Lyon was the third stop on our trip to France earlier this summer. To be honest, I knew next to nothing about it before we started planning. But our trusty guidebook, Rick Steves’ France 2011, touted its renowned cuisine and called it “France’s best-kept urban secret,” and the country’s “most historic and culturally important city after Paris.” So we went.
Though it wasn’t exactly what I expected, it was a convenient stop on the way from Beaune to Annecy. It also was a nice “second city” to sandwich between two less urban destinations. I enjoyed seeing it once, but I am not sure I would go again (unless time and money were no limitations, of course). It was certainly a comfortable, manageable, walkable, charming, and interesting city worth some exploration. I’m not sure how exactly to describe this, but we almost felt immediately at ease- like no matter what we wore, said or did, we fit right in with the everyday folks living and working in Lyon.
We easily walked to all the sights we wanted to see (aside from taking the cable car-like funicular to go uphill to the basilica and Roman ruins) and found the city very easy to navigate and enjoyable to explore on foot. The art museum, on the slightly grittier north side of town, was worthwhile and serene. I wish we’d had time to enjoy the cafe with mural walls and pretty balconies, but we scurried in only an hour before the museum closed so there was no time to linger. The Roman amphitheater, up above the city near the basilica, was a sight to behold. In the summer they have concerts there, so you may want to find and check that schedule before you go. We heard a rehearsal, and the vocals echoing through the ruins with views of the city below is a gorgeous memory.
There was a large produce market most mornings along the Saone River, which was so much fun to walk through with seemingly endless stalls of cheeses, olives, spices, pastries, flowers, meat, fruits, and vegetables.
After reading so much about the city’s world-class gourmet scene, I have to say I was a little disappointed with what we actually found there. Sure, it was good, but it wasn’t the epicurean mecca I’d imagined. My favorite turned out to be a casual, friendly place called La Grange de St. Jean at 1 place du Change. The salads my mom and husband chose were fresh and lovely, topped with sliced lemons twisted open. I knew I had to order the tartine vegetarienne because I hadn’t seen it on any other menu, and it turned out to be a delicious, cheesy, open-face eggplant sandwich. They also had beer mixed with lemonade, called panache.
Save some room, though, because almost right across the street from La Grange de St. Jean was Nardone Rene Glacier, 3 place Ennemond Fousseret. The array of ice creams was astounding. There were four boards the size of the one pictured below, all full of flavors like rhubarb, fig, apricot, anise, blackberry, rose, and pear. You can buy a cup or cone to go at the counter, or sit at the tables to have the waiters serve you a more extensive menu of sundaes and other treats. I had the nutella white chocolate ice cream, which was everything I hoped it would be and more. The nouget and fig were pretty bland though.
We also ate at La Francotte, 8 place des Celestins, which was a convenient lunch stop in the shopping district and had fantastic fresh salads with unique ingredients. One even featured tofu! We had dinner one night at Sol Cafe, 28 rue de Bouef. It had a warm, glowing interior with stylish paint and light fixtures, as well as an intriguing Spanish menu with tapas and paella. The food we tried was fine, but what we really loved was the quietly chic atmosphere and the pleasant pedestrian street.
There were appetizing sweets shops everywhere you turned in Vieux Lyon, where were learned that in France pralines are almonds covered in red sugar, not the buttery pecans we’re used to here in the South.
We splurged and stayed at Hotel Globe et Cecil, which was beautiful and had an incredibly attentive, friendly, helpful staff. However, it was right in the middle of the modern shopping district, which was kind of bustling and felt like it could be any big city. If I go again, I’ll try to stay in the older part of the city, Vieux Lyon, which was more peaceful and charming with unique shops and restaurants.
The highlight of the shopping district for me was, of course, the Emile Henry store. Sure wish I’d left more room in my suitcase…