Splendid Lyon Tour Guide
As we continue to share our travel experience in Lyon, France, let’s begin with a fun and FREE tour guide we found through Lyon City Greeters! It is easy to set up a personalized 2-hour tour which is scheduled around your interests and availability. We wanted to explore the old part of the city (Vieux Lyon), so our tour guide, Agnes, who spoke fluent English, happily shared the history while we strolled. We visited Saint Jean Cathedral built between 1175 and 1480 which holds a spectacular 16th century astronomical clock (which can calculate dates as well as the stars) and gorgeous rose stained-glass windows. Romanesque and Gothic in style, it has weathered religious wars, renovation work, and political discord, and remains a significant symbol in Lyon.
Agnes led us through 10 or 12 hidden traboules, the secret covered passageways, dating from the 4th Century. While there are over 400 passageways scattered throughout the city, only 40 are open to the public. In ancient times, these corridors allowed locals to quickly walk from their homes to the source of fresh water rather than through the winding streets. Later in the 19th Century, they were used by the canuts (silk workers) to carry their heavy loads from their workshops to the textile merchants. These private passages were essential during the Second World War – being used by the resistance for secret meetings (and to quickly move to the next street) which prevented the Nazis from occupying the whole of Lyon.
You can navigate these secrets traboules with a tour with Lyon City Greeters, or set up a private tour for about $15 US. We enjoyed our personal guide who highlighted some of the most significant sites, including one of her favorite silk shops, La Soierie de Saint George. We highly recommend taking advantage of this free tour guide service to see Lyon from a local’s perspective. We also found a similar city tour guide service while visiting Bordeaux, so check with the city you plan to explore before you go!
Cooking Class at Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen
We are passionate about cooking and baking, and consistently try new recipes in order to learn a technique or to simply tantalize our senses. Afterall, flavor and texture are important to our palates! We have discovered taking a culinary class in a different part of the country/world has often been a highlight of our trip. It’s inspiring to learn from a new instructor, interact with other students from another city/country, and cook/bake something from a specific region.
Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen offers numerous hands-on classes in a small setting (6-8 students). The courses range from a 4 hour Croissant class to an all-day Market Table Cuisine where you visit a local farmer’s market, fromagerie (cheese shop), boulangerie (bread shop), pâtisserie (pastry shop), and plan a several-course-meal based on what is in season. Chef Lucy Vanel, owner of Plum Lyon, is originally from the US and now a French citizen. She earned a prestigious Pastry Certification from the Académie de Lyon, and is extremely knowledgeable in culinary arts. She is warm and cheery, and proud to share her wealth of knowledge about Lyon’s gastronomy.
We chose to take a market course at Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen called La Cuisine du Marché (market cuisine). With a class of 3 students, Chef Lucy discussed what we might find in season at the market, jotting notes on the big class chalkboard. Then briskly, we walked up the Croix-Rousse hill to the busiest farmer’s market in Lyon, Marché de la Croix-Rousse – with an occasional stop along the way for a brief bit of Lyon history.
Numerous local market vendors line over four city blocks displaying their finest, from florists to fromagers (cheese vendors), boucheries (butchers), fruit and vegetable stands, to street food vendors selling spit-roasted organic chickens or steaming platters of paella. It’s truly a wonder for your senses!!! Lucy then takes you to her favorite cheese shop, meat shop, and boulangerie (bread/pastry) to pick up items for the several-course meal. Back at the school, we begin washing the herbs and vegetables, and preparing our ‘mise en place’ (set up) for the planned meal. Champagne is uncorked, and we begin sharing a simple appetizer of charcuterie (salami), sliced bread, a creamy celeriac salad we just tossed together. Each course, from the appetizer through dessert, requires participation from each student to prepare, cook/bake, mix, and plate. As a seasoned Pastry Chef and Chef Instructor, I thoroughly enjoyed this classroom experience, and continue to learn a great deal from other chefs and even from the students. We highly recommend Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen during your visit to Lyon.
Michelin-star Restaurant – Prairial
While traditional bouchon restaurants are prominent in Lyon, a new generation of young chefs are departing from the Lyonnaise custom to bring modern cuisine to the area. There are countless Michelin-starred restaurants from which to choose in Lyon, so after a bit of research, we made dejeuner (lunch) reservations at Prairial because of its focus on ‘farm-to-table style’ seasonal ingredients procured from sustainable sources. [Lunch, by the way, is a less expensive way to enjoy a Michelin-rated restaurant. $59-76 Euro ($66-86 US) for lunch vs $76-93 Euro ($86-105 US) for dinner.] Prairial’s contemporary setting of 10 tables is vibrant yet peaceful, and the staff is attentive and perfectly bilingual, setting us at ease. We were delighted with Chef Gäetan Gentil’s attention to the ingredients, and the exquisite flavor he built with them. He has a playful style with a mix of color and texture on the plate, each dish carefully crafted with a dusting of dried morels or delicate petals of fresh herbs or carefully laid gems of caviar. Superb wines were paired with each course or recommended as you wish. We chose to order a single glass of Chenin Blanc for the first half of the meal, and a Burgundy Pinot Noir for the latter half which was perfectly satisfying – each wine suggested by the sommelier (wine expert).
The menu was delivered as a surprise, each of us handed an envelope with a beautifully crafted card highlighting a phrase for each course. How exciting!?! A little game has already begun with an attentive guest, and the creative master! Du bout des doigts (fingertips) was an appetizer of an exotic miniature pillow filled with creamy cauliflower. 2nd course was a delicate portion of Asperge (asparagus) soup cooked in wild garlic. 3rd course Brochet – a tender serving of Pike floating on a whipped egg in a pool of fragrant sorrel sauce topped with a lacey baguette slice, beet greens, and pearls of caviar. Many more courses followed but two highlights continue to come to mind: Chevre (creamy fresh goat cheese) with spruce syrup and toasted pine nuts, and Beurre Noisette (brown butter) Ice Cream with morel
mushroom dust and caramel – a dessert I would love to replicate! Lunch at Prairial was a glorious 3-hour culinary experience, and very much a treat for our palates!
Visit the Fourvière District – Foundation in the history of Lyon
The Fourvière District is the site of the original Roman settlement of Lugdunum (43 BC), an area which should not be missed when visiting Lyon. It is located on a hill immediately west of Vieux Lyon, the old city, and rises above the River Saône. There you will find remnants of Roman Baths, a Roman theatre from 15 BC, and a 3,000 seat Roman Odéon, a covered building used for musical performances and public gatherings (now a museum and designated for a series of large concerts and operas in summer). Thankfully the world’s two oldest and most active funicular railway lines can transport you to the top of the hill, or you can physically climb this monstrous hill on foot. This district is part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites designated in 1998. The Basilica of Fourvière (built 1872 & 1884) looms impressively on top of the hill, and is a great spot to view the city. The Basilica has become a great symbol of the city, and can be seen from many vantage points.
Chocolatiers in Lyon
We admit – we’re addicted to French Chocolate. The complex floral notes, smooth texture, and masterful presentation drew us into many boutiques in Lyon. Sebastien Bouillet has an elegant shop in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood. A river of dark chocolate pours down a wall upon entering the shop – the fragrance so pleasurable you dive right into shopping. A plethora of options include boxed truffles (or choose your own), full-size bars featuring cacao from all over the world, to small specialty items. We prefer to buy 5-6 truffles we can share over the course of a day or two, and stock up on larger assortments before we leave the city.
Three other notable chocolate shops are Weiss and Bernachon and a small chocolatier, Phillippe Bel. We support shops that are true to the craft of sourcing beans, method, and dedication to a consistent, high-quality product.
When walking into a boulangerie (bakery) in Lyon, you can’t help but notice fluorescent pink pralines baked into various products. They beckon you, believe me, to try them. Pink pralines are simply candied almonds colored with pink food coloring and baked into the gorgeous brioche (buttery yeasted bread), tarts, or sold in bags for snacking or your own baked goods. The tradition is mysterious, but one version is sometime in the 18th Century, a Lyonnais pastry chef was inspired by the rose gardens in the Rhône region and tinted his pralines in a similar shade which became a sensation.
We purchased a brioche aux pralines (candied almonds baked into a rich bread) to eat throughout the week of our stay, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it – lightly chewy and buttery bread with a hint of sweetness from the candied pralines. The color was striking! I also tasted a Pink Praline dessert at Le Bouchon des Filles with a bright pink warm praline sauce drizzled over two slices of pound cake. Again, it was lightly sweet and deeply satisfying!
With inspiration from these pink jewels, I have formulated a recipe for a scrumptious Pink Praline Tart (click on this link for recipe). This would be perfect to serve any time of year, but with it’s alluring color I think it will work well for Christmas or even New Year’s holiday! Candy the almonds a day or up to a week before finishing the tart, and be sure to make extra for light snacking. Additional ways to use the pink pralines could be:
- chopped and baked into muffins, scones or cupcakes
- folded into Italian Buttercream for a spectacular cake finish
- added to caramel popcorn for a snack
- chopped and sprinkled on top of ice cream
- folded into homemade meringue cookies or Pavlova
- layered with chocolate mousse