LYON, France — For the armies of people who travel on their stomachs, all roads in France lead to Lyon.
Parisians who jealously guard their culinary status sometimes make a day trip to this gastronomic capital just for lunch. They take the fast TGV ( train a grand vitesse )--it makes the trip in two hours--and they've nicknamed the 10 a.m. express, " le Paul Bocuse ."
But you don't have to go to Bocuse's renowned restaurant to have a splendid meal, because it's hard not to eat well anywhere in Lyon.
Fifteen restaurants share a firmament of Michelin stars--and that's not counting the five three-star restaurants out of town but in the Lyon area (Paris only has four). Lyon also has lots of modest restaurants with equally high standards, including picturesque bistros known as bouchons.
One reason for the city's culinary excellence is its location. From surrounding areas the finest ingredients pour into its markets and restaurants--chickens from Bresse, beef from the Charolais, fish from nearby streams and ponds, produce from the farmland, wines from the Beaujolais and Cote du Rhone vineyards. The cornucopia of abundance fosters fine cooks.
Lyon had a long restaurant tradition of women chefs, unusual in France. Their style of home cooking created some of the classic specialties of Lyon, largely based on sausage, pork, ham, tripe and potatoes. Today most of the chefs are men, and the traditional hearty bourgeois fare shares the table with a lighter and more elegant cuisine.
In a serious food town such as Lyon, the markets are worth visiting. Almost every morning a colorful street market takes over the Quai St.-Antoine along the Saone. Many chefs also go to Les Halles de Lyon, an indoor market in the new section of Le Part-Dieu. There dozens of clean, inviting stalls display the region's gastronomic bounty--sausages of varying shapes, plump quenelles ready for poaching, fat baguettes.
You can sample several types of oysters and wash them down with a glass of wine. Or taste fresh goat cheese, especially the local Saint-Marcellin, selected for you by Renee Richard, whose superb cheeses get special billing on many three-star menus.
Join the chefs and workers at their mid-morning machon, a second breakfast of sausage and Beaujolais. Across the street from Les Halles is a bouchon called Val D'Isere, where you might run into the likes of Paul Bocuse.
The city's great traditions of food and fairs merge this fall when Lyon hosts a "World Festival of Bonne Cuisine." On Nov. 23-27 famous chefs and other food experts will share their culinary knowledge with food lovers and amateur chefs. A planning committee headed by Bocuse includes Julia Child and Alice Waters from the United States and Alain Chapel and Pierre Troisgros of France.
The daily programs will include early morning market visits accompanied by chefs, demonstrations of culinary techniques, and afternoon workshops on hors d'oeuvres, herbs and spices, chocolates and pastries and international cuisines including Thai and Chinese.
Many of Lyon's best-known chefs are planning their lunch menus around the day's activities and will open their kitchens for inspection and questions. Also on the agenda are city tours and trips to Cote du Rhone and Beaujolais vineyards. Sessions will be conducted in French and English.
For information about registration and festival tours to Lyon, contact your travel agent or ISM International, 135 East 50th St., New York 10022; phone (800) 443-2300 or (212) 753-2600.
In between meals and food sessions, Lyon offers other mouth-watering diversions. Most of them are accessible on foot, if you want to walk off the pate and saucisson.
For a spectacular vista of Lyon, take the funicular (the ficelle, near the Cathedrale de St. Jean) up Fourviere Hill to the Basilica of Notre Dame. From the terrace of the basilica the beautiful city unfolds before you, set at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone rivers and cradled by two gentle hills. You'll see its two rivers forming a peninsula, Presque'ile, that's the heart of the city.
At your feet are the ancient houses and red roofs of Vieux (Old) Lyon, to your left the hill of Croix-Rousse and, in the middle distance, the spacious parks and newer sections of greater Lyon, punctuated by "The Pencil," a commercial tower with a hotel on top.
On a clear day you can see Mont Blanc. It's an incomparable sight, especially in the afternoon with the sun at your back.
Stop in at the 19th-Century basilica that glitters with mosaics inspired by Monreale in Sicily. Then walk down the hill to the ruins of two Roman theaters and the contemporary Gallo-Roman Museum, where objects re-create the lavish life of Lyon when it was Julius Caesar's capital in Roman Gaul and called Lugdunum.