Stylist acting editor Gemma Crisp reaps the benefits of not being organised in France’s cult foodie capital
When it comes to weekend breaks, I come from the school of “too much research is never enough”. By the time I touch down, I know what sights I’m seeing, where I’m eating, where I’m drinking and which neighbourhood is the most up-and-coming.
But Lyon was an anomaly. Although France’s third-largest city had long been on my travel wishlist thanks to its stellar food reputation (the home of legendary chef Paul Bocuse, it has 20 Michelin-starred restaurants as well as countless bouchons, aka bistros that serve traditional Lyonnais dishes such as pike dumplings and pork sausages cooked in pastry – you’ll find the biggest abundance on Rue Saint Jean), my research had fallen by the wayside and therefore my must-visit list was looking woeful.
But if my Lyon itinerary had been overflowing, we would never have stumbled across L’Illustre, a small but superlative wine bar in Vieux Lyon, the city’s historical area that hugs the banks of the Saône.
Helpful, charismatic staff – tick. Mosaic floors and an idyllic blend of Danish and French furniture – tick. An eminently quaffable Roucas Toumba vacqueyras from the Rhône – tick. It was one of those discoveries that made us smile smugly at each other.
With a whiff of red wine overindulgence in the air, we didn’t feel so smug the next morning except for the fact we were waking up in Mob Hotel in La Confluence, a former industrial district that is now home to cutting-edge architecture and La Sucrière, a sugar factory turned-arts venue that hosts club nights and exhibitions.
The second Mob (the original is almost inside Paris’ famous Marché aux Puces) features 99 bedrooms that are a genius of raw minimalist design with a soupçon of humour (the do-not-disturb sign is so good, it now has pride of place on my fridge), and a reception-slash boutique selling artisan knick-knacks and witty slogan tote bags.
On the first floor there’s an outside terrace filled with locals taking advantage of the organic seasonal menu. The ground floor restaurant seems to be the place for brunch on a Sunday – we only just managed to snaffle a table when we returned at 3pm after slurping oysters at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse indoor market.
Unlike a lot of large French cities, Lyon isn’t grey – it’s pink. Many of the buildings lining the two rivers are shades of rosé, peach and blush, plus every boulangerie window is stacked with brioche smothered in pink praline.
Don’t miss La Croix-Rousse, the bohemian area that’s a legacy of the silk weavers who used to live there, with pedestrianised streets filled with bars and boutiques intersecting the steep hills – visit the Village des Créateurs in Passage Thiaffait for an ever-changing carousel of independent shops.
And if you can’t face the delicious yet somewhat stodgy menu of a bouchon? Cross the Rhône and settle in at Les Apothicaires for a modern take on Lyonnais cuisine featuring innovative, uncomplicated yet highly ’grammable dishes that start at £22 for two courses at lunch. Just don’t forget to include L’Illustre on your itinerary – I’m still thinking about that vacqueyras…
Double rooms at Mob Hotel from £89; mobhotel.com/lyonbasis