Climb 550 Steps To Fourviere Basilica, Don't Visit on Monday, Lucy's 10 Dos and Don’t’s of Lyon

It's been a few weeks in the making and I am glad Lucy Vanel found time away from her Plum Teaching Kitchen in Lyon to offer her 10 Dos and Don’t’s on the city.

Here they are, freshly prepared.



• DO consider staying in the 1st, 2nd, or 5th arrondissements and consider a Bed & Breakfast or an apartment with a kitchen.  The atmosphere in these quartiers is much more interesting and accessible to the great shopping and cafes that this city is known for, and often apartment rentals by the week are better deals than hotels.  Even if you are not a huge cook, having a kitchen will mean you can buy cheeses, the great fresh and dried sausages Lyon is famous for, and have a chance to sample Lyon’s specialties on your own in small doses.

• DO keep your eye out for good things to sample in what is called a traiteur here.  As a rule, they are local delis that prepare all of their dishes in their own kitchens, and are often artisan charcutiers, where you can sample very good charcuterie products that are prepared in-house.  Some local traiteurs I recommend are Pignol, with a branch on Place Bellecour, Au Petit Vatel on rue Pierre-Corneille in the 6th arrondissement, and Charcuterie Bonnard on rue Grenette in the 2nd.


• DO choose a stair climb instead of hitting the fitness room at your hotel.  Lyon features some pretty amazing staircases, for example, one that goes from Gare St. Paul all the way up to the Fourviere cathedral, which has over 550 steps.  You can tackle it in about 20 minutes if you’re in reasonable shape, and be rewarded by the beautiful panoramic view of the city of Lyon with Mont Blanc in the distance on a clear day. The hills of the Croix Rousse in Lyon’s 1st arrondissement leading up to the plateau are teeming with mysterious and beautiful passages and stairwells to climb.  You can soak up a bit of history and get your blood pumping all through this neighborhood.

• DO visit Les Halles Paul Bocuse on Cours Lafayette.  This historic market has never been a wholesale market like les Halles in Paris, but since its inception has always been the place in Lyon dedicated to the very best of Lyon’s gastronomy, with boutiques and stands offering excellent variety and choices in food, as well as good examples of local specialties of Lyon. 

• DO explore an outdoor market.  The three best markets in my opinion are the Croix Rousse market on a Tuesday or a Saturday, the producers market on Place Carnot near Perrache station on Wednesday afternoons from 3:00-7:00 PM, and the St. Antoine market on on the Saone River banks on a Saturday or Sunday.  Lyon has over 40 outdoor markets, but the Croix Rousse market is larger by far than any of the others.  On Saturdays, a section of the market is reserved for organic vendors, and many local farmers sell their own vegetables, meats and cheeses at all three markets, which is really getting to the heart of what Lyon gastronomy is all about.


• DO spend time in Vieux Lyon, the area on the northern end of the 5th Arrondissement by the Saone in the morning, when the historic courtyards and tunnels called traboules are open to the public. They are open and accessible to the public during certain hours by law, because they are an important part of Lyon’s history. You can access them by pressing the button below the entry code pad, which will magically unlock the door between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and noon. Most of the historically significant passageways will have plaques with dates and figures of interest, or you can also pick up a guide to the traboules at most local booksellers or at the Office de Tourisme.  

• DO take a stroll in the streets just south of Place Bellecour (in Lyon’s 2nd arrondissement), near the metro stop Ampere Victor Hugo. It is a charming neighborhood full of little antique shops and art galleries, with some little tea house gems that serve old style French home baked goods to enjoy with your tea.

• DO reserve at one of Lyon’s Bouchons during one lunch or dinner of your stay. The atmosphere and interesting food will be a memorable part of your visit, even if there is much more to discover in Lyon’s amazing array of cafes, brasseries and bistros.

• DO save time for two bean-to-bar chocolate makers, that is chocolate makers that roast their own raw cocoa beans.  While the provenance of chocolate is important, roasting methods can create unique flavors in chocolate.  The two bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Lyon are Bernachon, with more than 65 different kinds of chocolates to choose from in Lyon’s 6th arrondissement, and Weiss (you can find a boutique on rue de Brest in Lyon’s 2nd arrondissement), a chocolate producer that has more than 150 years experience at what they do best.  


• Don’t plan a short visit to Lyon on a Monday or a Wednesday.  Timing is everything when it comes to Lyon.  On Mondays, many of the best places to shop and eat are closed, as well as the museums and local attractions.  On Monday’s Lyon’s outdoor markets don’t set up either. Even if the official hours posted say that Les Halles is open to the public on Wednesdays, at least half of the stands and boutiques at Les Halles can be shuttered down on this day.
• Don’t be fixated on the Bouchon Lyonnais as pinnacle of Lyonnais gastronomy. It is interesting and fun to eat in a Bouchon if not just for the atmosphere, and everyone should do it while they’re here (you can get a list from the Office de Tourisme, or look in local guide books for lists), but there is much much more to discover in the food scene here.

• Don’t try to fit too many programmed activities into your visit at once.  Part of the charm of Lyon is the city itself, and you must give yourself a chance to simply explore, spend some time tasting local wines and writing postcards, and enjoying the view.

I hope you loved Luc'ys 10 do's and don'ts of Lyon as much as I did.

( * All photos copyright Lucy Vanel 2005-2013, all rights reserved)

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