Globetrotting in Lyon, France

by Richard Nahem
Saint Georges footbridge in Lyon, France

Lyon is filled with enough culture, museums, history, restaurants, and historical sites to impress even the most experienced travelers.

Richard Nahem

Located in one of the oldest buildings in Lyon, La Mere Lea (www.lamerelea.com) has been a long time bouchon serving its loyal patrons since 1943. Today the bouchon is run by chef and owner Christian Têtedoie, who remains faithful not only to the original recipes of Lea, but also the relaxed atmosphere. Typical dishes include sausage laced with pistachios in a pastry, frogs legs, quenelles (dumplings) with shrimp, macaroni gratin, and for dessert, tarte Tatin with vanilla ice cream.

Another official bouchon is Chabert et Fils (www.lesbouchonslyonnais. org/en/restaurants/chabert-et-fils), which is family owned by Jean- Pierre Gillin, along with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law. The inviting, eclectic interior has a chandelier from the opera house, a collection of authentic Punch and Judy puppets, and a mural by a well-known Lyonnais artist. The highlight dish is Gnafron, which is chitterling sausage with garlic flan wrapped in cabbage leaves. There’s a bargain, three-course menu for only 19.70 € available at lunch and choices include duck terrine with orange and hazelnuts, lentil salad, skate fish prepared meuniere style with lemon confit, artichoke hearts, and capers, and fromage blanc.

Palais Saint-Pierre | Lyon, France

Palais Saint-Pierre
Photo:Pierre Jean Durieu

A must-visit culinary stop is dining at one of the several Paul Bocuse (www.bocuse.fr/en) establishments. Paul Bocuse rose to fame when he opened his first restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, on the outskirts of Lyon in 1965. The rest is culinary history, as the restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars, and maintained them for a remarkable, record-breaking 50 years. Although Bocuse passed away in 2018, his legacy is still going strong with a string of four brasseries throughout Lyon, serving Bocuse’s most loved dishes such as foie gras with chutney, roasted guinea fowl with a macaroni gratin, pan fried calves liver with a vinegar glaze, and a dark chocolate tart with whipped cream.

If you love French food, Les Halles de Bocuse (www.halles-de-lyonpaulbocuse.com), one of the great food halls of Lyon, is a must-visit. Home to a hand picked selection of 50 of the top, local food producers and sellers, it features pastry shops and bakeries, butchers, cheesemongers, fish stalls, charcuteries, and many more food varieties.

Lyon takes great pride in having 20 Michelin restaurants in the city and its suburbs. If you want to splurge on one of the best food experiences in Lyon, make a reservation at La Mère Brazier (www.lamerebrazier.fr), the restaurant Bill Buford worked at in the above-mentioned book, Dirt. The two-star Michelin restaurant is one of the most celebrated and beloved in Lyon. Founded in 1921 by Eugenie Brazier, she was the proverbial mother figure hard at work cooking her traditional dishes handed down to her from her ancestors. Over the years, La Mère Brazier attracted its share of politicians, writers, celebrities, and artists.

The award winning chef Mathieu Viannay took over the restaurant in 2008 but it still retains much of the decor from the 1930s with just some minimal upgrades. The seasonally driven menus changes frequently and some of the delectable dishes on the latest menu include sea scallops sautéed with white wine, truffles, green mango, and duxelles mushrooms, blue lobster lacquered with an apple cider glaze with black radishes, and green apples, and for dessert, a Grand Marnier souffle.

Chocoholics will get their just reward at Bernachon (www.bernachon.com/en), the first bean to bar chocolate maker in Lyon. Pick up some of their excellent chocolate tablets for gifts (make sure you buy enough for yourself) in flavors such as mendiants, dark chocolate with grilled almonds in honey, raisins, and pistachios, and dark chocolate with marzipan and milk chocolate with bits of orange peel. The President is their legendary dessert, which was created in 1975 when Paul Bocuse was being honored by the President of France and asked Bernachon to help him concoct an original dessert to bring to the ceremony: three layers of cherry sponge cake are soaked in a cherry liqueur, and then covered with a hazelnut praline ganache.

Guignol Theatre | Lyon, France

Lyon, France -October 02, 2015: Guignol Theater. 200 years after creation, original spirit of the puppet show still survives in his hometown of Lyon, where performances are part of local culture.
Photo: Nevskii Dmitrii

Fete des Lumieres (www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr/en) is the biggest annual event in Lyon, attracting over a million visitors. Taking place the first weekend in December, the citywide event is a dazzling showcase for the latest developments in laser and light shows, which are illuminated on buildings, squares, enormous screens on public squares, and also inside of certain buildings. There are over 40 different sites to view the illuminations and the dates for 2021 are December 8 to 11. If you decide to attend, make sure you reserve your hotel or accommodations at least four months in advance, and also make your restaurant reservations way in advance.

The Presqu’île, a lively and charming part of the city with narrow cobblestone streets, is where much of gay nightlife in Lyon is concentrated. La Ruche (www.facebook.com/LaRucheLyon) is a popular gay bar with a friendly crowd. During the summer there’s an enormous outdoor terrace.

Bears come out of hibernation and flock to XS Bar, another friendly place to make new friends. On Thursdays, XS hosts Apero Bear, a cocktail hour for bears.

More than a bar, L’Etoile Opera (www.facebook.com/letoile.opera) also has a substantial food menu similar to a pub, including hamburgers, and charcuterie and cheese platters. L’Etoile Opera sponsors bingo nights and karaoke.

TGV Station at Lyon Saint-Exupery | Lyon, France

TGV Station at Lyon Saint-Exupery
Photo: Mountain Cubs

The grandest hotel in Lyon at the moment is the five-star, InterContinental Lyon, Hotel Dieu (www.lyon.intercontinental.com/en/). A former 12th century hospital was reconditioned into the 144 room hotel in 2018. The contemporary style rooms designed by Jean-Philipe Nuel, a top French interior designer and range in size from 300 square feet for the Superior category to over 400 square feet for the Executive category rooms, which have river views. Room amenities include bathrobe and slippers, coffee machine with capsules, shoeshine kits, air conditioning, mini-bar, and bath products by Frederic Malle. Chef Mathieu Charrois heads up the Epona restaurant at the hotel, with an updated Lyonnais menu.

The Hotel Carlton Lyon MGallery (www.hotel-carlton-lyon.com) is well situated, close to the gay area and bars and walking distance to most local attractions. The beautiful Belle-Epoque building has been converted into a chic boutique hotel. The hotel also features a Codage spa.

There are no direct flights to Lyon from the U.S., so it’s best to fly into Paris and take the two-hour TGV train ride from the Gare de Lyon station.

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