Lyon in 24 hours

All has been quiet on the blogging front and I apologize for the backlog of posts simmering in my head. Ever since I hopped on a plane four weeks ago, my life has been in various states of disarray. I flew from Sydney to New York, back to San Francisco, then to France, and am now back in San Francisco. Sometime between this tangle of time zones,  I managed a short diversion to Lyon, on the tail end of a one week immersion in P&G’s Associate Brand Manager College in Divonne, France. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to see, eat and do Lyon in an impacted 36 hours, but here’s my guide on how to do it in 24.

Spent a week training with P&G's finest in Divonne, France

Spent a week training with P&G’s finest in Divonne, France

Check into an Airbnb in Vieux Lyon

While the area is touristy, it makes for an atmospheric stay, right along the river, and within walking distance of most or all Lyon’s attractions (depending on your propensity for walking). While Presqu’île in the center of the city is the more convenient choice, the ambiance of Vieux Lyon more than  the 10 minute walk. Airbnb is wonderfully affordable in Europe and there are definitely gems to be had. I love the design and layout of my studio, but unfortunately it was on top of a night club.

I splurged on a spacious studio at the heart of Vieux Lyon. The location was great, but little did I know that I was staying above a night club.

Savor a pink praline pastry for breakfast

I found the color of these baked treats off-putting, but was pleasantly surprised to find the sweetness of the pralines to be subtle. I tried a pink praline brioche and while I can’t say that they’re any better than plain brioche, they are a specialty of the region. In Vieux Lyon, you can visit Boulangerie du Palais Bakery, or walk further afield to Pignol.

Enjoy a petit dejeuner of pink pralines, a Lyonnaise specialty

Enjoy a petit dejeuner of pink pralines, a Lyonnaise specialty

Catch the Astronomical Clock at the top of the hour at the Cathédrale Saint Jean-Baptiste

A beautiful church inside, set behind a large square outside. It’s fun to watch the angels rotate with the Astronomical Clock.

Orient yourself with panoramic views of the city from Fourvière

From Vieux Lyon, take the Funiculaire to Fourvière Hill. If it weren’t so hot, I would’ve enjoyed the 20 minute trek uphill, but then I’d have missed out on the wonderfully retro and romantic French equivalent of a cable car. At the top, visit the Basilica, take in the views of Lyon, and then take a short stroll over to the Roman theatre. From the theatre, a second funiculaire will transport you back to Vieux Lyon.

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The ruins of the Roman amphitheatre

The view of Croix-Rousse from Fouviere Hill

The view of Croix-Rousse from Fouviere Hill

The world’s best chocolate at Bernachon

I was disappointed with the pastries in Lyon, but luckily stumbled upon Bernachon, where I had some of the best chocolate of my life. I bought a 300g box of their signature pastel d’or and two bars. According to David Lebovitz, “They’re both a chocolate-maker and chocolatiers, meaning that they don’t just buy chocolate and melt it down (fondeurs, or ‘melters‘, in French), but they roast and grind the beans and make the bars themselves.” Their chocolates “have been made with the finest cacaos in the world,” and certainly the finest cacao that my palette has ever tasted–smoky and smooth and absolutely ethereal. Check here for my post on Bernachon.

On my way to Bernachon

On my way to Bernachon

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Eat like a local at Marché Croix-Rousse 

Make your way to the Croix-Rousse metro stop on a weekend and you will find the streets packed with vendors selling poulet roti, anything you may need for a picnic, vintage clothes, and all manners of chotskes and souvenirs. While you could stop in a Paul Bocuse’s Les Halles for your provisions, the open air market at Croix-Rousse will get you similar groceries at a fraction of the price. Alternatively, you could also visit the Marché Saint Antoine along the river in Presqu’île. Make sure to pick up some Saint Marcellin cheese, which is the specialty of the region.

A tale of two markets--Les Halles at the top, and Saint Antoine beneath.

A tale of two markets–Les Halles at the top, and Saint Antoine beneath.

I prefer my Saint Marcellin sans pretention. At the left, you have a fromagerie at Les Halles. At the right, homemade Saint Marcellin from the Marche Saint Antoine.

I prefer my Saint Marcellin sans pretention. At the left, you have a fromagerie at Les Halles. At the right, homemade Saint Marcellin from the Marche Saint Antoine.

On a scavenger hunt for traboules in Croix-Rousse

Follow the blue lions on your journey through Lyon’s back alleys, closed doors, and private courtyards. The traboules are preserved from Lyon’s history as a silk centre, when merchants used the passageways to transport goods. Check out my post and map on the traboules for more info. There’s a weekly tour that’s run by the Lyon Tourist Board that  leaves in the morning, though I’d recommend visiting in the afternoon when the Croix-Rousse boutiques and art galleries are open.

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Follow the little blue lions into dark hallways and back alleys.

A view of a famous traboule in Croix-Rousse

A view of a famous traboule in Croix-Rousse

If you’ve still got  daylight hours and energy, visit the Jardins de Rosa Mir

Just north of Croix-Rousse, these gardens are the best kind of kitsch. I didn’t get a chance to go myself, but would’ve liked to!

Have the foresight to make a reservation at L’Ourson Qui Boit

I’m convinced that fusing Japanese with any other cuisine will instantly elevate a dining experience, especially when food falls on the heavier side. This largely reflects my own bias towards more delicate, balanced flavors. After calling unsuccessfully for two days, I dropped in at lunchtime on the off chance that they’d have a table for one. No such luck this time, but I’ll make sure to call in advance for a dinner booking the next time I’m in Lyon. According to my Visa Signature Concierge, “I checked the Michelin reviews and people were saying that the restaurant is a small mom and pop shop, so they don’t have a receptionist.” So make sure to be persistent and call often, or better yet, have the Visa Signature Concierge take care of it for you (the service is exceptional. A post on this is coming soon).

Alternative dinner options in Lyon

Lyon is meant to be the gastronomic heart of France. I equate Lyonnaise cuisine to the soul food of France–rich and robust, but with the refinement French technique and ingredients. Honestly, the food was too decadent for my palette, but if you’re a fan of offal, this is probably the best place for it.

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Saucisson en brioche from Le Nord, a Paul Bocuse bouchon

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Salade Lyonnaise with a poached egg and juicy bacon bits + Quenelle, a kind of steamed fish souffle

Wander Presquil

I thought that maybe Croix-Rousse would have some edgy nightlight–nightlife there wasn’t, edge there was. Instead, the churches and landmarks in Presqu’île are illuminated in the evenings, making for a great digestion stroll home.

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The Cathedrale St Jean at dusk

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