More Postcards from France
Have you ever gone to a restaurant everyone raves about and found there is nothing you can imagine eating on the menu?
We’ve just done it in Lyon. I had great expectations of this city. Dedicated gourmands will know that gastronomically Lyon is the big banana in France; the undisputed capital of French cuisine. Not to eat well here is a cardinal sin. Well practically. Yet we managed it. “Go to a good bouchon,” we were told. “Forget all those uppity, smarty 5-star restaurants, eat some real Lyonnaise food and give your stomach a treat.”
I’m not going to tell you the name of the ‘bouchon’ we went to. Enough to say it’s famous and recommended on websites, television shows and by a top French chef. Dear reader. Imagine vast platefuls of something brown, smelling not just meaty, but hairy meaty. Think cheek of pig and stomach of boar. We did our best. But despite a full house of jolly customers mopping up their gravy we struggled. I have no doubt that better food would have been provided at a five star restaurant in Lyon. But fewer laughs. Frankly, our best meal was breakfast at the charming Globe et Cecile Hotel, where, in the absence of the chef, Sandrine, the receptionist put on an apron to make our poached eggs. Delicious.
Suitably fortified we go off to visit the sights, starting with the iconic Cathédral Saint Jean-Baptiste and the famous Paul Bocuse food hall. Saint Jean-Baptiste was a medieval saint, Paul Bocuse is a hugely celebrated chef, but the air of reverence in both their establishments is identical. Gorgeous medieval stained glass rose window in 15th century cathedral, gorgeous 21st century raspberry tart with not so much as a berry out of place in the other.
Of course everything is for sale at Les Halles de Lyon and the traders do great business, but really this is museum of cuisine. Light as air pastries, croissants and bread from Le Boulanger de L’isle de Barbe, Saint Marcellin Cheese from Mère Richard, succulent oysters and champagne at Chez Leon, speciality spices, herbs, olives, jams and honey from around the globe at Bahadourian, sorbet, ice-cream that just slides down the throat, macarons and chocolate from Chocolats Richart. Butchery is seen as an art form here, and good butchers on a par with Michaelangelo. A piece of beef is loving laid out for your inspection as if its the Bayeaux tapestry. There are rumours of foie gras macaroons, but perhaps they are only a rumour.
As our train slides out of Lyon I wonder if this city, with its awesome reputation, is one that you have to get to know properly before you can appreciate it. Maybe living like a local in Lyon would be a whole new experience.
We only have one day in Paris and I am sorely tempted to spend it on the Left Bank. But haunted by the impressionists’ France we’ve seen from our train window I feel we must instead salute the father of the movement, Claude Monet and visit his garden in Giverny, just a 45-minute train journey away.
Monet himself referred to his garden as ‘a jungle of colour’ and so it is. Despite using his artist’s eye to create living canvases, nature has its own ideas. Underneath is secret mayhem as weed battles weed; branches push their way into the light and tough little plants that are not tough enough are chewed up and spat out by greedy nasties that plague even the most professional gardens. Yet, the sum of the whole is so much more beautiful than anything that man, or even artist, could create on their own.
Wandering around the banks of Monet’s lily ponds, with the changing light playing havoc with every view, you can understand the artist’s frustration trying to capture it on a canvas. I am told that he would instruct underlings to carry six or seven canvases to him so he could paint several at once. Unsurprisingly, there are now literally hundreds of canvases by Monet of Water lilies.
We’re going home on the Eurostar train and how different from the south are my postcards from Normandy; misty grey skies, a line of slim trees, like soldiers, standing to attention in their khaki uniforms. The fields are sliced into neat sections of murky yellow, murky green, murky brown. Hard to believe that Giverny with its jungle of colour is in Normandy. Another Normandy on another day.
I don’t care how world-weary and sophisticated you are, there is something heartwarmingly 21st century about speeding under the channel for a mere twenty minutes before emerging, dry as a bone on British soil. Shakespeare saw this small, damp island as ‘ a fortress built by nature for herself against infection and the hand of war.’ That fortress has now joined hands with Europe and the entire continent is accessible to us, by train, in 20 minutes. That has to be cause for celebration.
Sandra used Railbookers to plan her trip.
She stayed at Globe et Cecil Hotel in Lyon
In Paris she was at Hotel Marceau Bastille
LIVING LIKE A LOCAL:
ID # 362803 – A Charming duplex in the centre of Lyon suitable for 6 people
ID # 377035 – A smaller but equally charming downtown apartment
ID # 444868 – A sun-filled apartment
ID # 218843 – An apartment well suited to a family
TO DO IN LYON
• Take a ticket to ride in the tourist bus around the city.
• Check out the fabulous Halles de Lyon of Paul Bocuse
• Check out the Museum of Fine Arts
• Try Vieux Lyon for atmosphere, bistro food.
• Look in awe at the Cathedral St Jean-Baptiste. A 15th century masterpiece and UNESCO heritage site.
• Don’t miss the traboules, or tunnel ways. They wander about Lyon, even through houses.
TO DO IN GIVERNY
The whole village revolves around Monet’s garden. Boutiques and bistros have sprung up, as have gift shops and galleries. There are also some charming hotels. Take at least a full day day or even two to take it all in. The experience expands understanding and appreciation, not only of Monet, but the entire impressionist movement. There is also much to learn about gardening.