This was supposed to be a post about my visit to the Pralus Chocolate Factory in the Rhone Valley in France. Sadly, a week before I was due to fly out my host had her schedule rearranged which meant she would no longer be able to take me around. With my flight booked into Lyon and a hotel paid for too, I decided I might as well just go. There are worse things to do on a bank holiday than explore France.
While the rest of the world watched the marriage of the century, I was wandering the streets of Lyon in search of chocolate. I was trying to extend my stay in the hotel to at least see Wills arrive and was rather unceremoniously kicked out just as he did. Oops. Nevermind, it was all dubbed in French and my French is limited to “Je voudrais un chocolat”. When I first arranged for the visit I wasn´t fussed about the royal wedding, only as it drew closer did I start to feel some pang for not being amongst the two billion people watching. As it turned out, seeking and finding delicious chocolates and pastries in Southern France was a delightful way to spend the extra bank holiday. Hopefully I will have an opportunity to return to Pralus and can write about it in a future post.
Like most French towns, Lyon is full of chocolatiers. Even the ones that seem old fashioned from the outside and have slightly smudgy chocolates in their less-than-tidy cabinets, still turn out quite delicious chocolates. I also managed to taste a divine caramel tart and two of the best macarons I have sampled so far: a violet and cassis:,tart, jammy delight; and a caramel banana, fudgy and comfortingly sweet. The only savory thing I managed all day was a small piece of courgette quiche. I have my priorities. I also ended up with a sugar hangover. Oops. The sacrifices for chocolate pleasure.
I did some searching to ensure I found the best shops before I left and then wandered the streets and chanced upon a few others. I worked out afterwards that I covered around 9 miles. That might have gone some way to counteracting the incredible quantity of chocolate and cakes and pastries that I consumed during the day. I can hope.
Bernachon is the most famous chocolatier of Lyon. His chocolate shop is enormous. Pastries first on the left, then the chocolate, behind the glass shelves are friendly women packing and unpacking boxes and next door the Bernachon restaurant, which looks lovely, and proudly displays its accolades on its windows. I bought a selection of chocolates and a bar. This was the second time I’d tried his chocolate and while I enjoyed some of the chocolates the couveture used in all of them seemed to be of the same smokiness I’d encountered the first time. Not really my preference. Cest la vie. There was better to come…
The standout chocolate shop was Chokola by Sebastien Bouillet. He actually has a few outlets across the city selling some of his prepackaged chocolates and the amazing macarons I mentioned. The main event is a store opened just seven months ago, with a wall of flowing chocolate (ok, a section of a wall, but still mesmerising) and a tap flowing real chocolate from pipes above. The staff are friendly (with excellent English), the shop is fascinating to take in, and behind it all is the kitchen where the chocolates are being made, beyond glass walls. The range of loose chocolates is around twenty, fewer if you don´t count the same flavour in milk and in dark. The favourite of those I have tried (so far) was a praline caramel combination. A layer of smooth hazelnut praline, topped with a layer of caramel and enrobed in dark chocolate. The speciality of the house are his “Mac´Lyons”, a salted butter caramel macaron enrobed in dark chocolate. Oh. So. Good.
Down the road from Chokala is another open kitchen, where you can see the chocolate being made. The couveture used here is Callebaut.
At Praline et Chocolat, a short walk away, one of the walls has shelves piled high with praline brioche. Pink, candied almonds are folded in the dough (actually a speciality of Pralus as well). I bought one intending just to taste it, but gobbled the lot in the sunshine at the end of the street overlooking the river and the town (there are some steep hills in Lyon, just to warn you now). His chocolates were also good and the very helpful assistant warned me to make sure I tried the liquorice in my selection last.
There is apparently an excellent two Michelin star restaurant open Monday to Friday with a great lunch deal. I walked past and it looked delicious, but rather posh and as I was alone I decided not to luxuriate in a long lunch and just to crack on and visit as many chocolatiers as I could.
If you’re heading to Lyon use our map to find these shops and please add your comments and pictures. It’s very easy to get into town from the airport (just follow the signs for the Roanne train and it’s only around 11 Euros to get to the central train station. The train station is enormous and quite hectic on a Friday evening, I don’t recommend the station during peak hour but the trains are a fantastic and quick way to get around France.