At the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers lies Lyon, the second largest city in France. The city’s history can be traced back over 2,000 years, and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. In Lyon, you can take a step back in time or set off on a culinary adventure.
We came back from our first trip to Lyon with at least a year’s worth of culinary inspiration. Our primary destination was the Bocuse d’Or culinary competition, which is held in the middle of winter. Given the season, I wondered whether this would be the best time to visit the city.
I can now assure you that, no matter the time of year, Lyon is best savoured over at least three full days and is the perfect historical and gastronomic destination for a weeklong vacation. Several airlines are now offering direct flights to Lyon year-round, making it even easier to plan your getaway. Lyon’s cuisine is good all year, but, in my opinion, it’s at its best in the winter. Offal, cream sauces, quenelles and sausages will certainly put a little meat on your bones!
Before setting off, we asked La Petite Bette’s followers in France for some recommendations. Other than that, we had very little time to prep for our trip. So here are some quick tips to help you plan, make the most out of your trip and avoid disappointments and unnecessary expenses (like a CAN$125 cab ride!).
From the airport:
- Taxi: 50–85 euros. Be aware, rates go up at night and on Sundays.
- Rhônexpress shuttle: Takes you to Lyon Part-Dieu train station in under 30 min. Runs seven days a week year-round from 4:25 a.m. to midnight. Departs every 15 minutes.
- One-way: €15.90 / €13.20 (ages 12 to 25) or €14.70 online
- Round-trip: €27.50 / €23.30 (ages 12 to 25) or €25.90 online
- Free for children under 12 and companions of people with reduced mobility
- Included in the Lyon City Card!
In the city: We loved our Lyon City Cards, which are available for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days. The card includes transportation to Saint-Exupéry airport (something we only realized too late), access to 23 museums, a guided tour and access to all public transportation in the city (subway, tram and bus).
Note that better rates are available if you purchase online.
If museums aren’t your thing, you can buy multi-day transit passes at TCL kiosks for a single day (€6), 48 hours (€11.50) or 72 hours (€17.30). Single tickets valid for 1 hour cost €1.90 at kiosks or €2.20 on buses.
The entire transit system is efficient, affordable and fast. Whether you’re in the heart of it all or you’ve chosen to stay somewhere quieter, you’ll have an enjoyable experience. Renting a car is neither necessary nor recommended.
Fine dining, mâchon and bouchons
Lyon is known as the food capital of the world. Without question, Lyon has produced more Michelin star restaurants and chefs than any other city in the world.
Fine dining options abound (Bocuse, La Mère Brazier, Les Loges, L’Atelier des Augustins, Le Grand Réfectoire…) but I have to admit that I didn’t try any of them. At these restaurants, a four- or five-course meal will run you €150–€270 per person before you factor in wine—we simply didn’t have the budget for a CAN$600–$1000 meal for two… maybe someday!
Lyon’s bouchons, on the other hand, are great dining options and much more affordable! Bouchonsare as emblematic of Lyon as its bridges, but what are they, exactly?
In the past, innkeepers would mark their doors with a bundle of branches, called abouschein the local patois. These establishments were gathering places for men, both the middle-class and the foremen and workers (canuts) from the silk factories.
It may seem like authentic bouchonsare easy to spot, with their characteristic wooden tables, checkered tablecloths, warm atmosphere, charcuterie selection and good wine by the carafe. But watch out for imitators! These restaurants have become so iconic that there are now at least as many copycat bouchonsas authentic ones, if not more. Luckily, there are a few certifications you can look out for to help you sort through your options. Consult the Bouchons Lyonnais guide (http://lesbouchonslyonnais.org/en/) and look for the seal, a mark of quality, displayed at restaurant entrances. Keep in mind, though, that some can’t-miss spots are not on the list. On our guided tour on Lyon’s culinary history led by Les Visites des Filles, which organizes offbeat tours of the city, our guide told us that the best way to judge a bouchonis… by eating there.
While that may be good advice for locals, we understand that you’ll probably have limited time in Lyon. We’ve compiled a list of our favourite spots and some we missed out on, but that were highly recommended (we ran out of time before trying them all):
- Le Café du Peintre
- Le Café des Fédérations
- Daniel & Denise (all three locations)
- Le Garet
- Café du Jura
- La Voûte Chez Léa
- Café Comptoir Abel (the best quenelles, according to La Petite Bette’s followers in Lyon)
- AOC wine bar at Les Halles de Lyon
- Brasserie Georges (for the decor, history and atmosphere)
Mâchon: This meal is morning mass for true gourmands, who break bread and drink wine and sometimes even burst into song. Think a boozy brunch, but served around 9:30, with rich, delicious food and good company. The meal is served in the city’s many bouchons, atop distinctive checkered tablecloths, and your hosts will be happy to introduce you to their local cuisine and pass on their culinary expertise. To reserve your table (a must!) and view mâchonhours for select restaurants, go to: https://www.lyon-france.com/c-est-lyon-qui-regale/a-table. Note that some mâchonsare for men only, but there is at least one all-female event: http://machondesfilles.blogspot.com/p/la-machonneuse.html. Be sure to ask to avoid unpleasant surprises!
Regardless of your tastes or the time of year you’re visiting, we HIGHLY recommend making reservations for bouchons,mâchonsand fine dining establishments, for lunch and dinner, especially on weekend nights.
Other gastronomic hot spots
For an enormous picnic spread, gourmet gifts or a modest (!) meal at home, we loved:
- Les Halles de Lyon, for EVERYTHING! Head there in the morning or at lunchtime.
- Conserverie La belle Îloise for the sardines (rue Ferrandière)
- Maison Duculty for sausage and charcuterie—they can even put together a platter to go (rue Ferrandière)
- Maison Pignol for pâté en croûte (Les Halles Grand Hôtel-Dieu)
- Reynon for sausages (rue des Archers)
- Fromagerie La Mère Richard at Les Halles de Lyon and Les Halles Grand Hôtel-Dieu
- Maison Pozzoli for bread (multiple locations)
- Charcuterie Bobosse for andouillette (Les Halles de Lyon and avenue de l’Europe)
- Crèmerie Saint-Antoine for little jars of faisselle (fresh cheese) with a jar of Bresse cream (the woman there even lived in Quebec for a few years)
- Boulangerie Jocteur for tarte aux pralinesand Pralus for brioche aux pralines
- Aux Merveilleux for merveilleux (rue Grenette)
For coffee lovers, Lyon does not disappoint, and your chances of running into a bad cup of coffee are likely limited to certain international chains that shall remain nameless. Almost anywhere you go, you can expect your coffee to be delicious and artfully prepared!
As for fast food, don’t miss out on a local specialty, Lyon tacos: kebab meat (!) served in a tortilla that university students line up for after they leave the night clubs.
For the shopaholics, Lyon has multiple malls and major stores in the downtown area (La Part-Dieu, Confluence, Le Printemps Lyon) and farther out (Ecully Grand Ouest, Porte des Alpes, Carré de Soie, Galeries Lafayette).
No matter when you visit, I highly recommend perusing the fine lingerie shops. There are too many to list, but their quality, fabrics and selection are unparalleled in North America.
I was also impressed by the exceptional quality of the table linens I rolled up in my suitcase to brighten up my future food pics on Instagram (follow us on @lapetitebette)!
Lastly, wine cellars and food shops are plentiful, and many are equipped to wrap or vacuum pack some treasures for you to take home in your suitcase. Before you leave, be sure to check whether your goodies are allowed in by Canadian customs.
I wish I had brought back:
- Mont d’or cheese
- Saint-Marcellin cheese
- A jar of vacuum-packed truffles
- A pâté en croûte mould
- Sausages… all of the sausages
- A few bottles of Saint-Joseph (red and white) and Morgon wine
Coming soon in 2019
The new Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie is set to open in September 2019 at the newly renovated Grand Hôtel-Dieu, an ideal location that’s not to be missed! La Petite Bette is already anxious to visit this new culinary destination. The site is also home to a market, which hosts a number of the best establishments in Lyon, fine restaurants and boutiques.
We’ll meet again someday, Lyon! You swept us off our feet with your delightful delicacies, your charming neighbourhoods, but most of all, your smiling, generous, gourmand residents. We miss you already.