Monthly Archives: August 2016

French markets: a thriving tradition in Lyon

French markets: a thriving tradition in Lyon

French markets: They exist in most towns and cities all over the country, and within cities, in major neighborhoods where merchants gather at least once or twice a week. They can be outdoor (le Marché Saleya in Nice,) or indoor, in old buildings often referred to as les Halles, like the lively Marché des Carmes in Toulouse.

As I traveled through France, from Paris, to Lyon, and Nice, this summer, I tried to visit as many as I could. Even in the days of globalization and convenience shopping, ruled by hypermarket chains like Auchan, Casino, or Carrefour, my countrymen remain faithful to French markets and, to a large extent, to their neighborhood specialty shops, les commerces de proximité. Markets are one of the best places to observe the French way of life. Everything you have ever wanted to know about France’s love of food and the good life, is in full display in the middle of colorful stalls. I have never found their equivalent in the United States, where many Farmers’ markets, at least in my area, seem to offer as many crafts and souvenirs as they do produce. There are rules and rituals au marché, just like in other areas of French life. You do not touch the produce. You point at what you want or ask for it. You trust the merchant to pick the best fruit or vegetable. Do you need un melon (cantaloupe) for lunch tomorrow? Ask for it. The merchant will smell and weigh a couple of cantaloupes in his hand before he makes his final selection and announces: “Voilà, celui-ci est parfait.” And if this is any reputable market merchant, it will be just that, perfect. To enjoy your market experience, you need to speak a little French, enough to make small talk; exchange greetings, a few pleasantries about the weather; and if you are more advanced, a joke or two about current events, or the latest of the president’s blunders. At French markets, you meet friends; catch up with your favorite merchants, and stock up for part of the week. There is no need to buy a lot: Your fridge or pantry would be too small to accommodate more than a couple of days’ worth of supplies. Why worry? The market will be back a few days later, and in the meantime, you will eat fresh food. You may want to bring your own bag to French markets. Merchants will only offer flimsy plastic bags. If you are a native, you will walk the market with your caddie.

French markets
Monsieur, Madame, et le caddie (Monsieur *must* be French: He is wearing his sweater on his shoulders.)

In Lyon, France, there are neighborhood markets, and some are famous. Once again, the renowned French capital of gastronomy gives Paris a run for her money. The covered Les Halles de Lyon founded by legendary Chef Paul Bocuse, is one. Le Marché St Antoine, on la Presqu’Île (the peninsula,) is another. I was only in Lyon for two days, and over a weekend to boot. On Saturday morning I crossed the Saône river, left my hotel in le Vieux Lyon (the old town,) and headed towards la Croix-Rousse, one of the two big hills in the city. It faces Fourvière Hill, directly across the river. I knew I was in for a treat, and a workout. It’s a steep climb up les pentes (the slopes) of the old working-class neighborhood where silk workers, les Canuts, used to slave away, all the way to the top, le plateau de la Croix-Rousse.

Across la Passerelle St Vincent to la Croix-Rousse
Across la Passerelle St Vincent to la Croix-Rousse
Mur des Canuts
Le Mur des Canuts, the largest mural in Europe, depicts scenes of daily life (and La Croix-Rousse’s stairs) in trompe-l’oeil style.

French markets

As you climb uphill through the old streets, everything looks unmistakably French, the buildings, the people, the streets and the trees lining them, les platanes.

Place Sathonay
Place Sathonay

Finally, you reach le plateau and the busy boulevard de la Croix-Rousse. There, every day except Monday, merchants and locals meet, engaging in the most enduring of French rituals: life at the outdoor market. I have visited many French markets, but this one is unique. It runs along the boulevard for over one kilometer, stall after stall of produce, meat, charcuterie, cheese, bread, and everything else in between. Colors, smells, sounds of conversation and laughter fill the air. To this French expat, nothing (except maybe, a café terrace,) says “home” more than French markets; and as markets go, the lively Marché de la Croix-Rousse, feels real. There were hardly any tourists there at 9:00 am that morning, just locals. A few people walked around, taking photos, as I did. Travel tip: Merchants appreciate being asked first. Just show your camera and smile, “Bonjour! Je peux, Monsieur?” (Hello, may I take a photo, sir?) Most will gladly let you take shots of their stalls, even if you are not buying. A gentleman in front of me was snapping away, and got taunted by several merchants who shouted jokingly as he walked away: “Attention, voilà les Paparazzi!

French markets

French markets
Two local saucissons (the pistachio-flavored one was the best!) followed me all the way to Nice

French markets

French market
Mara des Bois. My favorite breakfast during the whole trip, savored bite by bite, as I strolled around the market


I knew what I was looking for: I had planned an early lunch picnic down by the Saône river before I tackled the second Lyon hill that afternoon, la colline de Fourvière. A local boulangerie provided the basics, and my nose took me to the essential part of the meal.

French market
Demi-baguette tradition

Poulet Roti

French market
Not just any Poulet rôti: Poulet de Bresse!
French markets
Le dessert: a local specialty, Tarte aux pralines

And there I had it, the perfect weekend visit to a perfect city, on a perfect summer day, with the perfect picnic. As I enjoyed my lunch in the sun by the water, I was reminded of a favorite saying of mine: La vie est faite de petits bonheurs. As petits bonheurs go, Lyon delivers. The city I once called home so many years ago, welcomed me back with open arms. Merci, Lyon.

(It goes without saying:) A bientôt. 

French markets

All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use without permission.

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To read more about Lyon:

Lyon, the other City of Light(s) here.

Savoring Lyon’s food here.


17 Responses to French markets: a thriving tradition in Lyon

  1. Still my favourite place to shop for produce, at the market. Despite having lived in France for years, the excitement of the market has never waned, it is now a part of my general routine!

    • I love les Maras des Bois. They are so tasty, just sweet enough. Baguettes and Mara des Bois? Sounds like a good French lunch to me (had I been around, I would have come over with some saucisson too. You need those proteins. ;-))

  2. It would be hard to say what my one favorite thing is about France, but the French market would for sure be in my top 5, maybe even top 3. Do you have a favorite? I like all of them in Paris, but esp Blvd Raspail and also Richard Lenoir. The ones in Provence are wonderful, too, such as Vaison de la Romaine, Ile sur la Sorgue, etc. I would love to go to Lyon and see the city and the markets.

    • Bonsoir Harriett. I used to live near le Marché d’Aligre in Paris, so I would have to say that is my favorite one. I lived in Vincennes as well with my family, and loved the market there. That’s the beauty of France: There are good markets, large or small, everywhere. A bientôt à Seattle! 🙂

  3. Après ce bel aperçu de Lyon ,il ne reste qu’une envie ,celle de prendre le train pour en faire la visite .

    Merci Véronique pour cette escapade .

  4. I would truly love to buy this beautiful produce. You are correct that here we don’t get the opportunity. Not only are there not markets, but there is no place to put it. Things are too spread out here and inconvenient. How I would love this! Great post. Thank you much!

    • Merci de votre visite Debra. To be fair, there are markets in the US: Pike Place Market in Seattle, of course, which is always fun (but touristy and crowded,) and in New York City, the {covered} Chelsea market. The atmosphere and vibe are different, though. Still, I’ll gladly visit a market wherever I go.

  5. Votre pique-nique est parfait! The last two trips to France have been marked by the purchase of Opinel knives. The first in Strasbourg, the second, after a little bit of searching, in Avignon. Since we make-do with only carry-on luggage for our trips to Europe, we haven’t been able to pack a knives for our “picnic kit” and have had to purchase them on arrival. The Opinel knives are perfect. The ones we have bought fold up into their handles for easy transport, and are always ready to cut up the perfect cheese, baguette, or fruit (ou même le poulet rôti !). Since we have had to buy new ones each trip, they have been great souvenirs for loved ones back home.

    • Bonjour Sandra. I can only agree. The beautiful folding Opinel knife you see in the picnic photo has been traveling with me for over 25 years, not to mention the picnics, or work lunches here in the US. This is a great, traditional, made-to-last French product. I have never had to sharpen the blade, believe it or not! As you point out, what a great gift too. A bientôt.

  6. Great story and the accompanying photo’s only made my mouth water and my stomach rumble as I imagined eating such delicious food. When I lived on Whidbey Island I always loved the Summer Market there. Asian markets are different then the one’s in Europe I imagine.

  7. I want to try and figure out a way to grow strawberries here in Seattle as close to those delicious mara Des bois! In Paris I about died, they were incredible!

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Savoring Lyon’s food

Savoring Lyon’s food

You followed French Girl in Seattle around Lyon a few days ago. We looked at historic streets, buildings and churches, scenic riverbanks, and at least one world-class museum. Let’s be honest: We can’t talk about that magnificent French city without discussing Lyon’s food. Tout un programme. A long story. Lyon is said to be the French (even the…

15 Responses to Savoring Lyon’s food

  1. What fun you must have had finding the restaurant, wonderful! Everything sounded delicious. I’m looking forward to Part 2. As an aside, Marita and I booked our tours in Paris and Bordeaux. We are taking a 4.5 hr cooking class in Paris and we are so excited!

    • Merci Cherie. So happy Marita and you are returning to la Belle France soon. I know you will have a fabulous time, including at the cooking school in Paris. You will have to report back when you return. Enjoy Bordeaux too. Another beautiful French city to explore. Bon voyage!

  2. Finding a bouchon was confusing for us…most menus offered many of the same dishes which were unfamiliar even though I have spent a lot of time in France. But I think we found a gem, recommended by one of those lovely, warm and helpful people who worked at the desk of our small hotel. It is in la Presqu’Ile and I would recommend it but would love to know your thoughts if you go back. Another food related experience was the fabulous market! And a little restaurant serving only poulet de Bresse and decorated with chickens and roosters of all types everywhere you looked!

    • Bonjour Heather. I wonder if your “little gem” is not the place a local friend recommended to me during my stay. I never made it there, but I just looked at the restaurant’s website, and it seems the shoe fits. Will show it to her and report back to you. I see it does belong to the limited list of official “Bouchons” I mentioned. Ah, Lyon, so many restaurants, so little time…

  3. I gained five pounds (2.5 kilos?) in Lyon and never got rid of them. We ate and ate and ate and reveled in every second of it, from the simple bouchons to two-Michelin-starred restaurants (that was the limit of our budget, and 2 stars in Lyon already guarantee amazing amazing food).
    Your friend from Notre Maison gave good advice for choosing a restaurant in any city: limited options, not too many translations. Also, not too obvious. I’m thinking of a street in the heart of Brussels that’s lined with restaurants, most with covered (for the rain) outdoor seating and a maître d’hôtel who is more carnival barker, cajoling passing tourists. At the end of the same street is a severe building with one of the best restaurants in town. Nobody begging anyone to enter. No menu posted in 27 languages. Easy to walk right past.

    • Merci de votre visite. Gaining a few extra pounds in Lyon is an easy thing to do, I can see that. I was only saved by the impressive number of steps I took to explore once again as much of the city I could in two days, and by the other ways I sustained myself (more about that in Part 2,) the rest of the time. Good observation about restaurants in touristy cities. I have not been back to Brussels for a long time. Now I want to return 🙂 Bonne journée!

  4. If you don’t have the time to try them all… good local advice is clearly helpful… and an article like this one!
    I remember a visit to Lyon with the kids, when they were young. They were unfortunately not yet at the age to appreciate “les bouchons” (we had to lie a little about what they were really having on their plates), but I know that they have been back as adults … and have appreciated. It’s really special!!
    (I have been lucky enough also to make Bocuse and Troisgros… That’s also an experience, but different!!)

    • Dear Peter, I can see why you’d have to lie to kids about what’s in their plate if they are having local delicacies such as andouillette or gras double 😉 As for you, Bocuse and les Trois Gros: Only the best for Peter Olson…

      • You can still enjoy a Bocuse experience at the 2 star ( or toques) level- we dined at Brasserie Le Sud and it was terrific!

  5. Bonjour! This post is made my mouth water. I love how the restaurants support one another, such as when they couldn’t accommodate you, they took the time to recommend another great place for your to try. That’s a great indication of a quality establishment!

    I have never been to Lyon, but you’ve made me particularly interested in making it my next France excursion! 🙂

    • I highly encourage you to go to Lyon, Jessica, even if only to get away from big tourist crowds in other French cities like Paris. I loved how all these restaurants took food (and each other’s businesses) so seriously, and they did their best to save me from a fate worse than death: eating in a tourist joint with a menu translated in 5 languages! 😉

  6. I would say your sour evening turned into lemonade. I always try to eat early or very late when I travel to avoid the long waits for food. One must savor and enjoy your meal and France is a great place to do that. Although I have only been to the country once for a couple days, I managed to see Paris and Toulon in that time and take in the sites. Although as you said being a female traveler does tend to get you better service then being a young male. 🙂

    • Bonjour George! You are not kidding: I fully enjoy the perks of being a solo female traveler. I basically never have time to get bored in restaurants. Either the people at the table next door, or the waiter will invariably chat me up. Hope you get to return to la Belle France soon.

  7. Merci FG, exactement ce qu’il me fallait. Tant de choix, sans doute. Et en plus, ton blog me fait penser qu’il faut faire les réservations, bien que je sois tout seul. Je doute que j’aurai la même bonne chance que tu as eu. Encore merci !

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Lyon, the other City of Light(s)

Lyon, the other City of Light(s)

Is Lyon the most underrated city in France? C’est possible. She’s lived in the shadow of her big sister, Paris, for hundreds of years. They are the same age, over 2000 years old. Paris is crossed by a mighty river, la Seine, but Lyon has two, la Saône et le Rhône. Paris has two major islands, L’Ile…

30 Responses to Lyon, the other City of Light(s)

  1. I am so glad when you went back that it was still fantastic. I love going back to old haunts, often they have changed, but usually for the better, some things remain as they have for centuries, others have evolved. Looking forward to part II, and yes I am guilty, despite having lived in France for many years, I am a coastal girl, I know every department from Normandy down the west coast to the Pyrennes Atlantique and then all of the Mediterranean coastline, but not the interior! Guilty as charged!!!

  2. What a report after such a relatively short stay… and a second episode to follow! You can really find that you love Lyon (as you love Paris, Nice, Toulouse….)! Although I’m a bit of a Paris fan, I agree with you – Lyon is a very nice place! I’m sure you have been able to convince some of your faithful followers! 🙂

  3. A wonderful story and photos Veronique!! You included so much detail and I love the 30 year return trip to discover what has changed and what has not. How much have our own changes and experiences affected those perceptions? I’ve done that a few times in different places and it’s always difficult to fully describe. You did it beautifully. Lyon is one of my favorite places in France and I’d love to go back and visit there again one of these days soon. One of the best dining experiences I ever had was at Paul Bocuse – not simply the meal, but the events leading up to it as well talking with Paul and his wife afterward. Thanks for sharing!

    • Always fun to hear from you, Dale! Since you know Lyon well, and love her, I am happy you enjoyed this post and think I did her justice. I did not get to eat chez Monsieur Bocuse, unfortunately, but did not go starving either. More about that later. A bientôt.

  4. Merci for the wonderful vicarious trip to Lyon this morning, such a beautiful city. You make it all seem so easy to see everything and thoroughly enjoy the city. I’m so glad you were able to visit your past and that it didn’t disappoint. You are an excellent ambassador to France. I look forward to your next post.

  5. Old paved streets, small restaurants with wonderful food, good wines, I feel like I want to pack again and hit the road to say hi to Guignol. Thank you for that lovely trip without leaving my chair.

  6. Oh my! How I enjoyed this post! Lyon will definitely be on my to do list. So beautiful! However did you get anything done in 2 days? The history seems fabulous. The streets so quaint. The Basilica is stunning. Thank you so much for sharing. I am learning so much from you. I really appreciate the opportunity to follow you.

    • Bonsoir Debra. I did pack a lot in two days, but made sure there was time to sit down, pause and enjoy “special moments” too, like that visit to the beautiful park on the top of Fourvière hill shown in the video. I really appreciate to have you as a reader. Merci.

  7. Thanks for the inspiration, I am one of those who have bypassed Lyon. My next trip begins with Lyon! (Returning home From Nice, I miss France already… Waiting for part 2 – your travel posts will have to do until the next trip)

  8. I just discovered your wonderful blog and loved your trip report. I could close my eyes and almost imagine myself in the places you visited.

    As a 30 year Resident of Japan from the PACNORWEST area, I am always amazed about life choices that take some of us far beyond where we grew up or were born.

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading many more stories. Arigato Gozaimasu.

  9. I’m not sure how I got on the list for this Facebook post but it is so timely. We are leaving in three weeks for a month in Europe. The first half is filled in and we are working on the remaining. Your post settles one gap. Thank you!

  10. Although Paris will always have my heart, I absolutely LOVED Lyon! It’s a beautiful city with great food, excellent shopping, many interesting museums, silk!, but you didn’t mention the people! They were wonderful and so very warm and friendly. Having lived in Toulouse many years ago as a student, I saw a lot of the southwest, and also Provence. But all these many years later I made Lyon a destination on a trip which included only Paris and I am so glad I did. I would recommend to a first time visitor the Hop On bus service. Ride the entire route and get an overview of the city, then use it to go to the places that interest you. I had a 3 day pass and used it as transportation during those days. The metro is very efficient as well. After Paris it is now my favorite city in France.

    • Bienvenue Heather. Thank you for mentioning the people of Lyon. I dedicated this story to two of them, who used to be good friends of mine when I lived in the city. Many more deserve recognition! As for the silk industry, well, that is worthy of another blogpost entirely. So many stories, so little time. Bon weekend!

  11. Lyon is one of our favorite places in France, too, and your text and pictures bring back fond memories of our visits there! Paul Bocuse’s Brasserie Sud is among the best values anywhere in French cuisine (although Brasserie Georges is also fun for the antique atmosphere). The little town of Vienne (20 minutes south of Lyon) is almost a destination in itself, with some of the richest Roman ruins in the country. Glad I found my way to this blog!

  12. Je viens de découvrir votre blog, c’est magnifique ! J’habite actuellement à Lyon (je suis anglaise) et je trouve que c’est vrai, la majorité de touristes ignorent cette belle ville avec sa basilique, ses traboules, ses marchés incontournables… J’adore aussi le Parc de la Tête d’Or, ses jardins botaniques, les serres, les cerfs et le parc zoologique, trop bien en été!

    • Merci beaucoup Rosie. Ravie de votre visite. Oui, la belle ville de Lyon mérite vraiment un détour. Je suis pour ma part très heureuse d’y être repassée brièvement l’été dernier. Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle! Revenez quand vous voulez!

  13. Bonjour French Girl, one of the wonderful things about a blog, they live on. I’m in Ireland in August for work, but feel I have to take some time afterwards for several days in France. I know you’ve raved about both Bordeaux and Lyon, neither of which I’ve visited. I’ve visited a number of other French cities, so now I’m debating between these two. Any strong feelings? Merci en avance !

    • Bonjour Eric. Sorry, I only just saw this message. Lyon and Bordeaux are obviously very different cities, but there are similarities as well (both boast museums, and atmospheric old towns, beautiful riverbanks, and excellent public transportation.) If you are interested in gastronomy, I would pick Lyon over Bordeaux, but if you love to learn about wine, Bordeaux is an obvious choice, especially with the new “Cité du Vin.” Tough choice, really. I don’t think I want to make it. I love both (but have only lived in one.) 😉 Bonne chance et bonne visite.

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