Sadly, we’ve come to the last instalment in my France travel series. It’s nearly impossible for me to choose a favourite part of our trip, but Lyon truly stole my heart.
Although I’m comfortable enough to call France home, I had never before visited Lyon. It was not at the top of my list, and I think because we arrived with no expectations, what we did experience was absolutely magical. Our main reason for visiting the city was due to the semi-final tickets we had for the 2016 Eurocup, but we booked a few extra days to explore.
We arrived by car, and easily found our way to the hotel (I say “easily” in comparison to driving in Paris!). We had booked the hotel MONTHS before, because I knew that the city would be full-up with soccer fans. Even so, when we did begin to research hotels our options were extremely limited. We ended up reserving the #3-rated hotel in all of the city – the Okko Hotel Pont Lafayette. I loooooved it!! The outside façade was a beautifully preserved old building, but the interior was completely renovated with modern amenities.
The lobby included a “lounge” for guests, open at all hours. The decor reminded me of the Drake Hotel (hipster-y furniture, bookshelves with actual books that guests could borrow, Apple computers at workstations with pads of paper and branded pencils), and Azim’s favourite part was the accessible dining area. Wine, beer, and coffee beverages were complimentary, and they always had snacks out. Breakfast was also complimentary, and delicious. I felt totally at home at all times during our stay!
The room itself was spacious – but the bathroom was BIZARRE. I would describe it as a glass cube in the room, with wooden slats down the sides for “modesty”, instead of walls. You could still totally see in, so there was zero privacy. Also, in order to get to the sink/toilet, you would have to walk THROUGH the shower area. I wasn’t a fan of the set-up, but it was a small inconvenience in comparison to what the rest of the hotel had to offer. I think if you were to book a room there, it would have to be with someone you’re completely comfortable with!
One last thing I’ll mention – the view. The view from our room of the river Rhône was spectacular. I felt like I was in a movie every time I threw the shutters open!
The first thing we did that evening was visit a bouchon. Bouchons are sort of like pubs/homey restaurants that serve traditional Lyonnaise dishes, such as lentils, sausages, fish in sauce, potatoes, and roast pork. Hearty, “stick to your ribs” type of cuisine :). A quick history of the Lyonnaise bouchon (written down from memory, from what my tour guide told me): these little restaurants came about in the 17th/18th century when silk was the main commodity in Lyon. Silk workers, who were treated as sweat-shop slaves, often worked 20-hour days, and made next to nothing in terms of wages. The wives of some of these workers started to open small restaurants where they could cook homemade meals, and serve them at a low price. That’s why the traditional bouchon dishes should taste like “home-cooking” – that’s how they started out!
Bouchons are now taken very seriously in the city of Lyon. So as to preserve tradition, a committee called Les Bouchons Lyonnais, actually awards certification to those bouchons they deem authentic. Azim and I visited several, but my two favourites were:
This bouchon is located between the old part of the city and the Croix-Rousse district. It possesses a lot of charm, and is run by a team of women. Three women were hustling around the restaurant, serving, hosting, and cooking, when Azim and I arrived. The menu is entirely in French, and the women speak very little English – I know this puts off a lot of North American tourists, but I personally love it. The only difficulty with this was when it came to strange menu items that we had never seen before. Our server helpfully pointed to different parts of her body to explain (cow intestines! yum!). Azim had quenelle, a traditional creamy fish dish……….I actually just took a moment there to remember how delicious it was. I have NEVER seen it on a menu on this side of the world! I had a steak and fried potatoes, and felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Our meal came with pork terrine and lentil salad, cooked simply, but perfectly. All accompanied by wine from the region, bîen sur!
Don’t leave Lyon without eating here, or you will not truly have visited Lyon. Our concierge made us a reservation – again highly suggested. There were some tourists at this bouchon, but also many, many regulars. In fact, we sat next to the owner’s sister and her family!
The best part about the restaurant is that “the boss” delivers the menu. After being seated at our table and waiting for ten minutes or so, I asked the server if she would please bring us a menu, to which she haughtily replied that “the boss” was coming. I was a little perturbed, but after the boss arrived everything changed. The boss is the head owner/main chef at Le Musée. Instead of a written menu, he sits down at each table to have a conversation with the guests and let them know what’s cooking for that night. Can you believe that? He visits every guest who dines there! He sat down at our table, and immediately made us feel at home. He was so jolly, and laughed non-stop 🙂 It was a personal touch that I’ll never forget. And the food? Out of this WORLD!!!! I had pork cheeks and Azim had beef. We had the BEST Lyonnaise potatoes, and delectable chocolate mousse. We were sitting outside on the terrace, and a Eurocup match was going on during our meal, so we could see people inside the restaurant across the street either cheering or booing at the TV. Azim actually got up several times to run across the street and watch from the window! While he was doing that, the boss came over with a complimentary digestif (which I think burned my throat and stomach lining off, it was that strong haha!), and some of the other patrons and servers ran over to check the score as well. Everyone cheered together when France scored, clinking glasses and dancing in the street. It was such a lovely, friendly scene. I can’t imagine sitting on a patio in Toronto and having the same experience…
We took three tours during our stay. One was a walking tour of the old town and all the “traboules”. Lyon is famous for its traboules – the secret passageways which criss-cross the city. Originally built to transport silk and keep it safe from the elements, they were also used during the World Wars for soldiers, and now serve as handy ways to take a shortcut from one street to another. I was totally amazed by Lyon’s rich history.
The second tour we took was the electric bike tour – which I completely recommend! It was one of the best tours I’ve ever taken. The e-bikes looked just like regular bikes, but they have little motors which help to increase speed and get you up hills with little effort. We rode for several hours around the whole city, and I wasn’t the least bit tired. Our tour guide was really friendly and knowledgeable, and gave us so many cool little stories and anecdotes about each of the stops on the tour. We even finished the tour with wine and charcuterie in a little shop in the old part of town 🙂
Another highlight was our boat tour. It lasted an hour, and gave us the chance to see all the famous sites from the viewpoint of the water. After all, so much of the city’s history is based on the fact that it was a gateway for trade by boat.
The last tour I wanted to take, was a tour of the old silk factories. Unfortunately we ran out of time 🙁 but I think it would have been so interesting! Silk is no longer Lyon’s specialty, but the history and imprint the silk trade left on the city is impressive. It would have been spectacular to visit an original factory and learn more about it. A couple of the factories still produce silk in small quantities, in the same way that they did hundreds of years ago… Oh well, there’s always next time!
And of course, there was the semi-final game of Portugal vs. Wales! So many Welsh fans flocked to the city to support their team 🙂 and I decided to support them too! Azim has always been a Portugal fan, so this was a dream come true. We sat so close to the field that we were able to see the expression on Ronaldo’s face clearly when he scored! What a TREAT!! I’m not the biggest soccer fan, but it is actually really entertaining to watch it in person. Still not a big fan of watching it on TV!
Lyon is truly an incredible city – divided by two rivers (the Rhône and the Saône), with architecture dating back to Roman times, and certain areas listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. It is the gastronomical capital of France (and the world), and has the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. The numerous bridges and cobblestoned streets make the city incredibly romantic, and I’d like to go back for another getaway with my love…Lyon I’ll be counting down the days!
I’ll close with our last day in Paris. After Lyon, we had a one-night stay in Paris before flying out the next day to come home. I decided to ball out and get a super-cool hotel to end our trip with a bang 🙂 We stayed in the Hotel Da Vinci on the left bank in Saint Germain des Prés, a 5 minute walk to the Louvre! In fact, when the Mona Lisa was stolen back in 1911, the thief hid her in the building for three nights! My favourite part of the hotel was the private underground pool. You have to reserve it with the concierge, but then you have it all to yourself 😉 – talk about luxe living. The hotel also left a complimentary bottle of wine in our room, and the bed was just as heavenly as the one in Beaune… I think I have dreams about that bed.
We did a whirlwind walk of Paris, hitting up the Marais, the Champs Elysées, the Tuileries, Saint Germain des Prés, L’île St Louis, and a stroll along the Seine. We actually ate at Le Comptoir AGAIN for our last dinner, and Azim also ran to Ladurée to buy me boxes and boxes of macarons. The aim was to give most of them away as souvenirs…but I may have “taste tested” more than my fair share. We fell into bed after midnight, after standing on the Pont des Arts for half an hour, staring at the Eiffel tower and lamenting the fact that Paris is not home. One day Paris, I’ll be back!
*Sadly, we lost many of our pictures from Lyon, so most of the photos in this post are free-for-use photos I found on pexabay and google images.
Thank you so much for reading my travel series this summer! I decided to take a little break from blogging, but Azim and I will be back at it in the Fall so stay tuned 🙂 Lots of love xoxox JC