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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
And finally, macaron heaven!