08 Jul 2024

Savour Lyon: Food Capital of the World

WORDS by SAMANTHA COOMBER

Emerald Liberte in Lyon France Emerald Liberte in Lyon France

France

History & Culture

With its World Heritage-listed sites dating back to Roman times, fascinating silk industry legacies, undeniable Gallic charm and world-class culinary scene, Lyon promises to be a mouthwatering feast for the senses and a highlight of your voyage through France. 

Lyon Highlights

Situated half-way between Paris and the Côte d'Azur, at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, France’s third-largest city offers visitors a wealth of alluring reasons to visit. Lyon comes steeped in impressive history: a flourishing trading city since Roman times, Lyon was historically known as a major hub for textiles in Europe and a prominent producer of silk. In the mid-19th century, Lyon was estimated to have around 60,000 silk workshops. Nowadays only a handful remain, but if you’re shopping in Lyon, this former Roman capital presents a tempting spot to purchase quality silk.

With its superbly preserved historic quarters, a significant section of Lyon has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are three main quarters that are not to be missed. Vieux-Lyon is home to one of Europe’s largest collections of Renaissance buildings, while Fourvière Hill is the site of the ancient Roman settlement, Lugdunum (43 B.C.). The latter is where you’ll also discover numerous religious buildings, including the spectacular Catholic Basilica of Fourvière. Another notable neighbourhood is Croix-Rousse Hill, where most of the silk workshops were located; the many ‘Traboules’ (unique secret covered passageways used by silk merchants), still stand today. Lyon also hosts the world-famous ‘Festival of Lights’ (‘Fête des Lumières’), when, for four days in December, the entire city is beautifully illuminated. 

Without doubt, Lyon is most famous for its outstanding cuisine and culinary heritage. Back in 1935, revered French food critic, Curnonsky, heralded Lyon as the ‘world capital of gastronomy’ in recognition of the celebrated culinary fare served throughout the city. Today, Lyon’s reputation for its magnifique cuisine still stands, regarded as a premier food capital of the world and the heart of gastronomy in France. Considering France gastronomy is truly in a league of its own, especially paired with a renowned viticulture producing some of the world's finest wines, this is quite some accolade. 
Orchard in Lyon, France Orchard in Lyon, France
Orchard in Lyon, France

In Lyon’s case, it really is all about location, location, location. Much of France's legendary cuisine is found in the small Provençal towns and cities along the Rhône, which includes Lyon. The city basks in France's agricultural belt, amid one of Europe’s most fertile pockets: Beaujolais lies to the north, Burgundy to the south and the French Alps foothills are close by. This explains why Lyon and its surrounds produces such high quality produce, including world-renowned Charolais beef and Bresse chicken, decadently rich dairy products and much more.

Lyon also boasts a legacy of producing some of France’s finest chefs throughout the annals of history. The tally of top chefs to have lived and worked in Lyon that made important contributions to French cuisine is astounding, including the Mères Lyonnaises (a group of celebrated female chefs), Mathieu Viannay, Pierre Orsi, Jean-Paul Lacombe and Christian Têtedoie. Most famous of all is legendary chef, Paul Bocuse, the forefather of Lyonnaise cuisine and figurehead responsible for the progression of French gastronomy in the 20th century and pioneer of nouvelle cuisine on the world stage.

The city also boasts the highest number of restaurants per capita across France. Around 18 have been awarded one or more prestigious Michelin stars, while others represent the very best in French ‘cuisine classique’ and ‘nouvelle cuisine’ restaurants. You’ll also enjoy some of France’s finest (and historic) boulangeries, patisseries and chocolatiers, not to mention superior fromageries, cremeries and charcuteries that work magic on the region’s products.

Among the city’s exceptional indoor and outdoor markets, the most famous of all is Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse Food Market, not only a gastronomic nirvana, but one of Lyon’s top attractions. This massive indoor market showcases the finest gourmet produce all under one roof: think delicious truffles, charcuterie, cheeses, poultry, pastries, fois gras, wines and other culinary delights. Many top chefs can be found browsing the stalls for their kitchens, including the market’s namesake, Paul Bocuse – only adding to Les Halles stellar international reputation. 

Traditional Lyonnaise cuisine presents a distinct culinary identity. The two basic but distinguishing principles, simplicity, and quality, are largely derived from the mid-19th century, where age-old rustic roots inspired new culinary traditions that continue to this day. Sausages are a familiar staple on Lyonnaise menus. Must-try’s include pistachio-crusted sausage, either baked in a brioche (saucisson brioche), or served with mashed potatoes and a creamy sauce, Rosette de Lyon, a cured sausage typical of the region and Petit Salé, featuring lentils served with a generous serving of bacon and sausages. Other beloved specialities extend to Quenelle, creamed fish mixed with breadcrumbs, and Lyonnaise Salad. 

Expect a diverse – and mouthwatering – choice of restaurants in Lyon. Fine dining is of course, exceptional, but even while enjoying one of Lyon’s Michelin restaurants, such as La Rotonde, or Auberge de I’ile Barbe, you’ll relish world-class food and wine that belies its affordable menu prices, thanks to the relative ease of sourcing high quality local ingredients,

Lyon’s dining scene is ever-evolving, extending to multi-sensory dining experiences and intriguing Franco-Middle Eastern fusion dishes created by pioneering young chefs. However, be sure to sample traditional Lyonnaise specialties at one of the city’s legendary ‘bouchon’ restaurants. Ingrained in Lyon’s culinary heritage, bouchons offer a distinctive, yet cosy ambiance, serving meat-heavy and unapologetically French comfort food, accompanied by a glass of Burgundy’s finest at remarkable value. You could also try the wonderful little restaurants within Les Halles Food Market, such as Chez Léon and Le Fer à Cheval, for more servings of Lyon’s simple, yet gastro-worthy dishes.

No wonder Lyon is affectionately labelled the ‘stomach of France.’

Enjoy savouring the gastronomic flavours of Lyon, the heart of French cuisine, as you sail through impossibly beautiful France with Emerald Cruises. We recommend starting or ending your France river cruise with a few extra days discovering the delights of Lyon. Find your perfect cruise or explore our France page.

Super Earlybird Offers are out now. Book with your travel advisor or call 1300 286 110.

Explore our itineraries below and discover the remarkable destinations that await you.
Nice to Lyon

8 Days

SEASON: 2024

Sensations of Lyon & Provence

Discover the magic of France by river

From
AUD
$3,975*
Nice to Paris

13 Days

SEASON: 2025

Nice to Paris & Sensations of Lyon and Provence

Discover the magic of France by river

From
AUD
$7,195*
Lyon to Nice

8 Days

SEASON: 2025

Sensations of Lyon & Provence

Discover the magic of France by river

From
AUD
$4,095*
Lyon to Marseille

10 Days

SEASON: 2025

Sensations of Lyon and Provence & Aix-en-Provence

Discover the magic of France by river

From
AUD
$5,310*
Paris to Nice

13 Days

SEASON: 2025

Paris to Nice & Sensations of Lyon and Provence

Discover the magic of France by river

From
AUD
$7,195*
Lyon to Nice

11 Days

SEASON: 2025

Sensations of Lyon & Provence with Nice

Discover the magic of France by river

From
AUD
$5,780*

Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.