It’s been said that Paris is the heart of France, while Lyon is the belly. Given my love and ability to feed my belly quite well, I wondered what took me so long to get down there. It is after all, a fast two hour train ride from Paris, so off I went last weekend with a foodie friend in tow.
Lyon is an easy city to navigate on foot or public transportation, which includes the eerily silent electric buses that quietly creep around most corners, though pedestrians don’t seem to mind. They’ll walk in front of anything and everything, paying even less attention to those on the road than Parisians.
Lyon has two rivers flowing through it, the River Saône and the Rhône. The Prequ’île forms a peninsula in the middle of the city, flanked on each side by the rivers. Here you’ll find pedestrian only streets filled with your typical European chain stores like H&M, Etam, Zara and the like. The city is flat along the water, but then has two large hill towns to the North, La Croix-Rousse, and in the east, Fourvière. We decided if we were going to eat our way through the belly, we should first conquer one of the big hills so we can earn our first meal.
We started our climb from the Vieux Lyon, the old town of the city that contains mostly touristy shops and an odd plethora of English and Irish pubs. Upon investigation, one of the bartenders told us that Lyon has the largest population of English people in Europe. While that's not entirely true, there are a lot of Anglophones in town and evidently people of all nationalities like to do shots and listen to Queen.
Don't even get me started on the marionette museum and shops in Vieux Lyon that left a mark on me, and I can only imagine what it would do to a young child.
Back to the steps that started at the bottom of old town's cobblestone streets. My friend and I were chatting walking up the stairs, admiring the architecture on some of the old buildings we passed, and perhaps luckily, we could only see a few feet in front of us as the path twisted and turned, so we weren’t fully aware of all that lay ahead. Specifically, we didn’t know that we’d be climbing nearly 800 steps to reach the top. Those that aren’t feeling as self-righteous walking, can take the funicular up.
After wiping the sweat from our brow, we found a vista to admire the spectacular panoramic views of Lyon. Even though it was a bit overcast, we could still enjoy the city overview.
Next to the viewing area, is the equally spectacular Basilique Notre-Dame, which is a beacon on the hill, viewable from most spots around town.
The church was re-built with private funds in the late 1800s to honor the Virgin Mary. The exterior is seemingly simple, at least as compared to the ornate cathedrals of Paris. An interesting mix of Byzantine and Romanesque touches flank the outside, while a palace of grandeur is revealed once insdie.
The interior is breath taking with fine mosaics in blues, golds and pastels.
Just a little south of the Basilique is the Parc Archéologique de Fourvière and it contains ruins from two old churches, as well as a former theatre that was built around 15BC.
The theatre was restored in the early 1900’s and used to hold approximately 10,000 people, and now hosts local concerts and events. While it must be a stunning backdrop for a performance, I might recommend bringing a cushion to place on the historically correct cement seats.
After our afternoon of sight seeing and climbing, we were ready for our first meal, and we went big and started with Paul Bocuse’s Michelin three star restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collognes. Paul Bocuse is Lyon’s culinary crown jewel. He was a pioneer and leader in actually lightening up some of the heavier French dishes and sauces. He took over L’Auberge du Pont de Collognes when his father passed away in 1958.
55 years later, I’m not so sure any real updating has happened to the restaurant. Not that there was any chipping paint, but rather, the 60’s called, and would like the gastronomic palace to be brought into the current century.
Service was impeccable as you would imagine. A trio of suited men served us, and I was thinking this is as it always should be.
Beautiful china, silver and glasses flanked our table at all times.
We had to try the famous soup Bocuse made for the French president in 1975. A beef consommé is filled with foie gras, truffles and mixed vegetables, then topped with a puff pastry that seals in the flavors and heat. It has all of France’s finest things, but surprisingly, it wasn’t as rich as I would have assumed or liked.
France’s famed Bresse chicken assumed the rich position with its luscious cream sauce surrounding the succulent bird and morel mushrooms. Not sure how much lightening Bocuse did on this dish, but it was bread wiping delicious.
Then came the table-side buffet of cheese and desserts to finish our meal. Our selection of cheese was of course from the area, including the fabulous St. Marcellin which you must have during any visit to Lyon.
Next up was about 6 tables full of desserts from which to choose.
There were stewed fruits, cakes, tarts, ice cream, sorbet, meringue, caramels, chocolates, and pretty much anything else you could think to eat with sugar and butter.
We hit our max after we lost count of how many plates of sweets we had consumed. Who counts after all. I’ll keep my count to the number of stairs we climbed to receive this decadent award.
More exploring and climbing will continue so the food can as well.