Ferris wheel in Place Bellecour, Festival of Lights, Lyon

LSD in Lyon: the Festival of Lights

Life is an adventure, and adventures can be tough as well as exciting. The best antidote to the tough times is laughing, singing & dancing, or LSD as they called it when I was in California.  I went to Lyon for some much-needed LSD – after receiving one of life’s many set-backs – on 6 December, the day after I arrived back in London from Los Angeles.

All three LSD activities trigger the release of endorphins, your body’s natural feel-good hormones. Laughing, singing & dancing also reduces stress, increases blood flow and aerobic fitness, and are great social binders – us humans need social connection.

Enough about Power Thinking. Each year Lyon has a Festival of Lights to coincide with the Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December. The Festival dates back to 1643, when the inhabitants of Lyon promised to pay tribute to Mary, Mother of Jesus, if the city were spared from the plague… and it was.

Since then, during the Festival, the inhabitants of France’s third most populous city put candles in their windows, while a series of artistic ‘light’ spectacles take place across Lyon over three or four days.

The Basilica of Notre-Dame Fourviere radiates beams of blue light across the Old Town and the river Saone.

Partying in Lyon

Now Lyon gets really crowded during the Festival, and that’s not my kind of thing. The real reason why I was there was for an early Christmas party, where there was plenty of LSD… although the dancing was just pole dancing,  around someone’s leg. Out of the 15 bottles between the 16 of us, my favourites were:

  • La Bota sherry from Equipo Navazos in Spain
  • Jacques Selosse champagne – one of the founders of the grower champagne movement
  • Chateau Petit Village, Pomerol 1976
  • Côtes du Jura, Domaine Labet, La Reine – a Gamay wine
  • 2008 Chablis, Vincent Dauvissat – said by my wine friends to be one of the best Chablis producers
Christmas table in Lyon

Bouchon lyonnais – Café du Peintre

There was also lots of laughing during the lunch at my favourite bouchon lyonnais, the Café du Peintre, about 10 minutes’ walk from the Part-Dieu train station towards the Tête d’Or park . Now a bouchon is a restaurant serving typical lyonnais cuisine.

If I look a little red in the face it’s because I had been out photographing in Beaujolais and I had not had time to change out of  my thermal top. And if I look tired, it’s because I had got up very early, and I was still jet lagged from Los Angeles.

What I ate at Café du Peintre

Chicken Liver Cake with Tomato Coulis
Veal with Chestnuts and ‘Forgotten’ Vegetables

Then came a dessert of Tiramisu with chestnuts, all included in the €21 set menu price.

Sebastien Crozatier, founder of Clos Driver, with Florence Perler, owner and chef of the Café du Peintre

Here is what we drank…

And then if you are looking for something even more informal, the sister restaurant next door, Au P’tit Peintre, offers a three-course meal for €16 – a bargain.

RM in Lyon

The last time I went to Lyon, I had wanted to track down a really good wine store selling natural wine. Natural wine, as defined in the book  “>Natural Wine by Isabelle Legeron, founder of the RAW Wine Fairs in London, NY and Berlin, is “organic and biodynamic wine made naturally”.

I had found quite a good store, but it was closed. This time I found an ever better one – a new one… Récoltant-Manipulant. Translated literally, this means ‘harvester-manipulator’. This is when wine producers also grow their own grapes & market their own wine, under their name… when they do everything. Personally, I prefer the store’s short name, RM. French only sounds better than English when talking about love or food.

RM was opened this autumn by Miriam. Miriam used to work at London’s Bubbledogs, the Champagne bar famous for its  grower champagne & hot dogs, with Kitchen Table, a Michelin-starred restaurant behind the black curtain at the back. 

Not only can you find some great wine at RM, but you can also sit upstairs in the room overlooking the Place Sathonay, with a glass of wine (€5 corkage on any bottle in the store) and some cheese and saucisson, and enjoy time and the world go by.

The Place Sathonay is one of my favourite haunts in Lyon, as I discovered on my last visit to Lyon in June. I still want to eat at La Bijouterie, but the Festival of Lights gets really busy, so no chance of getting a place.

At RM that evening, we went for a Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, Les Dames Huguettes, 2014, a pinot noir, as most red Burgundies are, from the Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret at Vosne-Romanée.

Two wine glasses upstairs at RM
RM goes for ‘100% pleasure’
The upstairs room has plenty of old-world charm
Serving mulled wine outside RM
Serving mulled wine outside RM
J-M Seleque has established quite a name in the world of grower champagnes

Les Halles – cheese at Mons

You can’t go to Lyon without visiting Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse. For me, it is one of the best food markets in the world, if not the best. Too busy to get a seat for lunch during the Festival of Lights! Damn it!

This time I was travelling with hand luggage only, so I restricted my purchases to some 27-month-old Comté from Mons cheesemonger, said to be the best in the market for hard cheese. Their base is north-west of Lyon, on the other side of Roanne.

Mons also has a toe in London since 2006, selling from its warehouse in Bermondsey on Saturday mornings, and in Borough Market.

At Les Halles, if you’re after the two most famous local cheeses, Saint Marcelin and Saint Félicien, soft cows’ milk cheeses, then it’s La Mère Richard.

Next time by train

Next time I plan to go to Lyon by train… then I can take a HUGE suitcase & fill it with wine, cheese and saucisson… no problems with what you can and cannot take on board the plane… and then that can keep the LSD going in London.

More from the Festival of Lights

The Festival attracts millions
Place des Terraux, one of the main focal points 
Lit-up face, Lyon Festival of Lights
The city centre is closed to traffic with little to big squares holding a series of spectacles

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