Our next adventure was to be found in Lyon, about a 5-hour drive from the Loire Valley. We set off early and planned to take the back roads to Lyon, which tacked on about two hours, but also saved us about 45 euro from what we would have spent on the exorbitantly expensive French motorway. (Seriously – if you have the time, avoid France’s toll roads. They are ridiculously expensive. They do save you a lot of time, but are severely overpriced). Aside from frugality, we were also simply excited to just experience the countryside. So that’s exactly what we did!
Approximately one hour into our journey, we spotted a sign that advertised a chateau and a quaint French village called Palluau just 3km off the road. We decided, why not – after all, how often are we driving the French countryside? Little did we know, but Palluau is so small that it barely has a Wikipedia entry and is home to just barely 1,000 residents. And on this Sunday in August, we encountered exactly zero of them. Seriously. We didn’t see anyone in the whole town. It was a bit eerie. We stopped for a quick look at the castle, and then we were on our way.
We spent a good part of the day Sunday-driving down to Lyon, taking our time to see the sights and meander around the French countryside. Upon our arrival, we discovered the city that is considered by many to be the gastronomic capital not only of France, but the entire world. This city of just under 500,000 (France’s third largest) is located on the Rhone and Saone Rivers, and boasts the highest number of restaurants per square mile of any city in France.
We stayed in the Old Town (Vieux Lyon), which we found to be quite charming. It was not overly crowded with tourists, even in August, as Lyon is a little more off the beaten path for casual travelers than say, Paris or Nice.
The entire Old Town was filled with “bouchon” restaurants that offered traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Cuisine in Lyon revolves largely around meat, and can sometimes include styles and cuts that you’re probably not used to. Here are some things you may find on a menu at a bouchon:
- Tripe soup
- Pork head cheese (made from pig’s head)
- Chicken thigh stuffed with mushroom
- Andouillette (pork stuffed with chittlins, or small intestine)
- Artichoke thistle served in bone marrow
So as you can see, a Lyonnais meal is not going to compare to your average visit to an Outback Steakhouse. Yes, steaks can be ordered, but if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try some of the Lyonnaise cuisine?
We went for a delicious three-course lunch at Un, Deux, Trois in the Old Town.
The Lyonnaise salad was outstanding (and very filling). It featured huge hunks of fatty bacon pieces and a poached egg on top. This could have been a meal unto itself:
We did have a steak, but we also enjoyed a traditional Lyonnaise chitterling sausage. Both were quite tasty.
If you’re looking to go for an upscale dining experience, there are plenty of those to be had in Lyon, as you can enjoy a 165-euro menu at 3-Michelin starred Paul Bocuse. We enjoyed the food at the much more affordable Un, Deux, Trois, with a la carte options available and the three-course menu for 26 euro.
Lyon is also a must for Roman history buffs. In the first century B.C.E., the Romans chose the hill of Fourvière, overlooking Lyon, to be the capital of their province of Gaul. Today, you can still visit Roman ruins in the Old Town, including the Fourvière amphitheaters, which date back to approximately 117 A.D. under the Emperor Hadrian. You can get to these sites by either walking up from the Old Town (a steep road or a series of steps) or by taking the funicular.
You can also visit a smaller Roman ruin in the heart of the Old Town.
The most recognizable building in Lyon, Basilique de Fourvière, is also perched atop the hill above the Old Town.
Another unique aspect of Lyon is its series of interconnecting traboules. A traboule is a narrow passageway that cuts through or underneath buildings in the city that enable someone to quickly move through the city without having to navigate the streets. These secret passageways allowed merchants in Lyon to quickly move their wares from place to place, as there are few streets in Vieux Lyon that run perpendicular to the river. The traboules also prevented the Germans from fully occupying the city of Lyon during their siege in World War II. Residents would hide in the traboules, unbeknownst to the occupying Nazis. Naturally, this was right up Jolyn’s alley (secret passageways, not fascism…and yes, pun intended). The traboules require a bit of work to find, as they are hidden behind doors that look like ordinary apartment entrances (and are mostly locked like ordinary apartment entrances, as well). In order to protect the tradition, however, some traboules have been left accessible to the public by the city. All you need to do is ring one of the bells, and one of the residents will allow you to access their traboule. One of the main traboules is found between 54 Rue Saint-Jean and 27 Rue de Boeuf, which we explored.
If we had more time in Lyon, we definitely would have done some more digging and found more of these secret alleys.
Overall, Lyon is abundant in cultural riches and easily accessible. It has a strictly French vibe (menus are typically all in French, and little English is spoken) and more of a down-home feel than its larger northern neighbor, Paris. We loved our time there, and could really see ourselves fitting in a place like Lyon.