“What is it exactly about this place? Over the past century, the system here, the tradition, whatever it is that took hold here, churned out a tremendous number of the world’s greatest chefs — Point, Chapel, Troisgros, Bocuse — and, as importantly, influenced nearly all the rest of them.”Anthony Bourdain
After Chad and I watched Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode in Lyon, we knew that our upcoming trip to France needed to include a couple days detour away from Paris to explore what most call the gastronomic capital not only just of France but of the world. With more than 1,500 eateries, Lyon has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in France. Whether it is to go to the famous market Les Halles de Lyon or if it is simply just to eat at a traditional Lyonnaise bouchon, Lyon is a foodie’s city, where you will be enamored by the quaint vieux “old”Lyon but be completely inspired by the imagination and vibes of the new Lyon, where a younger generation of chefs rival even the most acclaimed chefs of Paris.
In 2018, we spent the weekend before Christmas in this beautiful city, not nearly enough time (definitely wish we could have spent at least one more day) but here is what we did with our 36 hours in Lyon…
10:00am – Train – We took an early morning train from Paris just before 8:00am. Closed our eyes for a bit and “voila!”, in just two hours, we arrived. Fast and easy.
10:30am – Arrive at Hotel – A quick cab ride and we found ourselves at our hotel, the Hotel le Royal in Bellecour square, between the Saone and Rhone rivers. I highly recommend not only for the convenient location (walking distance to everything) but also for how quaint and comfortable it is, traditional yet modern.
11:00am – Vieux Lyon – After dropping our bags at the hotel, we walked into Old Lyon and found ourselves (despite a little drizzle of rain) completely in love. Lyon has more of a small town feel despite being the third largest city in France. Stroll through all of the little shops, stop and get a taste of their famed brioches aux pralines (you will smell them before you see them, it is intoxicating) and walk into the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the seat of the Archbishop of Lyon, to see one of the oldest clocks in Europe, dating back to 1383.
12:00pm – Lunch at Daniel et Denise – You can’t travel to Lyon without experiencing a bouchon and one of the best is Daniel & Denise. This is the quintessential Lyonnaise experience but be prepared to be adventurous as many of the traditional dishes include tripe, “boudin noir” (blood sausage), calf’s head (jellied meat and brains) or “andouillette” (sausages made of veal or pork intestines). For someone who does not eat a lot of meat (don’t worry!) I enjoyed one of their specials, a truffle pasta and it was “magnifique!”
2:00pm – After lunch, we took the funicular up to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière to not only visit this beautiful church but check out the incredible view of the city from high on the hill. You can also hike up the stairs rather than take the funicular (but it might be easier to just take the stairs down instead of up). 😉
5:00pm – Apertivo Hour – We went back to the hotel to check-in and relax – They have a great bar on their second floor overlooking the square. Time for an apertif!
6:30pm – Le Vin des Vivants – We strolled through the city center about 15 minutes to a wine bar known for all of their natural wines. The city was alive with energy, many doing last minute Christmas shopping. Unfortunately by the time we arrived at the wine bar, they had a special event that evening so we were not able to stay but I would still recommend checking it out if you love your “vin.”
So where did we go? Instead we found ourselves at what was a fun, eclectic scene at a local, edgy spot where even in December, despite cooler temperatures, the patio was packed with young people. Despite the cloud of smoke from cigarettes (for some reason, in France and Italy, it never seems to bothers me), it was a great spot for people watching. There are SO many lively spots in the city center, find a seat and take it all in.
8:00pm – Dinner at La Bijouterie – YOU MUST GO. So I had read about La Bijouterie “The Jeweler’s” in an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the most innovative chefs in Lyon. Let’s just say, we dined at both Septime (Ranked #40 on the 50 World’s Best in 2018 as well as Le Cinq (three Michelin Stars) in Paris and La Bijouterie was by far our favorite food experience of the trip. This is really saying A LOT because those two restaurants are also on another level of special and extraordinary. And I call it an experience because it was not just a meal, it was a multi-course tasting menu that blew our minds. With an open kitchen, we were grateful to be seated at the bar in the action so we could enjoy watching all of the dishes being prepared.
11:00pm – Ferris Wheel- After dinner, we headed to the ferris wheel in La Place Bellecour, across from our hotel, one of the largest squares in all of Europe. Perfect end to the day was seeing the lights of Lyon from above the city… (Note: The ferris wheel is only in the square during the winter months)
Bonne nuit lyon!
9:30am – Bernachon – Since the 1950s, Bernachon has been making some of the world’s BEST chocolate so we started our morning in line with all of the Lyonnaise shopping for last minute Christmas gifts. We were the only ones who spoke english in the store but sure enough one of the younger ladies in the shop knew a little and came over to help us. She was excited to learn where we were from and treated us to Bernachon’s famed palets d’or (discs filled with ganache and flecked with real gold).
10:30am – Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse – Just a short walk from Bernachon, is the famed Les Halles Market named after Paul Bocuse, the most famous chef in France and yes, arguably, in all the world. When I say that this is basically food heaven and unlike any other market you have ever been to, I am not exaggerating. I would even argue that it is worth going to Lyon just for the day to eat your way through the more than 50 different stands and vendors at Les Halles….and that is exactly what we did. Cheese, check! Cured meats, check! Seafood, check! All the sweets, check! We were in awe and loved every minute. I thought that we might have had more time to see and do a few other sites before heading to the train but we decided that there was no better way to enjoy the day, spending the morning/afternoon eating the flavors of not only France but also of Spain and Italy…
2:00pm – In the footsteps of Bourdain – As we walked back to our hotel, I wanted to check out the bouchon that Bourdain went to, Bouchon Comptoir Brunet. We peaked in (wishing he was tucked in to a corner table).
4:00pm – Train to Paris – We wish we could have stayed a little longer but it helped to know that we both want to return some day…
Anthony Bourdain said his Lyon episode was “the greatest food centric show I’ve ever done.” This was apparent in watching his adventures with Chefs Daniel Boulud and Paul Bocuse. And now after our own adventures inspired by Bourdain, I would also say not just the episode but Lyon is the greatest food centric “city” in all the world.
Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) – May his stories and life live on for generations to come and continue to inspire us…
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’t okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves mark on your memory, on your concsiousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”Anthony Bourdain