Lyon


by Johnny Lucas


A large serving of the best of France

The Lyonnaise are so proud of their cuisine that you'd think that they had invented food. Paper money and movies were invented in Lyon, but in this city, food is much more important than money, and dining is the preferred form of entertainment.

There are more Michelin starred restaurants per square kilometre in Lyon than anywhere else in the world. An evening at one of the few Grands Restaurants such as Restaurant Paul Bocuse, should be regarded as a pilgrimage: reservations are required as is a significant portion of your holiday budget.

Lyon's numerous Restaurants Classiques are a big step down in price, but not in quality. They serve a more limited menu of the best of traditional cuisine. The Restaurants de Quartier are even more plentiful. These friendly establishments are primarily for their regular local clientele, but a good appetite and an appreciation for great food will win you a welcome as memorable as their home cooking.

One specialty, saucisse de Lyon, a fresh, boiled sausage in which the fine meat is mixed with pistachios, has so many different versions that you could spend an entire visit just comparing them. A good start would be a lunch at the Bristrot de Lyon. A carafe of Beaujolais or Côte de Rhône - the local wines - to go with it will set you back about the same price as a cola.

The only food-related item you'll miss in Lyon may be your own kitchen. Walk up to the market on top of the Croix-Rousse and pretend that you're shopping. The view of the old city is breathtaking, as is the view of the abundance of edibles.

Old Lyon is a pedestrian area. A long wander among the 24 hectares of Renaissance architecture - the largest such intact quartier in Europe outside Venice - will help to wear off some of the fine cooking. The golden stones of the old town speak of a long history of commerce and enjoyment.

Even older are the Roman theatre on Fourvière Hill and the remains of the Temple of Cybele. The Basilica holding the remains of St. Joseph is a relative latecomer to this vantage point which has been at the centre of life in Lyon for at least 2,000 years.

The textile industry was the most recent to leave its mark of prosperity on the old city. Lyon was Europe's "silk capitol", making itself prosperous weaving and selling silks which were grown in Provence, the region to the south.

In ancient times, Fourvière Hill, dominating the confluence of the Saone and Rhône, was an extremely strategic site. Today, Lyon is a strategic site for the vacationer who wants to avoid the congestion of Paris and make a quick and easy entry into the south or east of France.

Lyon's Satolas Airport has its own TGV station (that's Train de Grand Vitesse - Train of High Speed) and the road network around Lyon makes it easy to get to Provence, Beaujolais, Burgundy or into the French Alps in a few hours.

Provence is famous for its leisurely way of life, for its sunshine and for its colours. No one appreciated Provence's colours more than Vincent van Gogh, who worked and died in this part of France. In a letter to his brother he wrote: Essentially the colour is exquisite here. When the green leaves are fresh, it is a rich green, the like of which we seldom see in the North. When it gets scorched and dusty, it does not lose its beauty, for then the landscape gets tones of gold .... And this combined with the blue - for the deepest royal blue of the water to the blue of the forget-me-nots, cobalt, particularly clear, bright blue - green-blue and violet-blue.

If you've seen a Van Gogh sunflower, you've seen something of Provence. His time in and around Arles has given the warmth of the region to people all around the world even those who have never set foot in France, and given others a reason to go south from Lyon into Provence.

To the north is Burgundy. A drive through this province is like a tour of a wine list: Chablis, Beaujolais and the Côte d'Or are Burgundy's best known districts. Around the wine capital of Beaune, the tiny size of vineyards such as Volnay, Pommard, Meursault, Auxey-Duresses, Savigny, and St. Romain is completely out of proportion to their vast fame. The Côte d'Or, the strip of land that follows the contours of the Burgundy's valleys is at heart of the region, and its wines. The Côte is where the best grapes grow. The combination of the angle of exposure to the sun, drainage and soil characteristics, and a few thousand years of experience produce the great Burgundian wines. The vineyards of the Côte d'Or occupy some of the most expensive real estate in Europe.

The land is so valuable that it's worth more as vineyards than as building lots, so new construction is rare and the appearance of much of the Burgundian countryside is just as it has been for centuries. Carefully managed vineyards lead up to hidden châteaux, little villages which have retained their medieval character shelter behind limestone hills.

Minutes from the famous vineyards, the perfectly picturesque villages, the endless wine tastings, and just a few steps from the main square of Beaune with its ancient Hospice proudly showing off its coloured roof tiles, is a TGV station. The fast train or the freeway will get you back to Lyon's airport much more quickly than you will want to leave. You might even find the time for another great meal in Lyon.

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Page maintained by Johnny Lucas, Travel@JohnnyLucas.com. © J.P.Lucas. Created: June 24, 1996 Updated: January 19, 1997