Special to the Tribune
Lyon isn’t Paris. Oddly, that sentence can be taken from both a positive and negative point of view. If you say you’re going to Paris, people immediately think: Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Louvre. Tell them you’re going to Lyon in east-central France and, chances are, they’ll draw a blank.
So if your goal is to impress your friends, then Lyon, France’s third-largest city, may not be for you. But the long list of must-sees in Paris also means that the city abounds in throngs of bedraggled tourists staring at their maps, crossing off one attraction after the other, longing for a nap but not having a spare second to waste. Lyon, on the other hand, gives a visitor the opportunity to absorb French culture, in every sense of the word, as it’s the acknowledged capital of French cuisine.
While Paris is noted for the Seine River, Lyon has two, the Rhone and the Saone. In the middle is a thin, ten-block-wide peninsula, which is where you should stay because it allows you to walk almost anywhere you’d want to go. Not that there isn’t a very good public transportation system, but walking allows you to soak in the sights so much more deeply. Lyon is the perfect city to explore from a rental apartment rather than a hotel, so finding an apartment on that peninsula will be step one in your exploration.
On to the food
Step two is deciding where to eat. You definitely don’t want to end up in one of the touristy places in the old city. Your meal there will be okay and won’t stretch your budget. But if you’ve come to Lyon, you want to have a meal that’s memorable, such as one at La Mere Brazier, one of the oldest French restaurants, or at one of those founded by the noted chef Paul Bocuse, such as Le Nord or Le Sud. And because the tourists are fewer, reservations don’t need to be made months in advance as they often must be in Paris.
And speaking of Mr. Bocuse, there’s a food market with his name on it called Les Halles de Bocuse. Inside you’ll find an enticing selection of the best French food delicacies, including over a hundred types of French cheeses, a wide variety of charcuterie (French pork products), unbelievable pastries (you have to have some macaroons!), and all sorts of salads.
You don’t want to just gaze at these—you want to buy a sample from this dealer and that one and take it back to your apartment and have yourself a feast. And don’t forget to stop for a bottle of French wine. You can pick one up at a local supermarket; for under $15 you can get a bottle that will perfectly complement your French picnic.
Meandering is best
Besides the winding medieval streets of the old town, Lyon invites you to spend your time being a flanneur, one who walks casually along soaking in the atmosphere. Look more closely at the architecture of the buildings around you, noting the detail that goes into every building. You may spot a traboule, a passageway through several buildings that was made back when Lyon was a center for producing and weaving silk during the nineteenth century. Check out the shop windows, which allow you to see into French culture. Visit some art galleries. Study the faces of the passers-by.
The French call window shopping “window licking,” and after a couple of days strolling along the streets of Lyon, you’ll have a real feel for this wonderful city and discover that this window into France is one well-worth “licking.”