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MY FRANCE - LYON

TOURISM

Avoiding Irish pubs in France’s culinary capital

For the latest instalment in our My France series, author and freelance writer Samantha David tells The Local why Lyon, the country's culinary capital, is a great place to live if you have the money and can put up with young Erasmus students and Irish pubs.

Avoiding Irish pubs in France's culinary capital
Le Palais Ideal de la Facteur, near Lyon (photo: Misterdi/flickr) Samantha David, and the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière (Photo: Ana Rey)

How did you end up in France?

I came here 25 years ago to learn French and get a sun tan and never went home.

And why Lyon?

I was living in Montpellier but moved to Lyon so my daughter could go to the Cité Scolaire International, which is a state school but allows pupils to do a bilingual baccalaureate.  

Tell us more about Lyon.

It’s a wealthy city, very bourgeois. It’s a great city if you have money and it’s hard not to get a job here. At the weekend many locals go to their posh country houses out of town. Its location is one of the best things about Lyon. In a couple of hours, you can be in Italy, Marseille or Paris. There’s also an easyJet hub here with flights to all over Europe.

Does it deserve its title as the culinary capital of France?

Sort of. There are a whole bunch of fabulously expensive restaurants (many outside the centre) which I'm sure are divine but I've never eaten at those kind of prices (100 euros a menu type thing). But the cheap restaurants here are mostly awful.

Traditional Lyon food is heavy on the animal fat, the offal, the pigs' feet, and quenelles (slimey dumplings) and main flavours are salt and garlic. Also, service tends to be sloppy, slow and unfriendly and kitchens like to close at 10pm sharp. There are a few chains open until midnight, but absolutely nothing afterwards. Sunday nights most restaurants are closed. 

Where are the best places to hang out in Lyon?

I would go to the Café de la Rep, just off Rue de la Republique because it’s French, it has the football on and they sell fantastic salads until midnight. It’s relaxed and it has a great atmosphere. The place that I like to keep a secret is a bar called Look Bar on Rue Palais de la Justice. The owners have had it for about 50 years and it has not changed. They still play The Doors on vinyl and they sell killer cocktails. Just don’t go there on Friday or Saturday because it becomes overrun by students.

Where is the best place to go for a day trip?

You have to go to the Palais Ideal de Facteur Cheval near the town of Hautieres. Forget the Eiffel Tower or Cannes, this is the must-see place in France. It was built by a postman out of the stones he collected whilst doing his rounds over 40 years. At first people here just thought he was a nutter until people from abroad began saying how extraordinary he was.

The other place is Annecy. It’s a 12th century mini Venice. Why would you not want to go there? It’s stunning.

Where do you tend to avoid in Lyon?

All the Irish pubs. Visitors love the old town centre which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but for me it’s a bit hackneyed. I am sick of all the Irish pubs there, you can’t get away from them. They are not really even Irish pubs. They are just a great place for Erasmus students or people who have never been to Ireland. They are just drinking factories for making money.

Lyon sounds overrun with students. Is it a good place to study?

There are a huge number of students here. But it depends where they are from. The Spanish ones will party anywhere, in the middle of a cabbage patch if they have to. But I think some of the British ones get bored here. It doesn’t have the clubs or the shops for those from big British cities.

Have you integrated into French life in Lyon?

Yeah, I think so. I speak fluent French and I have French nationality. I have a lot of French friends but I will always be a Londoner.

Samantha David's first novel "I Married a Pirate" was published in 2009. She has just finished her second novel "Blanche in Love" and is currently working on "In the Dog House".

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TOURISM

Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.

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