Travel Guide: 36 Hours in Lyon, France
Lyon on the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers seems to have it all. It is known for its stunning architecture, beautiful murals, fine food (it competes with Paris as the culinary capital of France), traditional bouchons, as well as being the historic European centre of silk and the birthplace of cinema.
Lyon can be easily explored in a short visit. Here are some things you can do to enjoy your stay in this beautiful French city.
Place Bellecour and Presqu'île
Place Bellecour, is one of Europe's largest public squares and the heart of Lyon. Its is an ideal starting point for exploring the historical center of the city, Presqu'île.
Presqu'île lies between the Rhône and the Saône rivers and is home to gorgeous Haussmann-style architecture. It is a busy business and shopping district and its Rue de la République features many art galleries and boutiques, the Opera House, and Palais Saint-Pierre Museum of Fine Arts.
Vieux Lyon - Old Lyon
The narrow cobble-stoned streets of the picturesque and colorful Vieux Lyon are lined with cozy bouchons, boutiques and antique stores selling prints, paintings, silk, and jewelry.
Don't miss the narrow "traboules" -- covered passageways that run through the quarters of private houses that were once used by silk workers to transport their fabrics.
Basilica of Fourvière
The Basilica of Fourvière was built in 1896 in honor of Virgin Mary who is said to have saved the city from the Black Death that swept Europe in 1643 and has a dominant hilltop position looming over the city below.
Each year in early December, Lyon lights candles throughout the city during the Fête des Lumières or the Festival of Lights to express gratitude toward Virgin Mary.
Flanked by four octagonal towers, the Basilica is relatively plain despite its imposing size, but richly decorated and opulent inside.
You can reach the basilica by taking the steep slopes from the old town or by a funicular. The hop-on-hop-off buses also make a stop there.
Lyon's mural paintings
In Lyon walls tell stories. In the 1970s a group of students decided to bring art from the galleries to the masses. They painted the walls of some buildings around Lyon turning it into an open-air gallery.
One of the most popular murals is the Fresque des Lyonnais on the Quai St. Vincent. It is an 800-square meter painting of the most influential residents of Lyon from the the Roman Emperor Claudius, who was born in Lyon, to writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery to the Lumière brothers. Chef Paul Bocuse stands in the doorway of a typical Lyonnais bouchon, and at one of his tables inside is crime writer Frédéric Dard.
Just down the road is La Bibliothèque de la Cité, the City Library, which sits opposite a real second-hand book market on the banks of the river. Th e whole wall is covered in books and it is difficult to distinguish what is real and what is a painting, like the painted postman going to the real postbox.
Traditional Lyonnaise Cuisine
When Lyon was the center of the booming silk industry in the 19th century, hungry silk workers clustered in tiny bistros for a hearty meal. These bistros or bouchons were family-run establishments with not much style or décor, but they offered simple and inexpensive food in home-style atmosphere.
Meat, and especially offal, are the cornerstones of a traditional Lyonnais menu. Typical dishes include andouille sausage (made with pork and intestines), tripe (pig or cow’s stomach), boudin noir (blood sausage), and pear-shaped pork sausages called Jésus de Lyon (named after baby Jesus in his swaddling clothes for its shape.)
LYON'S FARMERS MARKETS
Marché Saint Antoine on the banks of the Saône river is probably one the most scenic outdoor markets in France. The views of the glistening river and passing boats, the pastel buildings of the opposite bank of the river, and the backdrop of the Basilica are spectacular. You can find delectable French delicacies and produce from local cheeses to oysters here.
Chef Paul Bocuse, the Grand Old Man of French cooking, brought worldwide recognition to the gastronomic scene in Lyon with his innovative cooking or nouvelle cuisine.
His namesake restaurant, the world-renowned "Bocuse" has had three Michelin stars since 1965 and is a must for lovers of classic French cuisine.
The restaurant is located in Collonges on the outskirts of Lyon and is an easy cab ride away. The outrageous façade with a huge neon sign compliments the gilded opulence inside.
soupe aux truffes
Bocuse's most famous dish, the decadent and luxurious truffle and foie gras soup was created in 1975 when it was served at the Élysée Palace. Since then, soupe aux truffes has been served in Bocuse's restaurant as "Soupe V.G.E" (the initials of former president of France, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing).
2 cups chicken stock
5 ounzes skinless chicken breast
3 ounzes celeriac
8 button mushrooms
3 ounzes fresh truffles
1 cup of Noilly Prat
2 ounzes cooked foie gras
9 ounzes puff pastry
WHERE TO STAY IN LYON
The Paul Bocuse theme continues in the Hotel Le Royal. The Beatles and Sophie Lauren are among past guests at this Lyon's grand dame of a boutique hotel, which dates back to 1895 and was redesigned by one of France's most celebrated interior decorators.
The hotel's elegant rooms mix vintage and modern and some overlook the Place Bellecour and the basilica in the background. The hotel's staff comes from l'Institut Paul Bocuse, a culinary arts and hotel management school.