Lyon is a city full of surprises: from the hidden, secret passageways in the Old Town that were used by silk merchants to transport their products during the 19th Century, to the controversial, modern, almost otherworldly architecture of the recently built Musée des Confluences, you never quite know what you are going to chance upon.
Yet perhaps Lyon’s worst kept secret is its incredible gastronomic culture and history. Named the cuisine capital of France, it is famed both nationally and internationally as a beacon of simple, high quality food. Paris can keep its haute-cuisine, because Lyon even holds claim to its own type of restaurant, the acclaimed ‘bouchon’. These traditional eateries originally welcomed silk workers, serving up rich, meaty dishes alongside a lively atmosphere.
Bouchons today in Lyon still preserve this authenticity with their red and white check tablecloths, as well as the convivial environment, encouraged by each restaurant’s relatively small size. Little has changed in terms of the food either - still a predominantly meaty fare - so unfortunately vegetarians won’t have much luck in this respect! Picky eaters should probably look away now too, as some popular dishes include: andouillette (offal sausage), gras double (tripe cooked with onions), and pig’s trotter. But go in with an open mind, and you can be pleasantly surprised.
The greatest concentration of these restaurants can be found in the Old Town, Vieux Lyon, where restaurants are proud to advertise their bouchon status. Be aware though, because other restaurants try to jump on the bouchon bandwagon, charging the earth for sub-par food. Keep an eye out for prix-fixe menus so you know exactly what you are getting for your money, and lunchtime is often a cheaper time to eat.
However, if you fancy something simpler, a picnic in the hilly Croix-Rousse neighbourhood overlooking the city is the perfect way to while away an afternoon or evening. There’s even a local food market, so pick up your ingredients for a fresh, locally-sourced feast. This area is also awash with quirky bars and restaurants. Similarly, the Saint-Antoine market is the largest outdoor food market, open every day except Monday. Or, for an altogether more sophisticated market experience, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is a gastronomist’s dream, an indoor market brimming with exquisite, fine food.
At the end of the day, when you’re in the city with the highest concentration of restaurants to people in France, you can’t go far wrong!