Forget Paris. Lyon is currently where it’s at, and whilst it’s reputation as France’s culinary capital is fully justified – twenty-two Michelin stars and counting – there’s a great deal more to this colourful city than gluttony.
A flourish of fabulous new accommodation, cultural sights galore, and a raft of exciting festivals will keep you royally entertained; whether it’s discovering the revamped Confluence district, ambling around the cobbled streets of Vieux-Lyon, or sipping coffee in the bohemian hangouts of Croix-Rousse, Lyon has it all.
And best of all, it’s now easier than ever to get there, thanks to the new, direct Eurostar link with London, which means you can be in the city in just five hours.
The city’s showstopper is unquestionably the spanking new Musée des Confluences, which has nothing to with the confluence at all. Its exhibits are as dazzling as the building itself, for example a Peruvian mummy, some moon rock and Cockcroft & Walton’s particle accelerator.
Make sure you also take a stroll around Vieux-Lyon, with its dense lattice of narrow streets, fantastic Renaissance-inspired architecture and hidden traboules (tunnelled passageways that served as shelter for silk-weavers as they moved their delicate pieces from one area to another), then hop aboard the funicular to Fourvière and the Basilica Notre-Dame – if vertigo isn’t a problem, partake in a rooftop tour for superlative views of the city and, on a clear day, the Alps.
Film buffs won’t want to miss the engrossing Institut Lumière, which documents the pioneering work of cinematographers Auguste and Louis Lumière. Don’t miss, either, the Musée Garnier, named after the eponymous urban planner; it’s not a museum as such but rather an open-air exhibition of murals painted on the ends of apartment blocks.
Things don’t get much more refined in Lyon than the two-Michelin star La Mère Brazier, whose signature poached Bresse chicken with black truffles has been ever-present on the menu since Eugénie Brazier – the first woman to attain three stars – opened the restaurant back in 1921.
Lyon is also home to the bouchon, homely, idiosyncratic establishments that tend to specialize in the type of grub that your granny might prepare, and some she might not, like andouillette (hot cooked tripe sausage) and lambs feet.
Two of the most enjoyable bouchons are Daniel et Denise, whose gregarious chef, Joseph Viola, rustles up a sensational paté en croute (crusty foie gras and sweetbread paté), and the all-female run Les Bouchons des Filles, whose house speciality is a mouth-watering Croustille de Bodin aux Pommes (black pudding with apple and herbs wrapped in pastry).
Coffee lovers should head for Mokxa, on a sunny little square in Croix-Rousse; while, for something cooler, Terre Adélice, in the Old Town, offers some 150 differently-flavoured ices and sorbets, including exotic concoctions like honey and rosemary, and salted caramel cream.
At the moment it’s Le Sucre, whose industrial aesthetic owes much to the fact that it occupies a former sugar factory; the focal point here is a banging rooftop bar. Elsewhere, Ninkasi (ninkasi.fr) is a collective of some half a dozen bars scattered around the city, then there’s Sirius (lesirius.com), a rocking (quite literally) boat bar on the Rhône with a consistently exciting roster of DJs and live bands. Sophisticates, meanwhile, should pay a visit to L’Antiquaire, a polished but thoroughly unpretentious cocktail bar.
The rather splendid concept at the super-cool Okko Hotel (doubles €90) is Le Club, a kitchen-cum-lounge where guests can avail themselves of unlimited (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks all day long, before savouring a glass of wine and more munchies at sundown.
Mama has also arrived in Lyon, courtesy of Mama Shelter, whose snappy, Starck-designed rooms are sure to raise a wry smile (doubles from €69).
Budget-busters, meanwhile, should make haste for the Slo Hostel, whose all-white dorms (bed €25) and communal areas, and sun-trap patio, are a delight.
Lyon was once a major centre of the silk-weaving industry, so make a beeline for the Croix-Rousse district where you can purchase gorgeous silk wares from Soierie Vivante, a still-functioning silk-worker’s atelier.
It’d be remiss to leave Lyon without some foodie treats, so pay a visit to Les Halles des Lyon Paul Bocuse, named in honour of the city’s most celebrated chef; drool your way around stalls piled high with sumptuous goodies like saucisson, cheeses and truffles – then stock up, but be warned, it ain’t cheap.
Festival-wise, Lyon punches well above its weight all year-round, but you know that summer has truly arrived when Nuits de Fourvières slips effortlessly into gear come June; a two-month jamboree of drama, film and music (this year including Florence and the Machine and Joan Baez), it takes place in the splendid surrounds of Lyon’s two Gallo-Roman theatres, pitched high up on Fourvière hill.
There are currently between three and five London–Lyon services a week on Eurostar, which can be booked with European rail experts voyages-sncf.com. Lyon Airport has good connections to the rest of mainland Europe and the UK.