Philosophers have long asked themselves why France is the most popular tourist destination in the world. Is it because of the spectacular countryside? The inspiring art? The warmth and unpretentiousness of the French people? I suspect most of these are important factors in France’s popularity, but I would guess that the number one reason tourists come from far and wide to tour la belle France is because of its food. From croissant to coq au vin, France has it all in the gastronomic department.
But where do the French go when they want to eat well? Ask any French person what the most delicious city in France is, and there is a good chance they will advise you to go to Lyon. Many writers, both French and foreign, have referred to the city as the “gastronomic capital of France”. “Gastronomic capital of France?” you are probably thinking to yourself. “I want to go to there.” Indeed you do, Internet Stranger. Indeed you do. Off we go then, to stuff our faces! Clear eyes, full bellies, can’t lose!
Morning: Musee des Beaux Arts de Lyon
Address: 20 place des Terreaux
Hours: 10-6 Most Days, Closed Tuesdays
Price: 8 Euros
The Musee des Beaux Arts is one of the largest art museums in France, which is a titch more impressive than being one of the largest art museums in Sheboygan. It contains examples of all different kinds of art from Egyptian tombs to Cubist portraits. Perhaps most impressively of all, it is located inside a 17th century convent, so if you get bored looking at paintings, you can perambulate about the gardens pretending to be a consumptive nun. I’m afraid I don’t have time to walk you through the whole collection, so why don’t we just stick to..
the approximately top five best works of art in the musee des beaux arts, lyon
1) This provocative piece is “The Temptation of St. Anthony” by French sculptor Rodin. The little huddled cloaked figure at the bottom is St. Anthony, who was a hermit, and the naked lady draping herself on top of him is one of the many temptresses whom the saint had visions of. I have to say, I kind of admire the chutzpah of this temptress. If I took off all my clothes and draped myself on top of a guy and he responded by covering himself up with a cloak and curling up in the fetal position, I would get really embarrassed and leave right away.
2) And now we step way back in time for a very different sculpture of a lady, an ancient Greek kore sculpture from about 550 BC. Kore means girl in Greek, and this girl would likely have decorated a temple of Athena. That triangle she’s holding would originally have been a sculpture of a bird, but apparently someone stole the bird’s head. I really want to know who goes around stealing stone bird’s heads. What practical application could that possibly have in your life?
3) “Hrm,” you may be thinking to yourself. “This is just a weird pile of coins, and I have lots of those at home hiding among my couch cushions. What’s so special about that?” Well, these coins date from the 14th century and were buried by an unknown person during the Hundred Years’ War, I presume because he was trying to hide them from enemy soldiers. Well, it looks like those enemy soldiers found our mysterious Coin-Burier because these babies weren’t discovered until 1993 when someone randomly dug them up while trying to build a parking lot. There! Now you think they’re a lot more exciting than the lint-covered specimens hiding in your sofa, don’t you?
4) This Biblical scene is a 16th century Italian painting called “Bathsheba at her Bath” by Veronese. The old man would be King David, trying to put the moves on lovely Bathsheba, who was already married to a poor schmuck named Uriah. David ended up getting Uriah out of the way by sending him into battle and getting him killed so that he could marry Bathsheba. The moral I take from this story is, “If you’re going to have an attractive wife in Biblical times, keep her far away from the king.” Apparently Veronese chose this subject because he was commissioned to do a painting on the subject of “adultery”, which is kind of messed up, but not as messed up as sending a man into battle so you can steal his lady.
5) We jump ahead to 1896 and the painting “Nave Nave Mahana” by Paul Gauguin. It was one of the many paintings that Gauguin made depicting Tahitian life. The title actually means “Delicious Days” in Maori, which makes it a very appropriate painting to have in Lyon, the French capital of Deliciousness. This painting was actually the first Gauguin ever to be purchased by a French museum. Like basically ever artist ever, it took Gauguin a while to be appreciated. If I had a lot of money, I would just go around and find a lot of weird unappreciated artists and buy one of their paintings for no money because I’m sure eventually one of their pieces would be worth millions of dollars.
Travelerette Tip: The museum provides these cute little free pamphlets that allow you to tour selected works in the museum by theme. My favorite theme was the color black because it was interesting to see how the use of the color black had changed throughout the ages. For example, when reading about this painting above, Monet’s “Agitated Sea at Etretat”, I learned that the Impressionists did not believe in using the color black in their paintings because pure black rarely exists in nature. Who knew there could be so much information in a color?
Travelerette Treasure: My favorite thing in the museum was this Art Nouveau bedroom designed by Hector Guimard, a Lyon native, for his wife in 1910. You can tell it is Art Nouveau because of the complex, curving shapes in all of these pieces. I love how the whole bedroom set has a harmonious style without looking like something you could pick up in a catalogue. Guimard is most famous for designing those famously curvy classic Parisian Metro signs, and I think if you look carefully, it’s easy to see that the same man designed both this furniture and the Metro entrances.
Early Afternoon: Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
Address: 102 Cours Lafayette
I’ve been talking up Lyonnaise food all day, so I won’t keep your mouth watering any longer. Let’s go get some lunch! Les Halles de Paul Bocuse is an upscale food market with 40-50 stalls, each selling their own specialty. You can find anything from cheeses shaped like France
to chickens with their heads and feathers still on…
to a veritable jewel box of jellied fruit. There’s no pressure to buy anything! Get comfortable and feast your eyes on the wonders that surround you, and then commit to a snack only when you’ve carefully considered all of your options. It’s a little bit like internet dating, except at Les Halles, every possibility is delightful. So much better than internet dating, then.
Fun Fact: Paul Bocuse, for whom the market is named, is a Lyonnais chef who is still one of the most famous practitioners of nouvelle cuisine in the entire world, even though he is now 91 years of age. His restaurant has three Michelin stars, and he lives with three women (one wife and two mistresses), so I guess that’s what you call living your best French life.
Travelerette Tip: I suggest getting a lunch to go because the seating at most of the restaurants can get pretty crowded. Also we are going to have a big dinner, so you might want to save room. I got a spinach and aged goat cheese quiche at Maison Sibilia. The staff was extremely friendly and efficient, and the quiche was amazing. That little circle of goat cheese in the center of the quiche was decadent and perfect!
Travelerette Treasure: Of course I couldn’t do without dessert, so I got a salted caramel tart at the Maison Victoire stall. The caramel was just the right amount of sweetness and the crust positively melting in my mouth. Be sure to take a lot of napkins though because that caramel will get all over your face and hands if you are not careful. The next time I go here, I want to try their bugnes plates, which are a crunchy cookie-type thing traditional to Lyon because apparently those are their best sellers.
Late Afternoon: Park de la Tete D’or
Hours: 6:30 AM-10:30 PM Every Day
Now that our bellies are fun, it’s time to work off some of those quiche calories by spending the rest of the afternoon in a beautiful urban park. The Parc de la Tete d’Or, which literally translates to “The Park of the Head of Gold”, is modeled to look like an English garden, which I think means that it needs to have lots of elaborate shrubbery. It’s 117 hectares large, so there’s more than enough things to do to keep you occupied for an afternoon. But I will get you started with…
three fun facts about the parc de la tete d’or
1) One of the most striking features of the park is this lovely lake. The lake was actually made out of one of the arms of the Rhone river. I wonder how they did that. Did it happen naturally, or was it someone’s job to fill in part of the river to make the lake? How would you even advertise for that job? “Wanted: Someone to turn part of a river into a lake. Must have strong arms and enjoy repetitive tasks.”
2) The park is lucky enough to have a beautiful Botanical Gardens inside the park, and there is no admission charge to enter the gardens. The gardens were built back in 1857, and they are one of the largest botanical gardens in France. It also apparently has over 750 varieties of historic roses, which I think is pretty impressive.But I want to know what makes someone a historic rose as opposed to a regular rose. Do you have to win a medal in battle? Get elected President? Discover a cure for a plague?
3) You might be wondering where the name “Parc de la Tete d’Or comes from, since golden heads don’t seem to have that much to do with parks. Well, apparently the name comes from a legend that says that there is a treasure with the head of Jesus on it buried somewhere in the park. I don’t think this legend is widely known because I saw zero people with shovels in the park looking for buried treasure. This surprises me because you never know where you’re going to find buried treasure in Lyon. In a city where you can dig up medieval coins in a parking lot, I think anything could be possible.
Travelerette Tip: The park doesn’t only have a lake, a botanical garden, and a buried treasure, it also has a free small zoo. But be on the lookout because the zoo closes sooner than the rest of the park, a little before 6 PM, and there aren’t very many signs to let you know when you have entered the zoo.
I know this because I was peacefully sitting on a park bench listening to some tunes and a man starts running up to me and screaming. I thought he was insane, and I couldn’t hear him because of the music, so being a native New Yorker I just ignored him. But it turns out that he was yelling, “On ferme le zoo!” which means that the zoo is closing. I didn’t even know I was in the zoo,much less that it was closing time! So you always have to watch out for a zoo sneak attack when you are in this park.
Travelerette Treasure: I found this secret little house tucked away while I was walking around the lake. I’m pretty sure it belongs to a witch. Witches, buried pirate treasure, Nobel prize winning roses, invisible zoos…this park really does have it all!
Evening: Dinner at Le Gourmet de Seze
Address: 125 Rue de Sèze
Le Gourmet de Seze is a Michelin-starred restaurant just a short walk from Le Parc de la Tete d’Or. The staff was extremely friendly and attentive, and the prices are pretty unbelievable for a restaurant of this quality. I know I would pay three times as much for a meal like this back home in New York. But that’s why people come to Lyon! Big city food quality at small city food prices.
My dinner started with a light and refreshing tomato gazpacho with creme fraiche. Given that it was right in the middle of summer, it was a tasty and seasonal way to begin the meal. And I simply adore a chilled soup on a warm evening.
My appetizer was this stunning langoustine with heirloom tomatoes, olive toast, and basil oil. I am always thrilled with how seasonal French food is. Is there anything more summery than the combination of tomatoes, basil, and olive? The langoustine is a slim and glamorous lobster-like creature found around Norway and Scotland. Basically if you like the taste of lobster, you’ll love langoustines.
The main course was a duckling breast served with roasted little potatoes and duck jus. After two light appetizers, it was nice to tuck into a heartier main course. And I felt so decadent eating duck right after eating langoustine! What would be for dessert? Truffle oil ice cream topped with champagne?
Of course, it’s not a proper French restaurant unless you get a cheese course. I got four kinds of cheese: a “fromage sec”, which is an aged cheese, a cow’s milk cheese, a sheep’s milk cheese, and a goat’s milk cheese. I don’t mean to traffic in animal stereotypes, but usually the sheep’s cheese is the mildest and the goat cheese is the “tangiest”. I think I’m the luckiest because I love all types of cheese from the most inoffensive sheep to the sassiest goat. Baa Ram Ewe!
Of course you need a break between the cheese and dessert courses. That’s what the pre-dessert is for! This was just a light and lovely little raspberry gateau to tide me over until this majestic creation.
This was a crunchy and sweet strawberry tuile wrapped around strawberry sorbet and served with coconut ice cream. I love how you can see the seeds inside the strawberry cookie. So clever! And it tasted just like a strawberry stuffed strawberry covered in strawberry sauce. Strawberry fields forever!
Of course two desserts are not enough for any reasonable person, so I was pleased to see that I was served some little mignardises along with my coffee. They ranged from a little almond cake to a rich chocolate-nut concoction, but my favorite was the one shaped like an orange that tasted of pure Mandarin and imagination.
As an added bonus, the maitre d presented me with a little cake at the end of the meal for me to eat for my breakfast the next morning. I’ve never stopped at a restaurant for dinner and had them present me with my next meal before! This is what I call service. Thanks, Gourmet de Seze!
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Lyon!
What would you do with one day in Lyon? Has a restaurant ever given you your breakfast as a present before? And do you think it’s legal to go digging for buried treasure in a park or not? Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.