Lyon in Winter
I’m going to be honest with you. We chose Lyon because it’s on the way to Italy. Our plan was to try and not to spend more than three hours on a train so we picked places to stop at along the way. For the record, that’s also why we’re in Geneva (which is also magical).
After we started telling people we were going to Lyon though, we knew we had accidentally landed on a really special place. More than one person said it was their favorite place to visit in France, and some went further to say all of Europe. Since there are a ton of great places in Europe, that’s saying something.
Now I get it. After a week in Paris, just arriving in Lyon was a lovely surprise. The pace is slower, everything seems quieter and you don’t feel like you’re risking your life every time you cross the street.
So I knew I liked it before we went anywhere or talked to anyone. And then we went somewhere. And talked to people.
This time, we started our visit with the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus, which is where we learned that Lyon was founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago, because it sits at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers, making it a great shipping and transportation hub and an economic powerhouse. While it’s not as powerful as it once was, business.onlylyon.com shares: With more than 140,400 companies established and more than 16,000 jobs created per year, Lyon and its region are both the second largest economic powerhouse in France and a major decision-making centre.
While I’m happy for them that they’re strong economically, the part we cared most about was its reputation for food. Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France (some say Europe), and we were not disappointed.
We booked with Lyon Food Tour on Airbnb (these add-ons have been a lovely surprise) and spent four hours with Nathalie, who took us on a small group tour through Old Lyon. She did a fantastic job of teaching us some of the area’s history, while feeding us along the way. The tour also included hidden traboules and a stop at a silk merchant.
But the best part was the food. We stopped at a fromagerie and tasted five different kinds of cheese. All of them were delicious, even the bleu cheese, which I can’t even believe I’m saying out loud. This is where I found out that there is something to that whole happy cows thing, as different breeds of cows make different kinds of cheese, and their terroir (land) can also affect this. Let’s just say cows contributing to the cheeses Lyon were very happy indeed
Then we went to a lovely wine shop, where we got to experience wine paired with different types of cold meats AKA salami. I think I knew this, but now I do officially – charcuterie is just the meat. So here, we order charcuterie and cheese. #TheMoreYouKnow
We enjoyed a traditional French lunch of fancy pork rinds, provencal garlic soup with poached egg (I think), and pate. No French food tour is complete without chocolate, but this was extra special as it was dark chocolate and included my favorite nut – the pistachio. Our tour finished up at a coffee house, where we also got to enjoy the Lyon specialty – praline pie. I thought I was too full for that, so I opted for just a taste, which turned into many tastes. Because Oh my God.
In case you’re wondering if I’m just too easy to please (which I am), you should know that there are 92 Michelin-rated restaurants in Lyon, and we walked past three of them on our tour.
And that was just one day. Let’s just say it’s good we’re walking everywhere.
In the five block radius from our apartment, there were four to five restaurants, cafes or wine bars on every block.
And every single one we stopped at was delicious. Every single one.
We did find a lovely little café, Benoit, whose owner, Terry, encouraged us to hang out and work. A block away was a falafel place, where we were also allowed to spend time. So many choices. So much deliciousness
Clay loves coffee. I mean he really loves coffee, so when I saw the Personalized Coffee Class on Airbnb, I hit that link. And what a delightful experience with our guides Virginia and Marie, in our small class of seven.
Afterward, Virginia recommended Creperie Marie Morgane for lunch, and even called to make our reservation for us. It’s good she did as that place was packed with people enjoying crepes and galettes.
Crêpes are often topped with sweet condiments i.e. caramel, cream, chocolate and fresh fruits. It is often served as a dessert, which explains why it is smaller compared to its savory counterpart. Galettes are typically savory and made using gluten-free buckwheat flour as opposed to regular flouR.
Comedians Speaking French
Because we weren’t able to get tickets to Moulin Rouge in Paris, we decided to go to Le Lyon Rouge for dinner and a show on Valentine’s day. You probably won’t be surprised to know that the food was amazing, especially the cheese stacked potatoes (I can’t find what they’re officially called). The entertainment was a variety show, with a comedian, magicians, dancers and singers. It was interesting sitting in a full house, watching performers perform and not understanding a word they said. We still knew when to laugh and when to clap though.
More Museums. More History.
With our jobs in printing and advertising, we could not pass up a visit to the Lyon Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication. The Museum, which is housed in a 15th century building, includes some of the world’s oldest printing presses and printed pieces, as well as a look at how advertising and graphic design have evolved and influenced throughout history. But you don’t have to work in this field to find this museum fascinating. ThisIsLyon.fr shares: The museum was founded by master Lyonnais printer Maurice Audin in 1964. It began as a printing museum and added graphic communication in 2014 as its collection grew. Lyon has a storied history in the printing industry. Many of its streets are named after famous printers like Sébastien Gryphe and Barthélémy Buyer. During World War II, Lyon was a stronghold for the French Resistance and its printers produced many Resistance newspapers.
Related: Running in Lyon
As it was mandatory that we visit the print and graphic design museum, it was also mandatory that we visit the Musée Cinéma & Miniature Lyon. Founded by artist Dan Ohlmann, the Museum is chock full of 450 movie props from all over the world. The top two floors are dedicated to 120 intricate miniature sets. Seriously – look at that photo and remember that it’s not a real grocery store or opera house.
Unfortunately, Musée Lumière is closed for construction through April, so we’ll have to save that for another time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Lumiere brothers, who called Lyon home, were the fathers of modern day movies. They invented the cinématographe, which could record, develop, and project film. NationalGeographic.com shares: Their Cinématographe introduced a crucial innovation: By projecting moving images onto a large screen, it created a new, shared experience of cinema. The first “movies” were born.
We spent our last full day in Lyon at the Musee de Beaux-Arts of Lyon, which Lyon.fr describes: The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon is located in the heart of the historic city center, in the buildings of a former royal abbey from the 17th century: the Abbey of the Ladies of Saint-Pierre.
Before being a general Fine Arts museum, the Lyon Fine Arts museum was in particular a place of learning for the designers employed by the Lyon factory. Open to the public since 1803 and completely renovated in 1998, the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon offers one of the largest collections of works of art in Europe. While there, we were able to experience a special exhibit, Last days: Poussin and love, where we learned: “The artist is still considered the master of the French classical school, the archetype of the painter-philosopher. He also devoted himself to the pure pleasure of painting, deploying the most licentious iconography, and that some of his paintings were considered so erotic that they were mutilated, cut up, even destroyed, from the 17th century.”
And then it was time to say goodbye to this lovely city, so we headed to the train station. While standing in line at the sandwich shop, I saw a box of macaroons and since we were leaving France, I had to buy them. Sorry to be repetitive, but Oh my God. I’ve had macaroons before, but never like this. They were so light and tasty, and not as sweet as I’ve experienced before. My intent was for them to last us through our visit to Geneva, but I feel like that’s not going to happen.
Okay, bottom line. Visit this magical city, walk everywhere and eat all the food!
If you’re planning to explore Lyon, consider using our handy-dandy scavenger hunt.