SETH SHERWOOD“I know of only one thing that you can do well in Lyon,
and that’s eat,” the 19th-century French novelist Stendhal remarked.
Two centuries later, the image of France’s third-largest metropolis is
still buried under a heap of food. No surprise. France’s most celebrated
chef, the octogenarian Paul Bocuse, hails from Lyon, and the city’s
bouchons — homey restaurants serving rustic, traditional cuisine — are
famous countrywide. But once you shovel off the tons of blood sausage
and St. Marcellin cheese, you find far more than a picturesque feeding
zone. The gateway to the Alps enfolds Roman ruins, Renaissance-era
architecture, abundant art spaces, talented young designers, renovated
riverfronts and a fast-rising neighborhood of futuristic architecture.
Better, a new generation of chefs is bringing Lyonnaise cuisine into the
21st century. Even Mr. Bocuse is adapting to the new millennium: He
recently opened his first design hotel.
MultimediaRebecca Marshall for The New York Times Friday
1. HEAD UPRIVER
An ambitious plan to renovate the banks of Lyon’s rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, kicked off in 2007. Exhibit A is the promenade along the Rhône on the Rive Gauche, a favorite of walkers, runners, cyclists and loafers. For lovely views, start at the reflecting pools along Quai Claude Bernard and head north. Along Quai Victor Augagneur, check the posters outside floating nightclubs like Ayers Rock Boat for the weekend’s agenda. Beyond Pont Wilson, the boat-cafe called La Passagère (Quai Victor Augagneur; 33-4-72-73-36-98) is a cozy spot for hot chocolate (3 euros, or $3.90 at $1.30 to the euro) or a Kronenbourg (6 euros). From there, walk or take the 171 bus (1.60 euros) up to Parc de la Tête d’Or, with ponds, gardens and forested trails.
2. TRASH AND TREASURES
Oversize refuse welcomes you to the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon (Cité Internationale; 81, quai Charles de Gaulle, 33-4-72-69-17-17; mac-lyon.com), which abuts Parc de la Tête d’Or. Wang Du’s “World Markets” is a silvery interpretation of a crumpled financial newspaper, while Olivier Mosset has taken old stone slabs — thought to be remnants of Paris’s Bastille prison — and piled them like discards awaiting the junk heap. The Art Deco building, modified by Renzo Piano, displays top-notch contemporary shows. A retrospective devoted to the cartoonish paintings of the French artist Robert Combas runs through July 15; 8 euros.
3. DIAL ‘M’ FOR MEALS
Phone and reserve at Magali et Martin (11, rue des Augustins; 33-4-72-00-88-01; magalietmartin.fr), named for the young French-Austrian couple who own this quietly stylish little restaurant. A former cook at Paris’s renowned Taillevent, Martin Schmied changes the menu constantly, mixing the rustic and the modern. Wild boar? It appears as terrine with marinated mushrooms. Pheasant? Makes cameos in a consommé with foie gras. Special mention goes to the blood sausage served in small pastry-like shells and to the guinea fowl that is poached, then roasted, imparting an exceptional succulence. Dinner for two, without wine, is about 70 euros.
4. LYONNAISE LIBATIONS
Food claims the spotlight in Lyon, but drinks are doing their own diva act, thanks to a nascent cocktail scene. James Brown and Frank Sinatra haunt Soda (7, rue de la Martinière; soda-bar.fr). Their jailhouse mug shots and others’ decorate this dark, plush den, where 9 euros gets you a spicy Slum Dog Millionaire (Bombay gin, cherry jam, lemon juice, red vermouth and cardamom) or smooth Globetrotter (pisco, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice and Aperol). Nearby, the strains of old American jazz fill L’Antiquaire (20, rue Hippolyte Flandrin; 33-6-34-21-54-65; theantiquaryroom.com) where bow-tied bartenders serve up seasonal cocktails like Marco’s Bacardi Fizz (Bacardi rum, green chartreuse, lime juice, lemon juice, sugar syrup, cream, egg white and soda), a foamy citric blast.
5. CELLULOID HEROES
The street name says it all: Rue du Premier Film. There, on March 19, 1895, Louis Lumière activated the “Cinématographe” that he had designed with his brother, Auguste, and recorded a 50-second film of employees leaving their family’s photo-plate factory. And so cinema was born. The Institut Lumière (25, rue du Premier Film; 33-4-78-78-18-95; institut-lumiere.org) pays homage to the early history of moviemaking. The brothers’ Art Nouveau mansion is now a museum (6.50 euros) that shows original Lumière films and displays the famous Cinématographe and other early filmmaking devices, including a boxy wooden Edison Kinetoscope. Next door, the former factory is now a theater with a roster of international film classics.
6. FRAPANESE FOOD
Like a love hotel bedroom, mirrors line the ceiling of Au 14 Fevrier (6, rue Mourguet; 33-4-78-92-91-39; au14fevrier.com), a tiny jewel-box restaurant that opened in 2009. And, as in a love hotel, those mirrors reflect near-orgasmic reactions from the delighted clients below. The stimulation is provided by the chef Tsuyoshi Arai, a Tokyo transplant who landed a Michelin star this year for what he calls “la cuisine Française Made in Japan.” The menu changes daily but recently included blood pudding sheathed in dark chocolate tubes, warm foie gras with strawberry vinegar and cooked figs, and roasted pheasant with colorful vegetables cut to resemble gumdrops. Nine courses for 75 euros.
7. GARGOYLES AND LARD
A Renaissance-era, Unesco-listed balade digestive — digestive walk — awaits in the cobbled alleys of Vieux Lyon. Built when the city was a rich silk-making center, the neighborhood is known for the Cathedral of St.-Jean-Baptiste (8, place St.-Jean; cathedrale-lyon.cef.fr). The facade is decorated with 25 gargoyles, 36 prophets and patriarchs, 36 martyrs and saints and 72 angels — but who’s counting? — while the interior contains a towering astronomical clock topped by automatons of humans and angels. (The whole ensemble goes into motion when the clock strikes 12, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.) If your stroll makes you hungry, the artisanal ice creams at Terre Adélice (1, place de la Baleine, 33-4-78-03-51-84; terre-adelice.eu) come in unexpected flavors.
8. TIME TO GET CREATIVE
With its steep staircase-streets and Bohemian vibe, La Croix Rousse recalls Paris’s Montmartre district. The neighborhood’s creative heart is the Village des Créateurs (Passage Thiaffait, 19 Rue René Leynaud, 33-4-78-27-37-21; villagedescreateurs.com), an alley of local design boutiques. Morgan Kirch (morgankirch.fr) makes sophisticated dark-hued women’s wear like black minivests sprouting feathers (230 euros). Mixing the sensibilities of Pop Art and graffiti, the T-shirts (39 euros) at the Blue Mustach Shop (bluemustach.com) sport playful images of Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Michel Basquiat and other style icons.
9. PICK NIC
Take Tramway line T1 to Montrochet, walk west on Rue Paul Montrochet and head toward the postmodernist building resembling a block of orange cheese. This is La Confluence (lyon-confluence.fr), a formerly downbeat docklands that is now sprouting futuristic new structures. The best food is found at Rue Le Bec (43 Quai Rambaud, 33-4-78-92-87-87; nicolaslebec.com), a sprawling restaurant with a wine bar, bakery and fine-food boutique. It comes courtesy of Nicolas Le Bec, the headliner of the new generation of Lyon chefs. The menu is a global journey that starts in Lyon — andouillette sausage, tête de veau — with stopovers in Spain (Iberian ham with tomato bread), Italy (eggplant topped with mozzarella), Japan (wagyu beef tappanyaki) and North Africa (lamb with mint and souk spices). Three courses for two, about 90 euros.
10. TIE UP TO THE DOCK
Follow the scent of after-shave and D&G perfume to Docks 40 (40, quai Rambaud, 33-4-78-40-40-40; docks40.com). Opened in 2010, the industrial chic restaurant-lounge is a sea of barstools, tables and rushing servers until midnight. Then, the furniture gets cleared, the dancing starts, and the D.J.-spun music — soul, disco and house — explodes. If a magnum of Cristal Roderer (1,100 euros) is too steep, a glass of Tattinger bubbly (10 euros) also gets the party started.
11. PLAY THE MARKETS
The aromas are fresh at the lively and crowded Marché St.-Antoine (Quai St.-Antoine and Quai des Célestins): ripe cheese, baked bread, pungent fish, steaming roasted chickens, briny oysters. Jouvray (33-4-74-01-16-85) can furnish hockey pucks of St. Marcellin cheese (1.80 euros for two) and local dry salami (19 euros per kilo), while Côté Desserts (33-4-78-45-19-45) does excellent quince tarts (1.95 euros). After, feed your mind among les bouquinistes — outdoor book dealers — along the adjacent Quai de la Pêcherie. You’ll find hometown authors like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry as well as vintage maps, postcards and LPs. You might even chance across works by Stendhal. In Lyon, he’s never far from the food.
IF YOU GO
Opened last fall near the main train station, All Seasons Part Dieu (54, rue de la Villette; 33-4-72-68-25-40; all-seasons-hotels.com) has 99 nonsmoking rooms, a brasserie and a bar. Doubles from 75 euros ($98).
One of Paul Bocuse’s most recent concoctions is DockOuest (39, rue des Docks; 33-4-78-22-34-34; dockouest.com), a design hotel with 43 rooms and suites outfitted with Ligne Roset furnishings. Mr. Bocuse’s Ouest Express (ouestexpress.com) restaurant is two steps away. Doubles from 75 euros.