I’m planning our family vacation for 2016 and realized that I didn’t post about our 2015 vacation to France (Lyon, Provence & Nice). I was a bit overwhelmed to post since I took so many pictures and it was hard to narrow down to just a few. But I had to share some of our travel adventures with you. I hope you enjoy this series of travel pictures.
I’ve heard the saying…”If Paris is the heart of France, then Lyon is the stomach.” But after visiting Lyon for only three days this past September, Lyon truly has my heart and stomach!
Charlie and I absolutely fell in love with the city. We really didn’t know what to expect when we got there. Would Lyon be like Paris? Would Lyon be more rustic? How would the people be? Would the food really be that good? In just three short days, the city blew us away. To be honest, three days was just too short. We didn’t even get to venture out to the other side of the Rhone River or the Confluence district. Looking back, I wished we stayed longer but I guess that would only mean that Lyon would be in our future travel plans.
Lyon was the first city on our 10 day vacation to France for my 40th birthday celebration. I know Paris gets all the glory when people want to travel to France. Lyon seems to be like France’s second city, very similar to how I feel about Chicago. It may not be on a lot people’s cities to visit but when you do, you are so glad you did. Ever since coming back, I cannot stop raving about our experience there. I really did feel at home in Lyon and can truly imagine myself living there (hopefully one day that will happen). So in the meantime, I’m sharing my top 5 reasons to visit Lyon, which are also my top 5 reasons to return.
1. The People
The one thing that can make or break the trip is the people. The people of Lyon were so nice to us. We felt welcomed everywhere we went, from the shopkeepers to the waiters to just random people when we were asking for directions. Maybe we ran into the right people or maybe the city is like this in general. Whatever the case, we sensed that the people of Lyon were proud of their city, especially proud of the gastronomy.
When we checked into the Hotel Carlton, we were given a room that faced another building under construction. The bellhop sensed that I was unhappy. I was hoping to get a room with a view. He went out of his way to see if we could get a better room. But Charlie insisted that the room we had was fine and that we didn’t want to switch rooms. I agreed. When we went downstairs later that evening, the hotel staff apologized but at that point, I was over it and thanked them for being so thoughtful.
While shopping one day, I got into a discussion with a shopkeeper. I told her how much I loved Lyon and that I couldn’t help but compare Lyon to Paris. She then told me that Paris is Paris. That people live in Lyon to live and eat. Paris is a big city that can sometimes cater to tourists. Since gastronomy is so important to Lyon, the restaurants serve food for the people of Lyon, not tourists. So essentially, we are eating what everyone eats, not food that they think we will like. For some reason, that really resonated with me because my dining experience was the same as the residents who live there.
2. The Food
I think it was Anthony Bourdain that said something similar to this – People who plan trips to see the sights and not plan where to eat are missing out on the best part of the trip. I have to admit that I was too busy planning the logistics of the trip that I failed to do research on the best places to eat in the city. I figured I could rely on the hotel staff to let me know where locals eat or ask random strangers. Although the unpredictable nature of this is fun at times, I also like to know where we are going. Have a plan.
Bacon and poached eggs? Why yes, please! I’ve always heard of the Lyonnaise salad but never enjoyed it as much as I did in Lyon. The above salad was eaten at a restaurant in Vieux Lyon. I’ve been trying to replicate it back home but whatever I have made does not taste the same. So, if you’re ever in Lyon, I suggest you order the salad there. Trust me…
Our first night in Lyon, we wanted to eat something casual, so we walked to a what we thought was a casual restaurant (that appeared touristy), sat outside and watched the people go by. I ordered the duck dish and Charlie ordered a sausage dish. Luke was fast asleep in his stroller because of the time change. When the dishes were served, Charlie and I kept telling each how good our food was, especially how our meat dishes were cooked to perfection — all this at a casual restaurant?! I mean, my duck was so tender. So, I went back to our hotel room that night looking up more restaurants to try…and wished I had done my research ahead of time but hoping the rest of our meals would be this good, if not better.
When I posted on Facebook that we were in Lyon, another blogger friend of mine (Defining Tabitha) insisted that we had to go to Le Musee (TripAdvisor link, I don’t think the restaurant has a website) which was a true Bouchon experience. We walked up to this small little restaurant, knocked on the door (which happened to be the door to the kitchen), a young cook came out, and we asked him if we could make reservations for the next day to eat there. He told us that they were booked for dinner for the entire week but had availability for lunch the next day. I found it so charming that he came back with a book/ledger and had handwritten our reservation down on this old-school reservation book.
So the next day, we were at Le Musee promptly at noon and found the front door. We were one of the first people in the restaurant but it didn’t take long for the restaurant to fill up. The interior is what I always imagined a bouchon to look like. The waiter or owner or chef (I’m not sure) came to our table and asked if we spoke French. To which replied “no.” He said that he spoke some English but would try to help us with the menu. He looked at Luke and said something like “bebe, no worry, I buy.” I thanked him and asked for the menu. He said the menu was in his head and written on his little sheet of paper he was carrying. I knew at that point we were in trouble. I started looking around to see what other people were eating.
But here comes the best part — the way he was explaining the menu just made me so excited about the food. I had no idea what he was saying but wanted to order everything he was saying. Because I loved eating duck, I thought he said “canard” so I ordered it. When the dish came out it was a souffle in lobster sauce. No where close to looking like duck. It turned out I had ordered a dish that was the quenelle, which was a Lyonnaise dish that could only be found in Lyon!!! This has got to be one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had!
The rest of our dining excursions in Lyon were so good. We feasted like royalty (without feeling that we over-ate). Everything just tasted natural, made from scratch. This type of eating has changed my eating habits back home. I’ve been trying to consciously eat naturally, control my portions, and know what I’m eating.
3. The Architecture
If you love the architecture in Paris, you’re going to love the architecture in Lyon. Although very similar, Lyon’s is a smaller scale where it feels approachable and quaint…like a scene out of a movie. I literally couldn’t stop snapping pictures because Charlie had to remind me a few times to put the camera away. And yes, I would love to live in a home with this type of architecture.
In Lyon, you get to see the old and the new. When we did some sightseeing in Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), it felt like we were transported back in time with the narrow streets and the rustic architecture.
4 . It’s Walk-able (even with a stroller)
Lyon is definitely a walking city and it has to be with all the eating we did. We hardly used the subway or public transportation. Even Luke didn’t mind some of the cobblestone streets. He seemed to like the bumps. For the three days, we explored the city by foot. Every street we walked on led us to another street with more to explore. With a city this gorgeous, you just have to walk around and admire all its beauty.
5. It’s Kid Friendly
Traveling with a toddler means that we can’t move as fast as we used to or visit many museums. We have a threenager who needs to get out and run and play. The pedestrian-only streets are perfect for this and so are the parks in the city with a playground. We found a large playground in Place Bellecour where Luke could run and play. Our hotel is near the carousel where Luke would take a few rides a day. As for food, we didn’t come across kids menus but we found that the French food, especially the chocolate croissants and the meat and vegetable dishes worked well for Luke. Lastly, this was the first trip where Luke was potty-trained. I’m always weary of Luke going potty in a public restroom (think germs!). Surprisingly, we found that the bathrooms in Lyon were very clean. And thank goodness, no potty accidents happened in Lyon. Whew!