Easter weekend heralded not only the end of teaching, but also the arrival of ma chère famille, who flew out to Lyon to spend a few days exploring the gastronomic capital of France and its environs. Needless to say, it was absolutely lovely to see them all and show them round the city that I’ve called home for the past eight months. After some rescheduling on Flybe’s part, their flight landed late at night, so after meeting them at the tram stop we walked over to their hotel. (Over the course of their visit we became all too familiar with the wee-drenched odour of La Part Dieu’s underpass.) Upon arrival, we whiled away an hour or so in the hotel bar, catching up and giggling over the English translations of pour les petits creux (“munchies temptations”) and pour les grandes faims (“starving solutions”) on the ibis menu. As midnight approached, Vicki and I headed over to my flat, having arranged to meet Mum and Dad early the following morning to go on a croissant hunt.
Saturday kicked off with a trip to one of my favourite boulangeries for breakfast. Having unanimously agreed upon the formule petit déjeuner (€1.80 for a coffee and a croissant/ pain au chocolat), upon entering the bakery Mum decided she’d rather have a tarte aux pommes and consequently caused utter chaos on the ordering front! Tart tribulations over, we set off for Les Halles de Paul Bocuse. Our relatively early start to the day meant the usual crowds were yet to arrive, so we enjoyed pottering around in peace, gawping at the enormous metre-high Easter eggs, paellas large enough to feed the five thousand and platefuls of sticky praline desserts. After a minor detour to Église St. Pothin, we crossed the Rhône and headed for the Croix-Rousse. Taking the hill one traboule at a time, we eventually emerged onto the plateau, where we admired the view from the aptly-named Place Bellevue before wandering round the Marché de la Croix-Rousse. We then ventured past a number of spectacular chocolate shops en route to the Mur des Canuts, which still takes my breath away even after numerous viewings. Time was marching on, so we motored down the Montée de la Grande Côte and picked up a picnic lunch at my usual market just as things were winding down for the day. Sufficiently rested, we trotted over to Vieux Lyon and up to Fourvière, via the Montée des Chazeaux and the Parc des Hauteurs. After admiring the panoramic view from the esplanade, we ventured inside; the mosaicked walls and lavish ceilings truly are a sight to behold. On our way down the hill, we stopped off at the Théâtres Antiques de Fourvière, which host concerts in the summer months. Back in Vieux Lyon, we stopped at Les Lyonnais for a drink before exploring the quarter’s traboules, narrow streets and boulangeries. Mum was keen to try the local (sweet) delicacies so we bought 100g of bugnes; none of us could put our finger on exactly what they were when we ate them, but a little post-consumption research informed me that these are deep-fried slivers of dough dusted with icing sugar. We had tea at L’Eau Salée – a tried and tested favourite – and caught the Paul Bocuse light and sound animation on our walk home.
On Easter Sunday, after a tasty breakfast at the conveniently-located Café des Vosges, we caught the train to Annecy. We caught a direct train – primarily to eliminate the hassle of changing trains in Chambéry – and consequently went through the Bugey. (No MS Word, not the Bogey.) As we wandered towards the Vieille Ville, we caught sight of a market selling all manner of things; we ended up watching a chatty vendor’s demonstration of a decorative fruit peeler, before letting our noses lead us to the food stalls. As it was nearing lunchtime, we set about finding a spot to eat, eventually opting for Café St. Antoine. The food was absolutely delicious – I had pavé de bœuf followed by tarte aux pommes à l’alsacienne – and the heaters kept us nice and toasty outside. After lunch, we ventured inside Église Notre-Dame de Liesse, located on the other side of the square, before heading over to the lake. Lac d’Annecy is France’s third largest lake – and Europe’s cleanest. Although it was distinctly overcast, it remained incredibly scenic with snow-capped peaks surrounding the clear waters. I can imagine it being much busier on a sunny day! We spent the remainder of the afternoon checking out Église St. François de Sales and wandering along the canals and through the winding streets of the Vieille Ville. Aboard the train, we tucked into our picnic tea, even receiving a bon appétit from the conductor.
Monday was split between Lyon and Pérouges, a medieval village classed as one of France’s prettiest villages (and rightfully so). After breakfasting, we boarded a local train to Ambérieu-en-Bugey, disembarking at Méximieux. From here, it’s a twenty minute walk to Pérouges – though that didn’t stop lots of other tourists promptly searching for a bus. Perched on a hilltop, the village has a bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside. The twisting cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings and rustic shutters transport you back in time; it’s the sort of village that wouldn’t be out of place in a fairy tale. Entering via Porte d’en Bas, we strolled up Rue des Rondes towards Église St. Marie Madeleine, which is classed as an église-forteresse. While it looks the part of a traditional provincial church, the arrow slits along the northern face betray its former role as a fortress. We spent a couple of hours meandering round the narrow streets, having a drink and sampling the local sweet treat, the galette de Pérouges. Returning to Lyon mid-afternoon, we spent the rest of the day exploring Presqu’île, namely: the Fresque des Lyonnais, Fresque Bibliothèque de la Cité, Place des Terreaux, Place des Jacobins and Place Bellecour. We also ventured up to the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, so as to complete the tour of Lyon’s Roman relics. As it happened, we ate in Presqu’île, but all came to the conclusion that Restaurant Saint Joseph was in the freezer-to-plate category and a disappointing choice.
All too soon, Tuesday rolled round – our final day together in Lyon. Having left their luggage at my flat, we set off for the Parc de la Tête d’Or, stopping for breakfast at Chez Jules on the way. Although it looked sunny and warm – those skies were deceptively blue – it was rather nippy with the constant breeze, so we spent quarter of an hour or so warming up in the greenhouses, admiring the colourful orchids and flowering cacti. We then explored the alpine garden (which is only open in the mornings and which I hadn’t yet visited), before wandering round the botanical garden and another greenhouse. After doing a loop of the small zoo and checking out its various furry inhabitants, we walked round the lake, where to my utter delight there were dozens of ducklings taking to the water. (I love ducklings.) We rounded off our circuit of the park with a coffee near the deer paddock and a tour of the largest greenhouse. On a warm day, it’s well worth taking a picnic and basking in the sun for a few hours – but a warm day it was not, so we opted for lunch at Chez Song. If you fancy a taste of the Orient in Lyon, this family-run restaurant won’t disappoint. After lunch, we headed over to Sanctuaire St. Bonaventure; I went in for the first time a few days before they visited, and wanted to show them the beautiful, though rather modern, stained glass. We strolled around Vieux Lyon for a while, eventually winding up in Place des Terreaux for a drink. As the afternoon drew to a close, we headed back to mine for a picnic tea before their flight home. Mum, Dad and Vicki: thank you so much for visiting me, and see you bientôt! (Well, in two months!)