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Mouthwatering Lyon

The mighty Rhône and Saône, mysterious traboules, larger-than-life murals and exquisite cuisine: iFly reporter, Iris, takes you to the best city in France.

Taste of Lyon
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Iris Profile

Text and photography
Iris van den Broek

“The product is king here,” I read on the large windows. A colossal mural of the maestro is reflected in the glass. I am standing outside of Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse: Lyon's legendary indoor market, named after world famous chef, Bocuse.

This gourmet wonderland displays the most exquisite food wares. Only the best of the best is sold here. To quote the famous words of Paul Bocuse: ‘cooking starts at the market’. Only top quality, fresh products are selected, and recipes are carefully chosen to bring out the best in each ingredient.

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Paul Bocuse

Culinary capital

Lyon is the culinary capital of France (even the Parisians don't deny this), thanks in part to monsieur Paul Bocuse himself. The flamboyant celebrity chef firmly planted Lyon on the gourmet world map. Although he passed away in 2018 at the age of 81, his legacy still fills the city far beyond the magnificent market halls.

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Bocuse opened four brasseries in town: Le Nord, Le Sud, L’Est and L’Ouest. The eateries are named after the four wind directions and each features a specifically designed menu. Sit down to a three-course dinner for only 33 euros, a fraction of what you would pay at Bocuse’s three-star restaurant, Auberge du Pont de Collonges, just outside of the city.

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Les Lyonnais

Hearty cuisine

Lyon's cuisine is quite hearty, as I discover in the evening when I dine in a classic bouchon, Les Lyonnais. Bouchons are Lyon's traditional bistros. There are plenty in the historic city centre, Vieux Lyon. You will be hard-pressed to find a bad meal anywhere (bad food seems to be simply ‘not done’), but not all bouchons have the official stamp of approval. However, Les Lyonnais, with 22 other bouchons, passed the taste test with flying colours. The blue gable with red tables looks inviting and the interior is cosy. The menu lists many classic dishes.

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    Andouillete: a sausage made with pork tripe. Gâteau de Foie de Volailles: a chicken liver cake. I decide to skip the innards and order a more mainstream dish of Oeufs Meurette des Lyonnais (poached eggs in red wine sauce) and Quenelle de Brochet (pike perch in lobster sauce). “One of Lyon's most beloved dishes,” the waiter reassures me. Both dishes are indeed delicious, especially washed down with a glass of Beaujolais, the regional wine. There is a joke that says that three rivers run through Lyon: the Rhône, the Saône and Beaujolais. Hundreds of thousands of litres of this flavourful wine flow every year through the countless bistros.

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    The food in a bouchon may be hearty and heavy, but the ambiance is far from that. You won't find any food snobs here: eating in Lyon is pure ‘joie de vivre’. I share my table with other diners, a very common practice here. And actually quite fun.

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    Villa Florentine

    The most beautiful view

    The next morning I am treated to the most gorgeous view I have ever seen from a hotel room. I see the glistening Saône below and look out over the fairy-tale rooftops of Vieux Lyon. I'm staying in the gorgeous Villa Florentine. This hotel is nestled between the impressive Notre-Dame de Fourvière, an icon of Lyon, and the Cathédrale de Saint-Jean. From 1707 to 1804, this building was home to the Congrégation des Trinitaires, which is an institute that taught young girls from poor families to take care of themselves when they turned twenty. The congregation moved away, but young women continued to live here until 1984.

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    In 1993 La Villa Florentine inaugurated its 5-star facilities. The beautiful chapel is now the reception, offering guests a majestic entry. But the real attraction is the spectacular terrace with a swimming pool and deluxe hot tub that offers sweeping views of centuries of history. I could really get used to starting my day here.

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      Vieux Lyon

      Wandering through Vieux Lyon

      After breakfast I descend the long stairs into Vieux Lyon. The medieval city centre is a maze of narrow streets, shops and restaurants. It would hardly look out of place in a Grimm fairy tale. The window displays of the many boulangeries are piled high with pralines, a typical Lyon specialty. From cakes to brioches: you will find this pink delicacy on practically every corner.

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        Secret passageways

        Lyon has a rich history in the silk industry and one fabulous remnant of the glory days of silk making are the mysterious traboules: small covered alleys that run between the streets. These secret passageways were used by the silk workers (les canuts) to quickly transport their silk from A to B without getting it wet. Instead of leading to a house, the nondescript wooden doors open onto these passageways.

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        In the main street Rue St. Jean, I randomly press the door buzzers and discover gorgeous passageways, courtyards and squares. This is a great way to explore the historic centre. The longest traboule in Vieux Lyon runs from 54 Rue St. Jean to 27 Rue du Boeuf and traverses four different buildings.

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        La Croix-Rousse

        Hub of the silk production

        I find even more traboules in La Croix-Rousse, the hill in Lyon that proudly rises between the Saône and the Rhône. This is the former domain of the silk workers. The buildings on this hill were custom-built with high ceilings to accommodate the large looms. The huge windows let in plenty of natural light. And of course, these buildings were connected by traboules.

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        A unique one is the Passage Thiaffait. Once part of the residence of Francois-Felix Thiaffait, this traboule has been transformed into a street with numerous small boutiques. This neighbourhood on the hill has an intimate, small-town feel, less hectic than the busy city below.

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        Lifelike murals

        On Croix-Rousse is the giant mural, Le Mur des Canuts. This is one of the many Trompe-l’oeils, or optical illusion murals, that decorate the city. These paintings cover entire buildings and imitate the streetscape with very realistic 3D decor. Le Mur des Canuts is the largest mural in Europe. It depicts the neighbourhood and has been updated twice since 1987, including the aging residents.

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        I descend the hill and pass La Fresque des Lyonnais along the bank of the Saône. One of the city's most famous murals, the painting depicts famous historical characters from Lyon. In the doorway of “Le Pot Beaujolais” I spot Paul Bocuse again. Above him is a portrait of the Lumière brothers, the inventors of film who were born in Lyon.

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          Chez Lucien

          A dog's welcome

          For lunch I go to Chez Lucien, which is near the Place de la Croix-Rousse. This restaurant was recommended by my taxi driver when I mentioned I was on a culinary discovery tour of Lyon. A fine example of a modern bistro, Chez Lucien calls itself a bistrotier. Here I sample typical bistro fare but with a modern twist: dorade fish with Iberico ham, asparagus with Parmesan. Of course, accompanied by a good glass of wine. This is France after all.

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          By the way, Lucien is not the owner or the chef. This restaurant is named after the dog that greets guests as they come and go and is very popular among the many regular customers.

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          Unknown, unloved

          Lyon is still largely undiscovered by tourism. This seems a bit strange considering its rich history and culinary delights. For me, and many other Dutch people, Lyon was always the mark “you had to pass” when travelling to France. I can still hear my dad when we loaded up the family car for our drive to sunny southern France, “Once we get past Lyon…”. Lyon, the bottleneck. Now I know better! I’ve discovered that this is one of the best cities in France, perhaps in all of Europe. I can't wait to return to Lyon!

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