Lyon reviewed: The gastronomic capital of France doesn’t disappoint

There’s plenty to do, see and, most importantly, eat in Lyon, Jamie Wall writes.
Photo: 123RF

Opinion – All Black team naming is on Wednesday (French time) so it’s fair to say that the latest media offering was a bit of a slog.

Assistant coach Scott McLeod and front rowers Ethan de Groot and Ofa Tu’ungafasi gave little away and more or less repeated the thoughts of the other squad and staff members put up since the team arrived in Lyon.

There’s little to be learned this close to a team naming, the All Blacks’ last game was too long ago and has been covered to death, and so really the only thing to ask was how they are enjoying being in the lovely city of Lyon. But since the All Blacks are housed in a new sports complex built for Top 14 side Lyon Olympique Universitaire, which is within walking distance of their training field and gym, it’s not like they’ve got out much.

Which is a shame, because there’s plenty to do, see and, most importantly, eat in the south-eastern city. Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France, boasting hundreds of restaurants and surrounded by vineyards.

The New Zealand rugby media contingent took in one of the local establishments on Monday evening and the verdict was unanimous: there are a lot worse places to be than France’s third largest city right now.

Dinner started with parfait d’aubergine and plat de poulpe (octopus), followed by filet de Boeuf (avec du sang) and sauerkraut, with crumble aux abricots for dessert. It was washed down with a bottle of Mercurey Domane de la Bressande 2020, a burgundy that is described as having “very expressive nose with flavours of red and black fruits. It is a wine full of fruit and deliciousness, the mouth is crunchy with spicy and slightly toasted flavours, and the tannins are fresh, supple and melted”.

To be honest, none of us really knew what any of that meant but it was safe to say the responsible amount imbibed by the group went down very well.

The dining experience itself was about as French as you could get as well – a packed street full of restaurant goers enjoying the fading sunlight of what had been a very warm day. It’s still very much summer here in France, with temperatures up in the early 30s and leading to a very much ‘better them than us’ attitude when the media have been able to film the All Blacks training.

LYON, FRANCE- AUGUST 21, 2018: Bouchon -traditional local restaurant in Lyon where you eat specialties from Lyon and the region. There are 30 Bouchons in Lyon, France.

One of the many restaurants in Lyon.
Photo: 123RF

Burgundy is a dry red unique to the region around the Rhône River, which cuts its way through the south of the city before splitting off into the Saône and leaving a long finger of land that was settled two millennia ago by the Romans in what was then Gaul.

The old city is a beautiful place to wander around in, with many grand buildings and churches either prominently displayed on the avenues or tucked away in the alleys where you might find some hidden culinary spots.

Overlooking the city is the beautiful Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, well worth the steep hike up a winding hillside road. From there you can gaze out on the city, as well as the equally impressive Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste at the foot of the climb.

Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon, France in a beautiful summer day

Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon.
Photo: 123RF

To cross one of the many bridges that span the rivers will lead you to the well-developed banks, which are perfect for biking, scootering or simply strolling along in the marvellous sunshine.

The riverside leads you all the way down to Stade de Gerland, where the All Blacks are based. If you require a more direct form of transport, Lyon has a very reliable tram and metro system that runs frequently. To get to the stadium from the old town only takes around 20 minutes.

France, Lyon, 2023-08-30. General view of the city of Lyon with buildings in the 6th arrondissement and a summer super full moon in August. Photograph by Antoine Boureau / Hans Lucas.
France, Lyon, 2023-08-30. Vue d ensemble de la ville de Lyon avec immeuble du 6eme arrondissement et super pleine lune d ete du mois d aout. Photographie par Antoine Boureau / Hans Lucas. (Photo by Antoine Boureau / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP)

Photo: AFP

It’s a shame that no World Cup games will be played in Stade de Gerland; even when empty it gives off the vibe of an historic and well-loved venue.

The newer 60,000 seat Groupama Stadium out near the airport is where the All Blacks will play Italy and Uruguay; it’s usually home to Ligue 1 football club Olympique Lyonnais. It doesn’t take much looking around to see that Lyon is very much a football town, with OL shirts a common sight.

So, if you are making the trip over for the World Cup, you’re in for a treat if Lyon is one of your stops. But make sure you bring an appetite and a willingness to try some exquisite French cuisine, as well as some sunblock.

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