Lyon at night and Tain l’Hermitage in the morning…

After  a full day of activity and a dinner that featured the special chickens from Lyon, the Poulet de Bresse, the Ramblers were ready to spend a relaxing evening on the Catherine. However, our cruise director, Emmanuelle had other plans. She  had added an evening event, a driving tour of Lyon at night. She also hired two busses, each with a Lyonnais guide, for a  tour of  the historic downtown of Lyon, famously lit up at night.

Initially the Ramblers were not too eager to go because the tour wouldn’t start until 9 PM. Of course it wouldn’t begin until full dark, and the Rambler’s night photos didn’t often turn out the way she wanted. However when we learned that one of the busses had an open top and it was a clear night, we changed our minds. Fortunately we managed to get seats on the bus with the open top deck.

Here we are seated on the open topped bus, with the mini-Eiffel tower and the Basilica of Notre Dame in the distance.

If i was to get any worthwhile photos, it would have to be from on top.

As it turned out, we were glad we went. We got to see a beautiful city from an entirely different angle.

Beautiful detail on the entrance to the basilica.

It was fun, and although we got off near the basilica on the hilltop, visible during the day from our quay, most of the tour involved no more action than craning our necks to make sure we didn’t miss anything.  We also learned from our guide, Jean, how much the people of Lyon appreciated our traveling to France despite the horrendous events of a few months ago. We were happy to hear this, as you might imagine.

Our first stop was at the basilica de Notre Dame, beautifully lit to show the incredible detail of its exterior

Majestic at night, the Basilica of Notre Dame.

. In the distance, we could see Lyon’s copy of the Tour Eiffel, also lit up though much smaller. After a brief stop to view the lights of Lyon reflecting on Saone River, we climbed back on the bus  for a tour of the city. We didn’t realize that Lyon had over 300 wall paintings or frescoes. These has been painted by a group called  CitéCréation starting in the early 80’s to revitalize the city. The murals they produced  were designed not just as decoration but to help the people of Lyon rediscover their local identity, to trace the history of a particular quartier, or district, and to make art accessible to everyone.They have certainly been successful  as the painting are wonderful.

Here is a close-up as I could get with a camera that has no zoom. I think you can see that the people look thred dimensional.

Obviously we were able to see only a few of the paintings on that night. The one we got the best look at is perhaps the most famous trompe l’oeil mural in Lyon.  Called La Fresque des Lyonnais, it depicts  some 30 of Lyon’s most renowned citizens, past and present. Included in this group are the Roman emperor Claudius, who was born here when Lyon was the Lugdunum of Roman Gaul; the pioneer film making Lumière brothers; silk weaver and inventor of the Jacquard loom Joseph-Marie Jacquard and author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  Others appear on their balconies by the Saône River. The famous Lyon chef Paul Bocuse stands in the doorway of a typical Lyonnais restaurant, and at one of his tables is crime writer Frédéric Dard. Just down the road is La Bibliothèque de la Cité, the City Library, another trompe l’oeil, which sits opposite a real second-hand book market on the banks of the river. The murals are so life like that they appear third dimensional. Certainly these murals were the highlight of our visit ranking right up there with the Bocuse Market. Both were typical of the city in totally different ways.

The reason the Catherine is so white and clean is the sailors scrub her down whenever they have a chance.

The next morning  we woke to find the Catherine docked at the attractive small town of Tain L’Hermitage.

The dock at Tain L’Hermitage.

It is situated in prime vineyard country so we had the option of taking a tour of the town and vineyards on a mini-train or doing the same thing on a bicycle. We didn’t have to ponder this one. Since the train would take us up Hermitage Hill,  famous for its terroir but a good walk up to the top, we opted for the mini-train. Quite a few of our passengers took the bike option and zoomed past us later on as we chugged up the steep hillside in the little train.  Of course they had to pedal up the winding road to the hilltop first.

Many hectares of premium vines grow here.

Although we did not visit any tasting rooms, Tain L’Hermitage  and its sister town Tournon, are famous because of the wines produced there. If you have time, I would suggest visiting the tasting rooms of Chapoutier and Jaboulet. You won’t be able to ship any wine home, but both companies export to the US and Australia. Unlike in the US, wine tastings in France are free, so enjoy if you can. We had a chance to taste Tain L’Hermitage’s other claim to fame, the wonderful chocolate produced at the Valhrona House of Chocolat.

The Ramblers chose the last car of the Tiny Train as it was the best for taking unobstructed photos as we traveled up the hill, and we were glad we did. The train was open to anyone who wanted to pay the small fee. A young mother and her children asked if they could join us and although we couldn’t communicate well, we enjoyed having them on the train.

The Tiny Train of the Vines, en route.

Near the end of  our tiny train tour, those who wanted to visit the famous Valhrona House of Chocolat were dropped off in Tain. It is not really that big of a place, and it would be a relatively easy walk back to the Catherine even for me. The Senior Rambler opted to ride back to the ship so he missed out on tasting some terrific chocolate. He thought that they only made dark chocolate, and he only eats milk chocolate, lots of milk chocolate. In this case, he was very wrong; their milk chocolate was just as good as the dark and ready for sampling.

The site of the tasting room of Valhrona. The factory and school of chocolate are nearby.

One of the top French brands of chocolate, Valhrona has been produced  in Tain L’Hermitage since 1922. Besides the factory, they have a school where they teach chefs how best to use chocolate in cooking. They are also famous for working with growers and have long been one of the companies that produce chocolate from single bean varietal.

Visiting the Valrhona store is an amazing experience even if you are not a chocoholic.  I have never seen so much chocolate available for tasting in one place. Dark, milk, filled, plain… even hot chocolate to taste, not so appealing on a warm day, but good nevertheless. As to the fillings, they ran the gamut from the more common creams and jellies to exotic flavors, and being France, liquor filled chocolates.

A selection of their chocolate bars, all different , depending on the cocoa beans used and the amount of sugar. In the lower right hand corner, you get a glimpse of one of the many dishes of samples scattered around the room. Lighting was terrible for photography.

Although I enjoy chocolate, I only tried a few pieces, and bought some to take home. I did notice that most of the people in the store were tasting multiple samples and I expect that they suffered from severe chocolate overload later on. In a way, the experience was similar to that of  a wine tasting where you are offered substantial tastes of many delicious wines too good to spit out and you pay for it later. The chocolates were so tasty that I didn’t see anyone discarding a half-eaten piece.

Unfortunately Valrhona besides being one of the best tasting chocolates is also quite expensive, so choose wisely when you visit.

This smiling young woman carefully wrapped my packages.

Thoughtfully, the charming young woman who waited on me added a variety of  samples to my bag which was beautifully wrapped.

Back on board, we gratefully sank into comfortable chairs to watch the Saone flow by on the way to our next day’s stop, Viviers.

The traboules of Lyon and the famous Bocuse Market

Wednesday morning, we woke  to clear blue skies and a view of Lyon across the Saone.  Our excursions looked promising. First a trek through Vieux Lyon for a look at the traboules or covered passages of the silk weaver’s district and then a visit to the Paul Bocuse Market. It would be a busy but fascinating day.

As you can see, Lyon also has its grafitti artists. The Basilica is at the top of the hill and to the right is their mini Eiffel Tower. We would see both lit up at night.

The word ‘traboule’ is a corruption of the Latin ‘trans-ambulare’, or ‘to pass through’, and the earliest date from the 4th century. These passages were built to allow more direct access to the town’s fresh water wells than the winding streets provided. There may be as many as 400 traboules in Lyon- but only a small percentage of them are open to the public, mostly located primarily in the historic Vieux-Lyon and the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse areas.

In recent years, the city of Lyon bought up many of the ancient properties in both neighborhoods and converted them into low cost housing. However, the renters had to agree to allow access to the traboules during a normal workday before they could live in one of these apartments. If you want to check out the traboules, it is best to go with a local guide, because they are hard to find unless you know where to look. Visitors are expected to act appropriately. When you enter a traboule, you will be walking past peoples’ front yards, so to speak.

One of the ancient wells that were accessed by the traboules. No air conditioning here but they do have running water.

A traboule may be hidden behind a stout wooden door or can be entered from an open courtyard. They are an often mysterious and hidden record of the past.  While most are hidden behind locked doors, the city of Lyon has placed markers by the entrance to some that are open to the public. These were the ones we visited with our guide.

For a brief period at the end of the 18th century, the traboules briefly served as a hiding place for the silk workers of Lyon. They had rebelled against the industrialization of their ancient craft which cost them their livelihood.

While the interior has a hint of hidden mystery.

Lyon was once the capital of Roman Gaul and later served as the center of the French silk industry. Unfortunately industrialization made hand woven fabrics prohibitively expensive and the industry died out. A small amount of hand woven silk is still produced in Lyon today.

This traboule had the look of a Renaissance tower,

Our next stop would be the famous Paul Bocuse Market or Les Halles. , Bocuse, now  91, has been the face of Lyon’s gastronomy for many years. One of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine, Bocuse has, over his long career, trained many chefs who have gone on to become famous in his own right. During his long life, Bocuse has been in the forefront of French chefs, a lusty and vigorous man well into his senior years.

Paul Bocuse in his Top Chef regalia. he was in his 80’s when this photo was taken.

The Covered Market of Les Halles is not really a tourist place, although  tourists go there as we did. It  mainly serves the people of Lyon who go there to buy the very best of Lyonnaise products showcased in a most beautiful fashion. If you want to see all the wonderful and sometimes strange products that make French cuisine so outstanding, you can find them there. Blue-footed chickens? Check!  Esoteric cheeses? Check! Any  part of a pig but the squeal? Check! Amazing baked goods? Check! Sausages of all shapes and kinds? Check!

As we  learned, in this covered market, the citizens of Lyon can buy the finest food products produced in the area and so they do, when they can afford them. We, on the other hand could merely admire the bountiful displays. The Rambler wished she had a market only half as good near her home in Georgia.

A typical Lyon bouchon, or bistro, which serves the popular dishes of the area at affordable prices. usually very good and affordable tho not haute cuisine.

We did not get a chance to visit one of the Paul Bocuse restaurants when we were in Lyon, however at dinner that night, one of the entrees featured a special chicken breast from the famous Poularde de Bresse, that was sold at the market. It was delicious.

Here is a listing of what a full meal at a Paul Bocuse restaurant would cost, and what it would contain.  Would love to try it.


Collonges au Mont d’Or, Rhône (69)

275.00€ tax inclusive
per person

Apéritif + Starter + 2 main courses + Cheese + Dessert + 1 bottle of wine for 2 + 1 bottle of water for 2 + Coffee

And now for a look at some fabulous and quite expensive foodstuffs.

If you study this photo, you can see that the chickens are sold complete with heads and feet. This identifies them as Poularde de Bresse, the only breed of poultry that has its own appellation and sells for 20 Euros a kilo!
As the sign says, delices, and I am sure they are very delicious!
The omnipresent Bocuse stares at the customers at a shop selling sausages.
A variety of excellent and expensive meats

And finally, macaron heaven!


Love these things, they are addictive and expensive at the Bocuse market.