Our apartment is on the street so we’re woken by the noise and bustle of a city waking up. It feels almost Italian rather than French – although the accents tell us otherwise.
In fact, the whole area feels Italian – the restaurants, the architecture, the colours, the sounds. I suppose that it makes sense seeing as though the heritage of this city is a Roman one, and the architecture and food culture comes largely from the Italian workers in the silk trade.
Food Walking Tour
Lyon is regarded as the gastronomic capital of France – and for good reason. There are over 4000 restaurants in this city – and it’s the 4th most Michelin rated city in Europe. It’s the bouchons, though, that we were most interested in. These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. It’s also the term for a cork or a traffic jam. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.
Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses.
To learn more about it, we took a foodie walking tour through Vieux, or old, Lyon.
Our first stop was for fromage, ie cheese. The extremely passionate owner had organised his cheese by region, source (ie cow, goat, sheep) and whether raw or pasteurised.
We tried a number of cheeses and heard about where each came from and who made it.
Next up was charcuterie. By now we’re feeling glad that we didn’t have breakfast.
We tried chaud saucisson en brochette, an assortment of salamis whose names I didn’t write down, andouilette (tripe sausage) mixed with creme fraiche and spread onto bread and not at all like the biology lesson it was when hubby tried it the day before in Saint-Gengoux-Le-National. Having said that, I still didn’t like it. Apparently, the Lyonnaise use veal “bits” rather than pork “bits” so it’s not as stinky…whatevs. The red wine took the taste away nicely.
As we walked off some of what we’d eaten we ventured in and out of traboules.
I told you about these before we left for France. They are, in essence, a series of shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways that the silk workers used to get their precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa.
Silk weaving was painstaking work with some fabrics taking months to weave at between 5-20 cm a day – depending on the design. It’s no wonder they wanted to make sure it didn’t get wet once they had finished it!
The workers and their families lived where they worked – often in just a couple of cramped rooms.
Interestingly, the pitchers that they use for wine in the bouchons take just 450mls when they look like they’d hold more. They have a misleading false bottom. As the silk workers were often paid in wine, these false-bottomed pitchers actually represented a pay cut. These pitchers were the cause of some of the strikes and unrest in the late 19th century.
In a Bouchon we sampled cervelles de canuts, or silk workers brains – although it’s not really brains, just a very yummy fromage blanc based cheese dip that I’ll tell you more about another time. We also had jambon perseille – ham in aspic with parsley – and oeufs meurette – eggs in a red wine sauce. We accompanied this with another Lyonnaise classic, a communard – red wine with cassis, framboise and fraise liqueur.
Next up was an ice cream tasting. Pauline, our guide, asked us to try and guess the flavours. The first was easy – passionfruit – although the Canadian couple also on the tour had never tried passionfruit before. The things we take for granted. The second flavour we sampled was a date with orange blossom water.
Our final tasting (phew) was a praline tart that I’m sure was the inspiration for the decor in the apartment we were staying in. It was pinker than anything edible has the right to be – and just as sweet as you’d imagine.
Speaking of pink, if there was a colour that defines Lyon, it’s pink. It sounds lovely, but the colour originally came from the oxblood that they used to paint the bricks with. It doesn’t sound quite as romantic now, does it? In many cases the colour has faded away, but in our building and others the pale pink remains.
If you want more info about this Food Tour, here’s the link. We did the 4 hour Vieux Lyon at 70E per head.
Where we ate
Le Nord, by Paul Bocuse
I was so looking forward to this and although the food was good, the service was disappointing. The waiter delivering our food didn’t know who had ordered what and it was the first restaurant we’d been in at night where we weren’t offered an amuse bouche. It was all less than we’d been expecting from a Bocuse restaurant. Perhaps it was a tourist thing, although it was something we hadn’t encountered elsewhere.
I had chaud saucisson – essentially sausage within a brioche; a Lyonnaise classic- and Bresse Chicken in a tarragon sauce. Bresse Chicken had been on my list to try and it didn’t disappoint. It was like no other chicken I’d had before – a dark, firm meat, almost gamey in flavour.
The streets at night are full of people out eating. It’s vibrant, noisy and a really great vibe.
The second night we were so footsore that we ate in a Bouchon downstairs. We each had a bowl of onion soup and shared a serve of cervelles de canuts with steamed potatoes and salad, and a charcuterie plate, with plenty of red wine. It was simple food cooked well – and we loved it.
Where we stayed
le XVI de la Rose, 16 Rue du Boeuf
Our apartment was in the Rose Tower and had it all – a steep spiral staircase to reach it, super stylish fittings, the fluffiest of fluffy rugs, and recessed lighting in the toilet – because that’s what you really need in a toilet. It was, on the whole, drop dead gorgeous.
Sharing the ground floor was a UNESCO listed courtyard, art gallery and one of the oldest silk works in Lyon. In the sought after Saint-Jean part of the old town, we had our choice of museums and bouchons just outside the front door.
The reference to rose in the apartment’s title wasn’t just the name of the building – it was also in the interior. This apartment was pink – from the mural on the wall to the figures in the foosball game to the toilet paper. Yes, the toilet paper matched the rest of the apartment. There was even a tree in the bathroom. I didn’t attempt to hang a towel on it.
There was nothing in this apartment that wasn’t styled to within an inch of its life – except perhaps for us. Although my toenails did match the rug – as did my kir royale.
Like most apartments in this part of town, there was no parking in or around the premises so we had to park in the parking station down the road and wheel our bags over the cobbles and then carry them up the stairs. It’s seriously no wonder that everyone in this town is in amazing shape.
Next time – Lyon Part 2: The Basilica and Roman Ruins
*My friend Jan has also penned some reasons to visit Lyon. You can find her post here.
It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…
It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, Debbish, Seize the Day Project, Write of the Middle, 50 Shades of Age, and, of course, me.