Surely we’ve wandered into a stage-set for ’Allo ’Allo.
Cobbled streets are crammed with bijou bistros with red checked table-tops. A waft of coffee and accordion music infuses the night air.
In so quintessential a setting, a man in a stripy Breton top should surely appear on a bicycle brandishing a string of garlic while humming the Marseillaise.
It’s hard to believe that lovely old Lyon is for real.
The second largest city in France and the home of gastronomy, the city is as pretty as a French sit-com.
But it’s got more than looks; it is so crammed with history and culture it’s been crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 18 museums to explore.
And with 2,000 restaurants, 13 of them Michelin-starred, it all adds up to an idyllic city break for culture vulture foodies – and South Yorkshire ones in particular.
You can fly direct from Manchester in under two hours and the city is just a 20-minute drive, or half an hour on a shuttle bus (25euros return), from the Saint Exupery airport.
A great place to start your exploration of the city is from on high. Take the funicular railway up to the top of Fourviere, one of the two hills that shelter Lyon. First inhabited by the Romans in 15BC, at the pinnacle is Notre Dame de Fourviere basilica, built in the 1870s. Gaze at the silk-weavers’ hills in the distance, then down on the entire city, sliced through by the rivers Saone and Rhone, and get your bearings.
On the walk downhill, a huge Roman amphitheatre appears, almost as unexpectedly as it did to the nuns digging in the grounds of their convent in the 1930s.
Continue downwards through the rose and hydrangea filled Rosaire Gardens to the old Gothic and Renaissance Vieux Lyon, the old town whose staggeringly pretty street scenes have barely changed since they were built in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Here lie secret doorways to ancient times. Hidden corridors – the traboules – link one street to the next, en route opening out into architectural treasures and tiny inner courtyards. Spiralling staircases are housed in Sleeping Beauty-style round towers.
Lyon has trolley buses and an underground metro, but essentially this is a walking city. Prepare to amble over bridges, down riverside boulevards, through gardens. In the peninsular created by the two rivers, the Presqqu’ile, wander through beautiful squares boasting stunning architecture and discover fascinating little shops and designer boutiques.
If your prefer, rent a bicycle by the hour through the Velvo V scheme – they are located everywhere.
It’s just as well you’re getting the exercise, as it’s all about the food here.
With the exception of Paris, its choice and quality of restaurants is unrivalled.
Plus it’s the birthplace of three-Michelin star chef Paul Bocuse, whose world-famous restaurant, Auberge du Pont de Collonges, is a gourmet’s delight. We didn’t eat there, but at Le Sud, one of his four very affordable and down to earth brasseries sited at the four corners of the city. Our simple and elegant Mediterranean-style three-course menu was under 24 euros.
They say Lyon is where butter meets olive oil – where classic, dairy-rich French cuisine fuses with the culinary style of the Mediterranean. Whatever, its heart still belongs to mama. Lyon’s traditional cuisine was always cooked by women and the bouchons, the small, homely restaurants serving Lyon specialities are still run by women today.
The most famous bouchon is La Mere Brazier in the 1st District, 100 euros a head for two-Michelin star cuisine. We head a few streets down to the Bouchon des Filles. In this sweet place with a beamed ceiling and pink checked table cloths the menu is a mere 25 euros.
Chefs Laura and Isabelle cook rustic dishes with gutsy flavours ; chicken liver salad, black pudding and apple savoury pie, smoky lentils, chocolate fondant with poppy-flavoured ice cream. It’s heaven on a plate. And the house Cote Du Rhone is its perfect accompaniment.