It’s hard not to think of pink in Lyon.
Behind the windows of the city’s many cafes, patisseries and confectioneries, bright pink confectionery winks to draw your attention. The traditional almond sugar praline is a local delicacy that varies in hues from bright coral and fuchsia to deep red. Popular as a topping for almonds, swirled through fluffy brioches, and as a rich, gooey filling for rose tart aux pralines, it’s the city’s signature dessert.
The color variations are considerable, explains Anne-Claire Rigaud of Violette & Berlingo, her charming old-world candy shop where she’s been selling traditional French sweets for more than 15 years. “The lighter colored praline you see everywhere uses artificial coloring and isn’t as good. Always choose the lighter, more natural-looking color,” she emphasizes with a smile.
Lined with jars of handmade sweets, liquorice, chocolate and sugared almonds, their famous shop in the Passage de l’Argue, a historic passage in the heart of Lyon, is a magnet for locals and tourists alike. In a city with more than 4,000 restaurants and nicknamed the culinary capital of France, food is on everyone’s lips in Lyon.
In an unexpected twist, the local artisanal sweets Rigaud has chosen for us to sample reveal some of the colorful history of France’s third largest city. There are Cocons de Lyon, hazelnut pralines wrapped in marzipan, and candied orange peel, which nod to the silkworm cocoons from the city’s once-famous silk industry. The famous Pralines Rouges, pink candied almonds created by a Lyon chef in the 18th century, and les Petits Pavés de Lyon, crunchy hazelnut pralines shaped like the cobbled streets of the old town.
It was the Romans who first saw the potential of the region and settled on the slopes of Fourvière, high above the confluence of the Rhône and Saône where Lyon is today. With the founding of Lugdunum in 43 BC. For centuries BC, the great city became an important outpost of the Roman Empire.
Visitors who walk up Fourvière from Vieux-Lyon today, or take the high-speed funicular ride, are rewarded with an unexpected slice of ancient Roman civilization atop Lyon’s oldest hill. Nestled in its crest sits an impressive amphitheater and a smaller odeon that have long been hidden. Excavated in the 20th century, these Roman ruins are free for visitors to explore. The larger theater was dedicated to theatrical performances and could seat up to 10,000 spectators, and the Lugdunum Museum, cleverly hidden beneath, houses a collection of locally found Roman artefacts.
Fourvière is one of the best places to see the city, attracting as many believers as history buffs. Here, the monumental Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière shines like a beacon over the city. The 19th-century architecture and interiors are an eclectic mix of Byzantine, Gothic, and Romanesque styles that somehow works.
A path descends from Fourvière through the leafy Le Jardin du Rosaire, offering glimpses of the heart of the city, with its rows of manicured roofs and pastel-colored facades neatly separated by the Rhône and Saône. Emerging in historic Vieux-Lyon on the west bank of the Saône, you’ll find yourself in a vibrant maze of narrow cobbled streets and historic buildings interspersed with lively cafes, bars and restaurants.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Vieux-Lyon overlooks Presqu’ile and is situated on a small peninsula between the two rivers. As well as Place Bellecour, one of France’s largest public squares, it is also home to the monumental Hôtel-Dieu, which served as the city’s main hospital for 800 years. One of the most imposing buildings in the city, its 375m facade now houses Lyon’s newest shopping complex and quite a nice hotel.
With one in three Lyonnais born in this historic monument, the Hôtel-Dieu’s restoration had to win the hearts of locals and international visitors alike. The crowds at the bar of the InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu on a Saturday night suggest that it has hit the mark, with the stunning interior and 32m high dome, one of the reasons Le Dôme cocktail bar has been named the best hotel bar in the 2021 world was chosen. Come for the drinks and stay for the attitude.
However, it would be rude to pretend that we came to Lyon for his story. We were here to feast on the many riches that draw the world’s greatest chefs on culinary pilgrimages. A guided food tour began our visit before we took off the stabilizers and indulged in a shameless food frenzy.
We’ve feasted at bouchons – rustic, casual bistros offering their delicious menus of hearty traditional fare on every street corner. Bouchons, which emerged as inns for silk workers in the 17th and 18th centuries, mark the beginning of Lyon’s rise to gastronomic fame. Served are the same time-honoured classics – pâté en croute, pike soufflé quenelles, saucisson brioche and cervelle de canut (a garlic-herb-flavored soft cheese somewhat unappetisingly translated as silk weaver brain), tripe, liver and sausages – they’re cheap, do it Fun and the lifeblood of Lyon’s food scene.
The city is also dotted with gourmet temples, including many from Lyon’s most famous son, Paul Bocuse, his gastronomic godfather and ambassador of modern French cuisine. You’ll also find colorful food markets throughout the city, but don’t leave without a visit to Les Halles de Lyon — Paul Bocuse. Don’t just come here to shop, advises chef Michel Roux Jr., come here to eat.
We made the mistake of arriving after a hearty breakfast. So, while we didn’t eat at Les Halles, we shared something even better there: a conspiratorial promise to return soon and an apology for waiting so long to discover this fabulous, underrated city. Please accept our apologies, Lyon.
If you know, you know.
Do not miss
Take your time to get lost in the traboules, Lyon’s covered secret passages. Some were used centuries ago by Canut silk workers as shortcuts between workshops and textile merchants. Many are open to the public and are signposted for self-navigation.
Aer Lingus flies daily from Dublin to Lyon. One-way fares start at around €40; aerlingus.com
Jillian was a guest at the InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu, where prices start at €235 per night. She rates the breakfast here as the best she has ever had in any hotel in the world). lyon.intercontinental.com
For more things to do (and eat) in Lyon, see de.lyon-france.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/europe/eat-drink-lyon-exploring-the-foodie-capital-of-france-41403769.html Eat, drink, Lyon: explore the foodie capital of France