This past week was Fall Break for most Paris universities as well as APA, and while many students use this time to fly to a nearby European country for the week, I decided to fully indulge myself in France. After this trip and my previous time abroad, I can now say I have been to almost every corner of the country.
It amazes me how geographically diverse France is, while in one city I can see the Alps on the horizon from the Rhône river, and in the next I’m looking at Les Calanques cliffs while standing on a beach in Marseille. A close friend of mine and I traversed the country starting in Lyon in the Rhône-Alps region, drove and stayed in Aix-en-Provence and visited Marseille in Provence, then went north to Normandy visiting the city of Caen, Omaha beach and the Normandy cliffs.
Starting in the food capital of the world, Lyon proved to be a beautiful place to stroll. Both the Rhône and the Saône rivers flow through the city center, a beautiful place to walk across one of their many old bridges into Old Lyon where the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière overlooks the entire city.
We stayed for a weekend in a little guest house that gave a beautiful view of Lyon from on top of a hill. The house sat next to a large garden and was managed by a lovely French woman named Françoise who provided breakfast for us each morning. Our beautiful little villa, complete with a full kitchen, may have made the trip for us, but being there over a beautiful weekend and taking part in Sunday market day certainly helped make the experience.
The Marché Saint-Antoine lines the Saône river bank offering the incredible selection of meats, cheeses, seafood, and produce that all French open-air markets have in abundance, and excited to use the kitchen in our guest house, my friend and I bought an enormous amount of seafood, cheese, mushrooms and bread. And wine, of course, made in the Rhône valley just a few kilometers away.
Walking back from the market back to the other side of the river, we stepped into another Lyon Sunday tradition of the Arts market, where hundreds of artists, craftsmen and jewelry makers gather to sell their artwork on the street. Tons of people were browsing through the tables laid out with paintings, handmade rings, necklaces, sculptures, hats, bags, and anything else you could think of. I indulged myself by buying a ring made of wire shaped into twists and spirals, sold by the maker himself.
While Paris may offer the same types of markets, I’ve never seen a gathering of that many artists in one market solely focused on artwork, and quality, original artwork at that. If traveling to Lyon, I highly recommend going on a weekend.
However, be warned, just like everywhere else in France, almost everything is closed on Sundays. If you want to go to one of Lyon’s famous restaurants where some of the most world-renowned chefs reside, I suggest going out on Saturday night (as long as you have made a reservation). We chose to go to Café Comptoir Abel, a restaurant that has made it onto many a food shows such as Parts Unknown, as well as being recognized by the Culinary Institute of France.
Instead of the fluffy, fancy famous restaurants you’ll find in Paris, Abel felt more like a homey tavern, with old posters lining the wooden walls of the small dining room, not a white tablecloth to be found. My Pike Dumpling in a mushroom cream sauce, or a fish puff pastry was incredible, but I was most excited about the chocolate mousse for dessert.
I don’t know whether it was the weather or the cute little guest house in which we stayed, but I think looking back on the week, Lyon is now my favorite city to visit in France.