Stories abound about the gastronomic delights of Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Its reputation as the food mecca of Lyon can usually guarantee significant ratings for TV celebrity chefs and food magazines alike.
It would be surprising, therefore, if we were not suitably brainwashed by the enticing images of cheese, bread, sausage, pastries, chocolates and the motivating words of hundreds of foodies.
This was an absolute must-see place in Lyon. Our anticipation was palpable.
So it was that we set out from our hotel in Lyon Part Dieu for Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, on a cold Sunday morning, having just arrived from Paris by TGV.
It was an easy 20 minute walk, but a C3 bus along Cours de Lafayette would have brought us there quicker.
Mistake No. 1. Les Halles de Lyon close at 2:30pm on Sundays. Most of the shops were closed by the time we arrived, but the numerous restaurants were doing a roaring lunch trade, mainly from the locals. The famous aisles that we had seen on TV with bustling crowds were almost deserted. The place looked more like a roller-door showroom than a food market. Somewhat deflated, we decided to return the next day.
Mistake No. 2. Les Halles de Lyon is closed on Mondays. A few restaurants were open as was the odd shop. It looked even more like a roller-door showroom. With limited light, good photography was extremely compromised. Again, we decided to try our luck the next day, Tuesday.
Mistake No. 3. Don’t visit between Noon and 2:30pm (or even 3:30pm for some shops). This is the famous French lunch ‘hour’. We decided to take lunch at the Passionnment Truffes and wait for the shops to re-open.
Mistake No. 4. Lunch was very ordinary with many menu items unavailable, and the wine had to be the worst I have tasted in France. The staff weren’t too fussed by my reaction, and weren’t about to offer a replacement. We skipped the truffles, which can set you back €100 for a single plate.
Notwithstanding our poor time management skills, we did experience some seriously good produce. Cheese from La Mère Richard, famous for its Saint Marcellin cheese – a speciality of the Rhône-Alpes region – and revered throughout France. (“Just OK” quips Ruth, my resident cheese connoisseur).
Delicious pastries, croissants and bread from Le Boulanger de L’ile de Barbe (Le Boulanger de L’ile de Barbe). Succulent oysters, champagne and a Saint-Marcellin at Chez Leon. Speciality spices, herbs, olives, jams and honey from around the globe at Bahadourian. Mouth-watering sorbet, ice-cream, macaroons and chocolate from Chocolats Richart.
Although our introduction was anything but positive, we left a little poorer, but not empty-handed. Bread, cheese, sausage, pastries and wine were lucky to make it back to the hotel.
The moral of this story is, ‘Do Your Homework!’ And don’t just check the opening hours of Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. The opening hours of the traders themselves are variable, as is their lunch ‘hour’ (any time between Noon and 3:30pm) and their annual holidays (any time between May and August). For instance, Chez Leon is closed May/June/July/August.
For all its hype as a tourist attraction, the traders of Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse still hold to their time-honoured traditions of flexible hours, long lunches and extended holidays. They also realise that it is locals that do their shopping at markets, not tourists. Tourists are just voyeurs. Get used to it.
Probably the best time to go to Les Halles is early morning, Thursday to Saturday. If possible, avoid July/August.
While Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is certainly worth a visit, Lyon has more reasonably priced food markets that are open every day (at least until Noon), with equally good produce. Try Marche Quai Saint-Antoine with its 130 traders.
Les Halles de Lyon
102 Cours Lafayette – 69003 Lyon
+33 (0)4 78 62 39 33
7:00am to 10.30pm (2:30pm Sunday)
Closed Monday but some restaurants and a few shops still open.
Most shops close for lunch Noon to 3:30pm