How to picnic like a French

After 8 years in France, an American friend of ours has finally found the secret to organizing a truely French picnic. From choosing the best local specialities at the market on a sunny Sunday morning to finding the best picnic spots in the city, let us share our favorite tips on what makes for a perfect picnic in Lyon.

Barefeet in the grass, sunshine on your face, a little duralex tumbler of local wine in hand and delicious food to nibble with friends – who wouldn’t be happy on a picnic in Lyon? This idyllic scene all begins at the market, of course! With over 40 markets brimming with fresh, local foods in the city, this is the ultimate starting point of every French picnic in Lyon. Not only are they the best places to indulge all of your French culinary fantasies, they truly are a French cultural experience and a great place to soak up the local energy. But with so much to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming to just dive into the market and organize your picnic menu. That’s why we’ve come up with some good basics to guide you as you prepare your perfect French picnic.

Cheese - photo by jean-louis Zimmermann
Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmermann.

The Basics:

Let’s be honest, we're sure that funky, smelly, ooey-gooey cheese is one of the first things foodies start dreaming about when they start planning a French picnic. So naturally, our advice will start here! We recommend picking two or three varieties: at least one of them a goat’s milk cheese, at least one a soft, runny cheese and perhaps one aged cheese. You cannot go wrong with a little pack of adorable, thimble-sized “bouchons de chevre” which couldn’t be more perfectly designed for a picnic! Be sure to pick up a St. Mercellin too – its a local speciality that the Lyonnais love for its sweet, gooey funk. Lastly, take your pick of Comtés – 12 months if you like your cheese a bit softer and fruity, 24 months if you like a sharp, punchy taste.

Skip this step if you’re vegetarian, but this is one of our favorite stops. Between all the dried sausages, patés, and hams Lyon’s markets will have your head spinning with delicious options in this category. You can’t go wrong with a slice of paté en croute and a saucisson sec.

Grab a baguette or two (or three!). Easy to tear apart, the baguette is your best bet on a picnic. Don’t hesitate to mix it up – Poppy seed, sesame seed and other seed mixes are often available and are the perfect compliment to creamy or pungent cheeses!

Olives and nuts
Somewhere along the way you’ll run across a stand that specializes in olives, nuts, and dried fruits. This is the perfect place to pick up a few things to offset some of the richness of all that cheese and charcuterie! Get a scoop of green olives marinated in Herbs de Provence or a couple handfuls of buttery pistachios (a classic pairing with Lyonnaise charcuterie).

Wine and fresh juices
Of course, no picnic would be complete without at least one bottle of wine! You can typically pick up a bottle (or two) from a local producer at the market. Also, many stands will offer a variety of yummy fruit juices often bottled on their orchards’ property: unfiltered apple and apricot juices are our personal favorites juices, Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône wines are good and local.

Fruits and veggies
Fresh and crisp, these are essential punctuation marks on your foodie picnic! Plus, French farmers in the countryside surrounding Lyon grow some gorgeous produce. Depending on the season, we love to grab at least one or two. Radishes, cherry tomatoes, or a bit of arugula. For dessert, sweet and perfect strawberries in spring, blushing apricots and gorgeous, juicy peaches in summer and towards summer’s end, a perfect Comice pear with a bunch of rich Muscat de Hambourg.

Picnic Tools
The bare minimum: a cork screw, a pocket-knife with corkscrew, and a few glasses. Throw in a picnic blanket and a small cutting board if you’re feeling fancy!
In case you forgot to slip these essentials into your bag before you left your AirBnB, you can almost always find someone selling kitchen wares at the market where you can grab a small knife and a corkscrew.

Marché - photo by jean-louis Zimmermann
Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmermann.

Our favorite markets and picnic spots

  • Start at the Marché de la Croix Rousse: open Tuesday through Sunday from 6:00 am – 1:00 pm.
    This market truly has its “moment” over the weekend and is packed with local families stocking up for the week.
    Then head to the “Gros Caillou”, where you can take in an amazing view of the Alps as you dig into your feast.
  • Check out the Marché du Quai Saint Antoine: open Tuesday through Sunday from 6:00 am – 1:00 pm.
    Just a few blocks from the historic center of Lyon, this lively market sets up along the upper banks of the Saône and counts up to 113 vendors on the weekends!
    Then step down to the recently refurbished lower banks of the river to enjoy the tranquil flow of the Saône. Stroll upstream a bit and you’ll find the peaceful perfect place to roll out your picnic blanket and enjoy the view.
  • Head to the Marché Quais Victor Augagneur: open Thursday evening from 2:00 pm – 8:00 pm and Friday and Saturday mornings from from 6:00 am – 1:00 pm.
    A great option for a Thursday evening picnic on the banks of the Rhône (a hotspot for locals of all ages) or on the weekend, pick up your goodies here and take a stroll upstream to find your version of French paradise in the Parc Tête d’Or.
  • The temple of Franch gastronomy : les Halles Paul Bocuse
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