Travel: Getaway for the last tango in Lyon

In need of a quick getaway, Caroline Hendrie takes the Eurostar to Lyon.

PAUSING to consult my map on the pavements of France’s elegant second city, I found myself in excellent company.

Leaning from the windows of the building in front of me were the Lumiere brothers, pioneers of the movies, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, creator of the Little Prince, the Emperor Claudius and, suddenly appearing at the door, Paul Bocuse, one of the world’s top chefs, and the only one of this gathering still alive.

This selection of Lyon’s citizens was made possible by the local custom of creating elaborate trompe l’oeil murals. La Fresque des Lyonais is wrapped around a wedge-shaped building on the banks of the Saone – and is one the city’s most striking sights.

If you love Paris, Lyon is a great alternative. It compresses all the best elements of the capital in a handy, pocket-sized version, and you can get there easily on the Eurostar from London’s St Pancras International in five hours, via Paris or Lille.

The view of Vieux Lyon (the old town) is reminiscent of gazing down from Sacre Coeur, and Le Tour Metallique does a good impersonation of the Eiffel Tower.

With an efficient Metro system you can enjoy the excellent shopping and museums, before heading to any one of the 2,000 restaurants, which hold no fewer than 22 Michelin stars between them.

My boyfriend and I decided to orientate ourselves with a walking tour of Vieux Lyon. Well, disorientate might be a better description since the city has a unique system of hidden alleys through buildings called traboules.

Traboules (a contraction of the Latin transambulare – to walk through) were created to keep silk dry as it was moved around the city.

The covered alleys open into dinky, arched courtyards where signs of modern occupation come from wheelie bins and pushchairs.

The longest traboule passes through five courtyards from Rue St-Jean to Rue du Boeuf. Re-emerging on to the latter, we were yards away from our brilliantly located hotel, the romantic Cour des Loges, converted from an old monastery around a central glass covered courtyard.

Our room was up a spiral stone staircase in one of the towers. The walls, with exposed bricks, were draped with rich textiles and daylight visible only from an internal stairwell and two tiny barred windows about ten feet above our heads.

It felt like we were reliving the experience of an impoverished, post-Revolution aristocrat thrown into debtors’ prison, made slightly more comfortable by the installation of an avocado sunken bath, red silk cushions and a minibar.

Guests at Cour des Loges in search of more daylight can find it in the elegant, airy courtyard restaurant, which serves delicious dinners and a feast of a Sunday brunch.

Between meals, we explored the history of Lyon through its museums. A Lyon City Card, available from the Tourist Office in Place Bellecour or hotel concierges, gets you into museums, on guided tours and aboard public transport.

The Museum of Textiles in the 18th Century Hotel de Villeroy celebrates the city’s silk industry on which its wealth was built. Sumptuous exhibits include exquisite fabrics and clothes from the Renaissance to the present day, as well as more historical pieces, such as Persian carpets and Coptic tapestries, beautifully displayed.

A darker time in Lyon’s history is reflected in the Resistance and Deportation History Centre, housed symbolically in the building where the Gestapo made its HQ. The excellent commentary was quite chilling, but also told stories of incredible bravery and heroism.

The gastronomic highlight of our trip was a magnificent dinner at the restaurant of legendary, three Michelin-starred chef Paul Bocuse, to the north of the city in his brightly painted riverside mansion at Collonges-sur-Saone. Bocuse collected his third star in 1965 and is now in his eighties, so signature dishes are left to his team of chefs.

Our eight-course dinner began with the most delicious Black Truffle Soup – created for President Giscard d’Estaing in 1975 – followed by Red Mullet Encrusted With Crispy Potato Slices (fashioned into fish scales) in a divine sauce with a Veal Jus Swirl.

We cleansed our palates with Beaujolais Sorbet, before Bresse Chicken With Truffles cooked in a bladder. Gorgeous cheeses were followed by a good old-fashioned sweet trolley laden with a dozen tempting confections.

At 220 Euros per person, this Menu Grande Tradition Classique is a rare gastronomic experience – but probably more memorable than five dinners in ordinary Parisian restaurants at 45 Euros a pop.

Monsieur Bocuse has opened five more affordable restaurants around Lyon, his brasseries Le Nord, le Sud, l’Est, l’Ouest and Argenson.

We retired to our luxury cell at midnight to dream sweetly, and awoke ravenous to a fabulous buffet breakfast.

The Sunday food market was in full swing a short walk from the hotel and we stocked up on cheeses, salami, baguettes and a fruit tart for our picnic on the train home.

There was just time before our departure to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the 19th Century basilica. The 100-year-old funicular by the cathedral whisked us up the Fourviere Hill and we met our guide (tours are booked through the tourist office) on the basilica steps.

We climbed the stairs, first to the arched stone gallery high above the congregation celebrating mass for an eagle-eyed view of fabulous mosaics and stone carvings from floor to ceiling. Then up and up we climbed to a small museum in a gantry between the top of the dome and the pitched roof, before finally stepping out on to the roof.

The 300 steps did make me gasp a little, but it was the view of the city sprawled out below which was truly breathtaking.

Key facts

Best for: Gastronomy – from simple saucissons to three-Michelin stars.

Time to go: Anytime, just see what’s on at www.en.lyon.france.com.

Don’t miss: The Sunday morning craft market on Quai Romain Rolland.

Need to know: Museums are shut on Mondays, but many close on Tuesdays too.

Don’t forget: Download the free Lyon Card app before you go.

Travel facts

CAROLINE Hendrie was a guest of Eurostar which offers London-Lyon return fares, via Lille on Eurostar and TGV, from £109. Journey time 4hours 57 minutes. Eurostar offers connecting fares from more than 200 stations in the UK. Reservations: 08432 186 186 and www.eurostar.com.

Cour des Loges (0033 4 7277 4444 and www.courdesloges.com) double rooms start at 240 Euros (£200). Breakfast extra (£22).

Paul Bocuse (00 33 4 7242 9090, www.bocuse.fr); Lyon information (www.en.lyon-france.com).

Short break operators to Lyon include French Travel (FTS) which offers two nights B&B at three star Ibis Hotel from £252, incl return rail travel.

FTS reservations: 0844 848 8843 and www.f-t-s.co.uk