Lyon: France’s Great Undiscovered City
To many outsiders, France is synonymous with Paris. For wine lovers, France represents the heart and origin of the world’s greatest wines. However, few know much about Lyon, making it one of the greatest underappreciated and undiscovered cities in Europe.
My love of the city is probably best summed up in the following tweet:
@JustGrapesWine · Apr 4
For you pacific north westerners – Lyon is the Portland of France, just imagine what that means
The Stomach of France: Food in Lyon
Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and one of the most influential food cities in the world. Paul Bocuse has influenced countless chefs across the world and invented the now famous military discipline style of professional kitchens.
It is basically impossible to get a bad meal in the Lyon. They are also huge and great value. The number of michelin stars in the city belies the sheer QPR of dining out. French cuisine reigns supreme but there is wide variation in style. Japanese cuisine is also quite influential on many chefs in the city, though you will be hard pressed to find many pure Asian restaurants.
Service is generally very friendly and even the nicest restaurants have an unpretentious atmosphere that is part of Lyonnaise charm. Wine lists most always have excellent bottles from both Burgundy and the Northern Rhone, with a spattering of others from around France. It is, however, rare to find many non-French wines on restaurant lists.
Here are a selection of some of my favourite dining establishments (though there are many many more):
Le Gourmet de Seze (1 Michelin star)
Chez Lea (outstanding versions of Lyonaisse classics)
Substrat (grows its own mushrooms)
Palegrie (particularly interesting wine list)
Takao Takano (1 Michelin star)
Alexandrin (1 Michelin star)
But food does not end at restaurants. The sheer number of chocolate stores in the city is astounding, with one every few blocks. The bean to bar movement began in Lyon with the famous Bernachon, and there are numerous other shops that all have their own specialties. Lyon is most definitely the chocolate capital of the world.
My favourite chocolate shops are:
Food shopping is a pleasure in Lyon. The Paul Bocuse Halles de Lyon market is one of the best I’ve been to in Europe, with a full range of vendors selling charcuterie, meat, fish, cheese, etc. I also highly recommend C. Reynon, a top food shop in the Presqu’ile district of Lyon.
Beauty and History: The Vibe
Though Lyon’s wealth was built on industrialism, the centre city is a Unesco world heritage site and one of the most beautiful in France and, again hugely under-appreciated by outsiders.
The Presqu’ile is the Napoleonic heart of the city, with its neo-classical buildings, stunning public squares and fountains and numerous fashion and chocolate shops, beautiful theatres and opera houses, and one of France’s most important art museums. Vieux Lyon is filled with Renaissance corridors of tiny winding streets and important roman ruins. The Croix Rousse is the old silk-weaving district, with very steep winding streets and sweeping views of the city. Each area has a totally distinct feel and deserves hours and hours of wandering with only a minimum of tourists.
Proximity to Greatness: The Wine
Wine in Lyon is plentiful and inexpensive. Being at the crossroads of France’s greatest wine regions means you will find some of the rarest and best wines in the world at the best shops in the city. The prices are lower than anywhere in North America for these wines. The city wine lists are great sources of new and interesting small producers. Add to this the fact that day trips are possible to Beaujolais, Macon, the Cote d’Or, Condrieu, and Cote-Rotie and that a little further you will find Hermitage and Chablis, and you are in a blessed place.
For wine shops I recommend Antic Wines and Malleval.