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Combine a foodie visit to Lyon and Beaujolais

Gillian Thornton combines town and country on a short break to Lyon and the Beaujolais

World beating grub and heavenly wines

‘Now stir the mushrooms into the spelt mixture…’ Chef Sébastien Mathieu hands me a bowl of fresh girolles, painstakingly diced earlier by my own fair hand, and I add them to the fragrant risotto. An irresistible aroma wafts up from the simmering pan.

Magical things happen when you book a cookery lesson at the Institut Paul Bocuse in the heart of historic Lyon. Over the last two hours, our little band of six eager students has chopped vegetables, made garnishes, and generally hung on to Sébastien’s every word as we watch him prepare our dinner, all the time passing on techniques perfected in some of the world’s best kitchens.

France’s “capital of gastronomy”


Lyon has long been acknowledged as the capital of French gastronomy, largely thanks to the presence of legendary chef Paul Bocuse. The great man died in 2018 but his influence lives on through his restaurants and through the city’s indoor food market, renamed the Halles Paul Bocuse in his honour. Don’t miss the twin temptations of top quality food stalls and informal eateries such as Les Bouchons Lyonnais where locals love to shop and eat.

Heritage fans have always loved this UNESCO-listed city for the fabulous Renaissance architecture of Vieux Lyon, the wealth of first-class museums, and the twin Roman theatres overlooking its two rivers, the Rhône and Saône. But now there are even more delicious reasons to visit this atmospheric city.

Lyon lies at the heart of the Vallée de la Gastronomie, a major tourism initiative that promotes the huge range of regional wines, produce and cuisine found between Dijon and Dole in the north, and Marseille and Cassis on the Mediterranean coast. Think picnics in the vineyards or a visit to a truffle market; eating at chef’s table or tasting with a wine producer. The range of foodie activities on offer is growing all the time and bookable via local tourism websites.

The flavours of Beaujolais

I took a short break to combine the foodie delights of Lyon with the liquid pleasures of the Beaujolais, starting my adventure in the vineyards of Château de Juliénas, around an hour’s drive north of Lyon. Here Thierry Condomine is the fifth generation of his family to grow vines on these gentle slopes and transform them into AOC Juliénas within the 18th century stone buildings of his atmospheric winery.

With so many different rocks influencing the terroir and taste of the wines here, Beaujolais is proud to be the first wine region awarded Global Geopark status by UNESCO. Book a two-hour tour on Thierry’s Wine Tasting Truck and you get the unique experience of riding in a 1964 VW Combi and tasting wines in the exact spot where the grapes were grown, accompanied by cheese and charcuterie.

Many a local dish is enhanced not just by a glass of appropriate wine, but also by the produce of the Huilerie Beaujolaise in Beaujeu, medieval capital of the Beaujolais. Sample their twelve virgin fruit oils and nine fruit vinegars before making your choice from their well-stocked shop.

Taste, tour and take it easy

Some flavours are unmistakeable; others are not as easy to discern as you might think. Test your palate on the Sensory Wine Trail, a fun activity at Chateau de Pizay, a 4-star hotel and spa in the middle of its own vineyards at Belleville-en-Beaujolais.

After all this hard work, I relaxed over local food and wine at Hotel Villa Alexandre, a delightful 18th century country house turned boutique hotel at Régnie-Durette near Beujeu. And after a blissful night’s sleep, next morning, I strolled the picturesque streets of Oingt in the ‘golden stones’ area of southern Beaujolais. For panoramic views of the vineyards and village, classified amongst the Plus Beaux Villages de France, climb to the flat roof of the bell tower before sitting down to authentic local fare at La Table du Donjon.

Living it up in Lyon

Lunch over, I set off for Lyon, checking in at the Hotel de Verdun, a surprisingly tranquil small hotel between Perrache Station and the vast square of Place Bellecour, home to the Institut Paul Bocuse, location for the evening cookery lesson. But first there was time to explore the grand 19th century basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, the adjacent Roman theatres, and the narrow streets of Vieux Lyon.

By the time I donned my navy monogrammed apron at the Ecole de Cuisine Gourmets, I had worked up an appetite. On our menu was Braised Endives with sour carrot juice, pomelos and hazelnut crumble, followed by Veal Scallop with porcini mushrooms, spelt risotto and siphon comté – a delicate foam flavoured with comté cheese and applied through a siphon. Who knew?

Happy to watch Sébastien tackle the tricky bits, we merrily diced and decorated as instructed before sitting down to share the fruits of our labours, plus a delicious dessert that our English-speaking Chef had thoughtfully prepared earlier.

Winemaking experience

Next day, I tackled a very different kind of creative gastronomic experience, the chance to blend my own bottle of wine at Chai Saint Olive in the city centre, one of a growing number of urban wineries around France. Here I blended different proportions of local grape varieties until I eventually arrived at something pleasing to my palate, a bottle I proudly labelled Clos de Gillian for a very personal souvenir.

Lyon’s world class grub

No food tour of Lyon would be complete without sampling the traditional fare of a Lyonnais bouchon. Food can be hearty but I enjoyed a light lunch of delicate fish quenelles at Daniel & Denise Saint-Jean, awarded Bib Gourmand status by Michelin. Foodies should also explore the restaurants and bars of the Hôtel-Dieu, a 17th century hospital overlooking the Rhône, now repurposed as a dining and entertainment complex. This elegant building is also home to the newly revamped Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie, an interactive food discovery centre.

There’s a real buzz to Lyon by night, especially on board the Wagon Bar, a bus turned mobile restaurant where guests relax on the upper deck over a 5-course gastronomic dinner as they are driven over illuminated bridges and past floodlit monuments, through buzzing squares and past lavishly painted walls. A fitting finale to any city break.

So, back home have I made the smooth carrot sauce delicately flavoured with ginger? Or the mushroom sabayon that added a definite je-ne-sais-quoi to the spelt risotto? Well let’s just say not yet. But I have perfected a neat technique for slicing onions without crying, and when I don that Paul Bocuse apron, even my cheese on toast seems worthy of a Michelin star!


Lyon and the Beaujolais both lie within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region www.auvergnerhonealpes-tourisme.com.Further inspiration from www.valleedelagastronomie.com .


Tourism: www.destination-beaujolais.com
Foodie activities: chaeaudejulienas.com; www.huilerie-beaujolaise.fr; www.chateau-pizay.com
Eating out:
Sleeping over: www.hotelvilla-alexandre.fr


Tourism: www.lyon-france.com
Foodie activities: www.ecoledecuisine.institutpaulbocuse.com; www.chaisaintolive.com; www.lewagonbar.com
Eating out: www.danieletdenise.fr; www.garconsboucherslyon.com
Sleeping over: www.hoteldeverdun1882.com

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