We'll Always Have Paris,
But Lyon May Be Better
THURSDAY, JULY 11, 2019 -- Paris is, well, Paris. But a two-hour high-speed train ride to the south lies Lyon, France's thrilling, third-largest city.

Lyon's central district sits on the Presqu'île peninsula, the Rhône River on one side, the Saône River on the other. Lyon even has its own Notre Dame cathedral, high above a hill overlooking the city and easily accessible by funicular.

I know all this because I recently spent the better part of three days exploring the city, often hoofing it back and forth over the many pleasant pedestrian bridges that cross the two rivers and connect Lyon's diverse neighborhoods. Why all the schlepping, you ask? Because the woman I married was quite clear: Assist her in consuming as much authentic Lyonnaise food as humanly possible in a 72-hour period.

Lyon, you see, is known to be "the gastronomic capital of the world." (Just don't tell that to the Italians in the Emilia-Romagna.) It is where the world's most revered chef in modern history, Paul Bocuse, left his greatest and most lasting mark. My wife, a gastronome par excellence, has long wished to eat her way through Bocuse's stomping grounds.

After three days and four nights following her from one feeding place to the next, I can see why Lyon's culinary cred runs so deep. But it's also a fine destination for other reasons. With a population below half a million Lyon can be manageably discovered in just a few days. The people are friendly and the streets and sidewalks aren't nearly as busy as in Paris. That makes for consistently relaxing all-day strolling.

And you will need to stroll in order to work off the calories absorbed from an itinerary that mirrors ours. For those who might be interested, a portion of that itinerary is below.

You can't travel to Lyon without experiencing Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse, a magnificent indoor food market appropriately named after the town's most famous culinarian. It's not in the nicest part of town but once inside you'll be mesmerized by the dozens of high-quality vendors and restaurants. It's best to go early- to mid-morning to give yourself time to poke around since many vendors close up shop around lunchtime. At the geographic center of the market is an unassuming place called Chez Antonin where we enjoyed a lovely lunch of briny oysters, an absolutely terrific Sole meunière and a pleasant bottle of Muscadet.

Paul Bocuse passed away last year at the age of 91, but he left many restaurants that bear his name. We decided to try at least one. Located near the Place Bellecour, Brasserie Le Sud isn't Lyonnaise. It's more southern French and Mediterranean. It's also a lovely place to sit outside and have lunch. Our planche de charcuterie was wonderful to share and included aged smoked filet mignon. The vitello tonnato was one of the best I've had and the Pastilla (Moroccan meat pie) was quite lovely.

Au Petit Bouchon Chez Georges is the only restaurant where we had a reservation before setting off on our trip--and my wife enlisted the hotel staff to make it for us. It's a tiny, casual, local place with traditional Lyonnaise food: quenelles, whole kidneys, tripe and sausages. After an absolutely enormous dinner, including three carafes of wine (for barely 100 Euros, by the way), my dining companion promptly announced that she'd be relocating to Lyon toot sweet, and that I could join her--or not--as I wish. Seriously, try to make it to this restaurant. Try very hard.

La Voûte Chez Léa is the best restaurant that I never wanted to go to. It was suggested by a hotel staffer and following that kind of advice just isn't how I roll. Good thing my wife dragged me to the place by the hoop of my earring. I loved, loved, loved it. So did she. Quenelles (served simply in butter, butter and more butter) were the best I have ever had and the tête de veau (veal stuffed with sweetbreads) nearly made us both weep. I'm not kidding. People were actually smiling as they watched the expressions on our faces as we ate.

I hate to do this to you, but Bouchon Tupin is yet another Lyonnaise restaurant that I insist you put on your list. The room is cozy and inviting--or, as the wife says, "so stinkin' cute in a uniquely French way." The food? Sacre bleu! Yes, I sampled another quenelle, and it was right up there with La Voûte Chez Léa's. Oeuf parfait en meurette, lardons, champignons (eggs with bacon and mushrooms) contained two beautiful 63-degree eggs that my wife actually swooned over. Yes, I said swooned. Tupin is yet another spot where locals dine. We didn't leave until 11:30 p.m. or so and there were still plenty of people eating.

The tiny Mason Duculty is a retail presence for a family that produces very fine sausages and other charcuterie. They aren't open all the time, but it's worth checking if you're in the neighborhood. There are a couple of small tables where you can sit and sample. As a pre-dinner snack one evening we tasted some sausage, cured pork loin and ham, plus a couple glasses of Syrah. We were very glad that we did.

Picnic more your thing? Then Charcuterie Bonnard is a must, as it is strictly prepared foods for takeout. But don't be fooled. This is restaurant-quality stuff that will please even the most discerning palate. The woman who dragged me around Lyon for three days? She dragged me here more than once.

We chose the Mercure Lyon Centre Beaux Arts Hotel for its central location, on the peninsula between the Rhône and Saône rivers. We booked one of the "privilege" rooms, which start at around 270 square feet. Our accommodation seemed a bit larger, plus the bathroom was nicer and more spacious than most I have seen in Europe. The room was completely modern, extremely quiet (even though on a busy street, by Lyon standards), and very comfortable. Plus, the staff was terrific. ... The "newest" hotel in town first opened as a hospital in Medieval times. After a four-year renovation, it reopened this spring as an InterContinental. ... Lyon's only Marriott-aligned hotel, refreshed in 2016, is a Category 4 redemption.

I'm glad my wife and I visited in the spring, before the media started banging the drum for Lyon. Conde Nast Traveler really wants you to come this fall. But Britain's Evening Standard thinks you should go for a long summer weekend.