 69001 Lyon
+33 (0)4 78 30 40 44 20
Aux Trois Maries
1 Rue des Trois Maries, Place de la Baleine 69005 Lyon
+33 (0)4 78 37 67 28
Restaurant Le Vieux Lyon
44 Rue St Jean 69005 Lyon
+33 (0)4 78 42 48 89
La Mère Brazier Mathieu Viannay
12 Rue Royale 69001 Lyon
+33 (0)4 78 23 17 20
Rue Le Bec
Quartier de la Confluence, 43 Quai Rambaud 69002 Lyon
+33 (0)4 78 92 87 87
Chez les Gônes
102 Cours Lafayette 69003 Lyon
+33 (04) 78 60 91 61
Lyon City Card
For information, click here