For Chocolate Lovers only  

Special Section: Chocolate and More in France (and a bit of Italy)

After a recent trip to Lyon, France, I can unhesitatingly recommend that city as a destination. I must reserve judgement on Turin, Italy, though, as I was there for a large food exposition and didn’t get to see much of the city. However, I can comment on my accommodations in Turin, a few places of interest, and as a way not to get to that metropolis. A few words about both countries: it is common for many attractions and shops to close for lunch for 2 or 3 hours (museums may only partially close); be sure to plan for this. Also, particularly in Italy, many attractions may be open only earlier or later in the day on any given day of the week. Museums and other attractions often have surprisingly poor gift shops and no or very minor food vending; they are simply not the businesses they are in the US. Make yourself aware of any restrictions on photography; if you don’t see signs, ask before taking pictures. Alas, smoking is all too prevalent in both nations, and many “non-smoking” sections of cafes and restaurants are jokes, as they are merely separate sitting areas and not shielded from smoke in any way. It is helpful beyond description to be able to speak at least some of the local language in either city. One further tip: take two different credit cards from two different banks. My card was unexpectedly (and, I may add, undeservedly) cut off by my bank; it  required 5 phone calls to the US and a day and a half to sort everything out. 

In Lyon:

Where I Stayed: The Citadines Lyon Presqu’ile, 2, rue Thomassin, This is an “apart’hotel”: that is, a hotel composed of apartments. It’s in an excellent location, within easy walking distance of many attractions, shops, and conveniences. Because these are apartments, they have cooking facilities---ideal for saving a little money on meals, should you choose. I stayed in a 4-person apartment which I felt would be a bit tight for 4, although for 2 or even a couple with a child it would be just fine. The apartments are comfortable and the front desk staff is terrific. They answered my innumerable questions with good humor and went out of their way to help me when my bank gave me trouble with my credit card. There’s a wonderful morning open-air food market on Quai St.-Antoine, a 2 minute walk, every day but Monday. One caveat: the laundry system here is very expensive. There is one small washer and one large dryer; it cost me 17 euros to put through two washloads and one dryer load.


--Musee des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum), Palais St.-Pierre, 20, place des Terreaux. I’m a sucker for a good art museum, and this place, with paintings, religious objects, and artifacts spanning many centuries, fills the bill beautifully. A must-see.

--Musee Historique des Tissus and Musee des Arts Decoratifs, 34, rue de la Charite. Housed in the same complex, the Textile Museum and the Museum of Decorative Objects are an easy walk from Place Bellecour. I didn’t find the Decorative Arts Museum that interesting, but to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the Textile Museum, which contained scraps of fabric many centuries old, beautiful rugs, laces, and garments that again, spanned many centuries.

--Musee de L’Imprimerie (Printing Museum), Rue de la Poulaillerie (closest cross street: Rue du President Edouard Herriot). Fascinating. Traces the history of printing in France and beyond. Examples range from the 16th century to much more recent documents. Don’t miss the Salon du bois grave on the way out, with woodcuts and copperplate specimens.

--Cathedral St.-Jean, 70, rue St.-Jean. Breathtaking. Built over several centuries, with elaborate ornamentation and fabulous stained glass windows. There’s an ancient but still functioning astronomical clock, too. Don’t miss this if you’re a medievalist at heart.

--Basilique de Notre-Dame-de-Fourviere, Place de Fourviere, Fourviere. Take the short funicular ride up a very steep hill to find this. Very pretentious. The Musee de Fourviere, located nearby, has religious objects from several centuries, but most were disappointingly recent. The best part of this attraction, perhaps, is the Basilica’s Observatory. There are no elevators, and it’s a long, steep climb, partially on some rather rickety stairs, but your reward at the top is a panoramic and memorable view of Lyon and her surroundings.

--Cruising the Saone (Seine) River, Quai St.-Antoine. A company called “NavigInter” gives 60 or 75 minute cruises on the Seine River. Pleasant enough, but the boat moves too quickly for still photography, and that portion of the commentary translated into English is so thickly accented that it’s difficult to understand.

--Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), Place des Terreaux. A picture-worthy, monumental center of municipal government.

--Les Halles de Lyon. I’ve lost the map I had for this, but any hotel in the city should be able to direct you to what is one of Lyon’s main markets, with stand after stand of seductive produce, cheeses, meats, chocolates, etc. Tasting rooms, too. The joint jumps on weekends. A dangerous place for foodies. One note: while there are facilities here, they are not modern; the toilets are the old-fashioned holes in the ground.   

Chocolates, Pastry, and Other Necessities of Life (in no particular order):

--Palomas, 2, rue Colonel Chambonnet. Just a short walk from the Tourism Office, the chocolates here were among the best I found. Some pastries, too. Beautiful displays.

--Maison Perroudon, 6, Rue de la Barre. Another short walk from the Tourism Office, but in the opposite direction. More pastries than chocolates. Very popular. There are at least two in the city.

--Maison Blachere, 1, Avenue Adolphe-Max (near Cathedral St.-Jean). Gorgeous and delightful pastries and breads. Less variety than many.

--La Minaudiere, 5, Rue de Brest. Possibly the swankiest patisserie in Presqu’ile. Go in a little while before you want to order, because you’ll need a few minutes to make up your mind. One of the counter clerks here has a definite attitude, but the others are very nice. Some outstanding pastries.

--Millet Patissier, Rue de Platre. A very credible Tartelette Croque Madame (cheese, ham, and eggs).

--Royaume du Chocolat, Place de la Republique. Lovely caramelized, chocolate-covered almonds. 

--Regal Glace Café, 43, Rue Merciere. Incredible sorbets—don’t pass up the apricot or the mango. Many ice creams, too, which I didn’t try.

--Charcuterie Bonnard, 36, rue Grenette. Dig that duck terrine!

--Boulangerie D’Albon, Rue Chavanne (closest cross street: Rue des Bouquetiers). Pastries and sandwiches. The best Bichon au Citron I found in the city (a large half-moon shaped flaky pastry, partly caramelized on the exterior, filled with lemon curd). Popular with locals, especially at lunchtime.

--Bernachon, 42, cours Franklin Roosevelt. The most famous name in chocolates in Lyon. Divided into an elegant tearoom and a stylish patisserie/chocolaterie. Much more variety than most. Good chocolates; I was unable to try the pastries.

--Fromagerie Roul S.A., 39, rue de la Charite. Charming cheese shop.

--Chocolats Pierre Ginet, 9, rue de la Charite. Nice selection of some of the better chocolates I found in Lyon.

--Tous des Chefs, 81, rue Boileau. A chance discovery a short walk from Bernachon. Cooking equipment and tools, jams, etc. Fun to browse.

--La Boutique des Musees, 21 Rue Paul Chevannard. Objets d’art and other delightful, sometimes expensive, pieces.

--Mandragore, 52, Rue St.-Jean. A rather touristy shop in a rather touristy area, there are nonetheless some interesting items in this store selling medievalia. Bottled hypocras, jewelry, weaponry, medieval-style clothing.

--Librarie Mecanique, 1, rue de l’Ancienne Prefecture. Books and references on aviation, cars, boats, and more. Impressive selection. The books are in several languages, including French and English. No returns; exchanges only.   

In Turin:

Where I Stayed: Located off a little plaza, the Victoria Hotel, Via Nino Costa, 4,, is always busy. It’s well-known and next to a conference center, as well as a convenient and quiet base from which to explore the city. Breakfast, sometimes included in the price of your room, is an astonishing spread, with cereals, breads, eggs, pastries, meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, juices, coffee, and tea, and I’m sure I’ve left something out of that description. The décor is a bit fussy for me, but my double deluxe room was pleasant enough save in two respects: the lighting was too dim, and it was always too hot. It never got above 70 degrees F when I was in Turin, though it had been warm for the time of year, and of course it was cooler after dark. But the room was consistently uncomfortably warm unless the windows were wide open, an impossibility at night considering there are no window screens and mosquitoes were still around. At present, there is construction during the day as the hotel adds a swimming pool and a sauna, doubtless in preparation for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Reserve in advance if you’re planning a stay here! One other note: I was unable to reach this hotel by phone, though I tried both from the US and from France; the calls would simply not go through.

Attractions, Gelato, Chocolates, and More:

--Galleria Sabauda/Museo Egizio, via Accademia delle Scienze 6. The art collections from the royalty in the house of Savoy are in the same building as a world-class Egyptian museum, albeit the two are on different floors. I’m not much on ancient Egypt, frankly, but the hieroglyphics from The Book of the Dead are great, not to mention the objects discovered in the pyramids that you find everywhere in the exhibits here. The Galleria Sabauda has mouthwatering medieval (and more modern) art, much of it, as you might expect, religious in nature. Beautiful.

--Gelateria Grom, Piazza Paleocapa 1/D, corner of Piazza Carlo Felice. I didn’t physically set foot into this gelateria, but I did sample 6 of their products at a seminar during my food exposition. The co-founders are obsessive about their raw ingredients, for which, they claim, their girlfriends love them not. But once you taste their products, the girlfriends’ objections will be swept aside. The gelati were a bit sweet for me, but the sorbetti were glorious. Try the peach, the apple, or, if you’re prepared to pucker, the lemon.

--Pasticceria Gertosio, via Lagrange 24/H. Although this cioccolateria/pasticceria is well-acquainted with tourists, they make some decent chocolates. And their dark-chocolate covered gianduiotto are better than many others I tried. Don’t let them fob you off with the prepackaged ones, which are sweeter; these are in their chocolate case; ask for a few to go in a small bag.

--Pastifico Defilippis, via Lagrange 39. A beautiful pasta shop with windowsful of accompaniments and prepared foods. If you can do so, try a piece of the torta di spinaci (spinach torte), with its bottom layer of cheese and top layer of spinach.  

How Not to Get to Turin: Turin has an airport, but one cannot fly there directly from the US (at least, not now). There are connections from Milan’s Malpensa Airport, however, and I purchased a flight some months in advance from an airline based in Europe. The problem was that it turned out not to be a flight at all; it was a bus trip (it is not possible to fly from Malpensa to Turin, it turns out). There was no indication whatsoever, either on the website or the ticket itself, that this was not a flight; it’s referred to as a flight on the website, and there are small airplane symbols next to each leg of the trip on the ticket. Even this wouldn’t have been so bad except that I was charged US$293.20 for the round trip and found out upon arrival at Malpensa that I could have bought a round-trip ticket (Malpensa-Turin and back) on a public bus for 35 euros (about US$45). Both bus trips took exactly the same amount of time and both vehicles were modern and seemed relatively comfortable. The buses I was on for both legs of the trip also had no bathrooms, which for a 2 hour trip one-way might be questionable for some people (like me). I realize that not everyone will have such problems with this airline; these were just my experiences. That being the case, I wouldn’t dream of telling you that the airline with whom I had these difficulties was Alitalia.



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