Lyon!!!! Oh how long I’ve dreamt about a trip to this famed city in the French Rhones Alps region. The birthplace of cinema. The “belly” of France. The gastronomic capital (as christened in the 1930s by writer Curnonsky). Hometown of famous chefs. Unesco world heritage sites. And just an hour’s flight from London. My kinda city!
I planned this Lyon trip on my beeday weekend. Might as well stuff my face silly with indulgent dishes while I have an excuse (the anniversary of my birth) to push my cholesterol levels up.
(10) Musée Miniature et Cinéma
Lyon is said to be the birthplace of cinema. Tripadvisor recommended the Musée Miniature et Cinéma, and because all of the other attractions I visited in Lyon were free, I was willing to part with my 9 Euros to see what this place was about. It was basically three floors of movie memorabilia. It felt like a movie collector’s organised warehouse of stuff! The more interesting attraction for me was the miniatures. Sure, movies use miniatures in filming, and I was somewhat acutely aware of hobbyists who liked building these cute little things. The attention to detail and how real they look in pictures is pretty outstanding!
Similar to Berlin, Lyon has a knack for elevated street art. I visited two of its popular murals– Mur de Canuts (or “Silk Weavers’ Wall”), a very tall wall with paintings depicting the typical Lyonnaise life in the Croix-Rousse district. In photos, they look so real. Maybe it’s because of the scale of how these were made. The second, and most popular one is La Fresque des Lyonnais, the mural with famous people from Lyon. Those who I recognised are Antonine St exupery, author of beloved children’s novel, the Little Prince, and Paul Pocuse, chef and grandfather of cuisine nouvelle.
(8) Super nice Lyon people!!
From my uber drivers, to restaurant servers, to random people in the street who start speaking to me in French, I love the peeps here!! They’re chill and cordial! My uber driver said that they’re the zen version of Parisians. Lyon has the similar touristy offerings as Paris, minus the stress of traffic and the fast pace. No one in Lyon scowled at me for not speaking French, and they seemed pretty pleased with my bumbling “Merci beaucoup” and “Pardon”.
(7) Paul Bocuse
When in Lyon, there is no escaping Paul Bocuse, ze grandfather of cuisine nouvelle. His decades-old restaurant has three Michelin stars. I was debating with myself for weeks, if I should give in and fork out nearly 200 euros for a lunch tasting menu. In the end, my frugal side won (yes, I have a frugal side!) and I made reservations for Le Sud, the most erm, wallet-friendly of Bocuse’s restaurant repertoire. I had a nice lunch here! Very French indeed. I went off the prix fixe menu and ordered what looked good on the ala carte menu. With the help of Google translate, I finally ordered three courses: fisherman’s soup (Soupe des Pecheurs “Marseillaise”), duck, fig, and foie gras (Filet de Canette des Dombes en Aiguillettes), and finally fruit cup Cardinal for dessert. All very filling. The service was attentive and quick, though I much prefer the bouchon dining experience, if I’m being honest. Overall, pretty good French food. French classics done well.
(6) Stairs and more stairs!
Lesson learned: Never attempt to climb flights and flights of stairs when there is no visible end in sight. I thought I was being clever, and hoped to out smart my Citimapper app, when I decided to follow the signs up a long flight of stairs, declaring, “This way to the Basilica”. And so I climb the first few flights of stairs, paused a few times. And climed a few more. And more. And more! Until about 30 minutes later, when my calves ached and my lungs screamed. I took the wrong way up! The less scenic! ‘Twas probably the route people who love to exercise and tone those calves take! But anyway! I was sooo relieved when I finally reached the top. The basilica and the view of the city were worth it, screaming lungs and all.
(5) La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
So! At the end of my trek up the hill, I was promised by my cheerleader self that everything will be worth it. And when I saw the facade of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. I was like… Ok. You’re a very pretty church. Similar to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, there were lots of intricate carvings and statues by the main door. The church stands proudly atop a hill. Watching over the city, it seems. The interior is just outstanding. Colourful tile work from floor (literally the floor had tiled patterns!) to ceiling. This working church is well kept and very pretty. In fact, there was a mass when I was there. So I took about half an hour to rest and appreciate the design. The view of Lyon just outside the church is also worth the climb.
(4) Le parc de la Tête d’Or
A free zoo inside a park!! Woohoo! The top thing to do in Lyon and I can see why! The park is massive. 117 hectares of green, foot paths for runners, a mini lake, a free zoo where most animals roam “free”. I just loved seeing young families enjoy the park, oohing and aaahing at the animals, riding the carousel. Good fun. Autumn’s transformed the park into this somewhat romantic open space of falling orange leaves and dramatic contrasting foliage. The botanical garden was just ok. I’m not a green thumb so I practically breezed in and out of there. I enjoyed the zoo though!!
(3) Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse
The French love their (outdoor) markets. Fresh produce of the season, regional specialties, artisanal chocolates… Les Halles is a haven for foodies, with nearly 60 merchants and restaurants. It’s been around since 1971. Saucisson, cheese, terrines, the famous bress chicken, seafood, chocolates, wine, and everything else in between. I enjoyed this mini cup of foie gras mousse, topped with chopped almonds and pistachios. There was a variety of amuse bouche mini cups in this store. I wish I sampled more! I also enjoyed half a dozen of Papillon Oysters from Chez Leon. They were plump, juicy, and tasted like the ocean. Briny and oh so good.
(2) The bouchon experience: Le Musée
The bouchon is unique to Lyon! Historically, these were small, family-run restaurants which served silk workers in the 17th century. Their ingredients were the humble left over parts of the pig that no one wanted (sweet breads, ofal, pig cheeks, etc). The first half of this century saw an evolution of the bouchon dishes, when wealthy families fired their chefs (after the decline of aristocratic families), and they found employment in the bouchons. And so! Refined cooking techniqes plus the workers’ dishes (adding rich ingredients) equals the bouchon we know now!
Bouchons are given the seal of approval by the L’Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons). I was lucky enough to secure a place at Le Musée, an authentic bouchon. The chef/owner came to talk to me personally to take my order, recommending the Saucisson Chaud (Sausage in brioche bread), which he made himself!! I had veal for my main, which was tender and cooked in a creamy sauce with carrots and capers. On the side was Gratin dauphinois (baked potato and cream with leeks). For dessert, a super sweet pink pie made of candied praline almonds, which are super popular here in Lyon.
Overall, I loved, loved the very personal dining experience, homey no-fuss dishes made of great, seasonal ingredients, and the friendly staff (even to non-French speakers).
(1) French cooking lessons @ Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen
A happy birthday present to me, from moi. We met our teacher Lucy at 9am, in her teaching kitchen in the historic Croix Rousse district. She’s an American who’s lived In Lyon for about 15 years. The class was small!! Just three students that day (how lucky!). We started our morning with a trip to Marché de la Croix-Rousse, the biggest outdoor market in Lyon, and where local chefs do their shopping. We chose seasonal ingredients and decided what to cook for the day. Lucy did a good mix of lessons and hands-on practical stuff! We did all the prep, tasting, and cooking, frequently asking questions about French cuisine and techniques. Throughout the day, Lucy imparted her wisdom, we cooked, ate, and enjoyed several glasses of wine. Our proud dishes: Escargots de Bourgogne (snails), Veloute de Potimarron (soup), Filet de Veau with Cresson sauce (Veal), Tarte Amades and Poires (Almond and Pear tarte). Lovely! Lovely!
Fun things I learned –
(1) A drizzle of lemon could make a whole difference in taste! Sometimes what’s missing is acidity.
(2) When preparing a dish, think about how everything comes together, especially when you’re seasoning or adjusting the flavours or components. Things are on the plate for a reason.
(3) Great ingredients are the start to great dishes. Of course, technique and knowledge are important too. But there’s some powerful stuff behind this farm-to-table philosophy. It’s making me want to look for local farmers market and start shopping there!
I was super beat from cooking all day that when i went back to the hotel to take a nap, I ended up sleeping for nearly 6 hours!
(11) Views from the Rhone and Saone rivers
The sun was shining that Saturday when I explored Croix Rousse. What a beautiful view from of the riverbank and the colorful buildings. The locals loooove the sunshine, and there were several just hanging out.