On my quick trip to France, I was enticed to come to Lyon by its gastronomic reputation even among my non-foodie friends. The best way to explore this charming city is with a local guide, and I just happen to have one in the family. My cousin, NT, planned our never-ending walk around town to explore Lyon in 1.5 days, which turned out to be much-needed exercise from all the delicious food that we ate. In this post, I will share our walking and eating tour of this charming and unassuming city.
Day 1: Dinner at Restaurant M
After arriving from Aix-en-Provence in the late afternoon, I only had enough time for dinner. NT introduced me to her favorite low-key restaurant in Lyon, Restaurant M. This is a contemporary French restaurant helmed by Julien Gautier, from Léon de Lyon – a 2 Michelin star restaurant. With a Michelin pedigree, the price was shockingly cheap. The menu is only 39 euros for entrée, plat and dessert. The atmosphere is of your neighborhood bistro and the restaurant is often packed with locals. The food was creative and delicious – a wonderful introduction to the dining culture in Lyon.
Day 2: Endless Walking Tour of Lyon
We started the day early at the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, which is situated atop the Fourvière Hill and is the most visible symbol of Lyon. The interior is well–preserved and showcases both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. The views of the city and the Rhone River below are magnificent and worth the trek up the hill alone. Since we had to meet up with my other cousins in Vieux Lyon, we only stayed long enough for an Instagram photo.
We had reservations to try cuisine lyonnaise at Les Lyonnaise Saint-Jean for lunch, which was a preferable time for the heavy meal. The regional cuisine centers around cheese, wine, fish from the Rhone River, and vegetables from the surround area. This restaurant caters to both locals and tourists with some cheeky charm that evoked a cross between a Brooklyn hipster and French cartoon waiter with a sarcastic humor. My favorite dish was Meurette egg in red wine sauce and pike souffle from Little Craftsman in a lobster sauce – a delicious and caloric treat.
Next on the agenda was a stroll through Rue du Boeuff, where locals dined and shop versus the adjacent Rue du St. Jean where most tourists congregate. Our post lunch destination was the hidden café on the rooftop of Musée des Arts de la Marionnetee for an afternoon coffee. Most people will miss this gem unless they know to look for it. The rooftop has a garden, and chairs are provided for guests to relax and nap. There is also a café to waste the day away. We had a short break before heading onto the Musée Miniatures et Cinema. This museum showcases miniaturist and founder Dan Ohlmann’s two passions: the magic of film special effects and the art of miniatures. The lobby has a few free exhibits that should satisfy one’s curiosity if short on time. Otherwise, one can spend at least an hour here marveling at the Hollywood wizardry and the amazing details highlighted in the miniature sets. These miniatures can be easily mistaken for life-size sets.
As we roamed the nearby streets and alleyways, we found ourselves arriving at St. Jean Baptist Cathedral. In the back of the cathedral is an astrological clock that has been around since 1383. The clock is one of the oldest in Europe and has an astrolabe that indicates the date, the position of the moon, the sun, and the earth, as well as the stars in the sky over Lyon. It’s worth a visit just to see this engineering marvel from medieval time. Look out for the dabbing saint behind the clock if you find yourselves at this church.
Next on the afternoon agenda was to cross the bridge to the opposite side of the river and check out the Presqu’ile, the shopping mecca and town center of Lyon. It is a good place to people watch and to see the buzz of activity any time of the day. Strolling past the Presqu’ile, we found ourselves witnessing a street brawl outside the municipal building. We skirted that situation and ended up walking along Berges du Rhone. After what seemed like hours of walking at this point, we took a wine break at Modulo, one of the numerous boat restaurants banked along the Rhone river. This is a happening area at night as numerous bar/boats are filled with people drinking and eating the night away.
The last thing on the agenda before dinner was to visit Les Halles Paul Bocuse, a gastronomic food hall by the famous Lyonnaise chef – Chef Paul Bocuse. There are numerous stalls selling everything from sweets to raw shelfish. This is a must-do destination for any foodie. The main thing to get at the Sève counter or any patisserie in Lyon is the Tartes a la Praline. It’s so tasty!
For dinner, we went to the local farm-to-table restaurant called Le Bistrot du Potager in the Stalingrad neighborhood. The menu is only 35 to 45 euro for entrée, plat and dessert, a definite steal for the quality that we got. My favorite dish was the peach and haricot vert salad, which had a light citrus vinaigrette with a surprising amount of depth. The other dish that I loved was the pork with roasted eggplant with a lot of other in-season ingredients. For a neighborhood restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber and complexity of the cuisine that I typically would see at a fancier restaurant in Paris or NY at a much higher price point. This was a satisfying end to day two.
Day 3: Morning of Lazing Around in the Autumn Sun
My last day in Lyon began with another long stroll through the famous Parc de la Tete D’or, which reminded me of NYC’s Central Park. As I walked along the path dotted with falling leaves and take in the brisk autumn air, I admired the serenity that places like this offers to city dwellers. We only had an hour to explore the park as we had a lunch reservation at A La Piscine on the other side of town, so we started another 45-minute walk along the Berges du Rhone (where we were yesterday) to the restaurant. The sun was shining brightly so everyone took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to sun bathe, picnic or hang out along the river. It was a scene straight out of the Seurat painting.
A La Piscine has rotating guest chefs, who created some very interesting and innovative cuisine at an affordable price point. The outdoor seating is great during the day and that was where we sat for lunch. Entrée, plat and dessert was only 26 euro – a steal for such a feast. This is a place you come for a casual meal that just happens to be triple the price anywhere else in the world. After what seemed like a 2-hour lunch, we took our coffee (a requirement after a meal for the French), soaked in the sun and watched the merriment in the community pool below. I still can’t believe that my weekend in Lyon was over; however, it only made me want to come back and try more restaurants that this charming city has to offer. The gastronomy reputation of Lyon did not disappoint–if anything, it understates the true foodie culture that thrives here.
Check out our list of Must Do’s: The Top 10 Must Do’s in Lyon, France
Author: Chau Hoang