By BOB FOULKES

Last year, I rewarded myself for surviving the Tour de Mont Blanc, with a few days of R&R in Lyon. It was an apt choice, offering gastronomic indulgence and do-nothing hedonism after a tough eight day trek in the Alps.

Lyon is France’s third largest city and has a reputation for gastronomy; in France, that means the best of the best is both expected and served. I asked a friend, Brigitte, who came from Lyon, if she knew of any good restaurants in Lyon. “All of them,” she replied. My brief survey convinced me she is right.

At the foot of the Alps between Burgundy and Provence, Lyon is surrounded by the best and freshest ingredients in all of France. It also sits at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone, easily reached by water and providing a readily accessible market for the bounty of the region — meat from the lush farms in the region, fish from the Saone and Rhone tributaries for the signature quenelles (a mixture of creamed fish, chicken or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding), regional varietal wines and an abundance of cheeses.

It is also the home of Paul Bocuse, the legendary French chef who focused on fresh local ingredients with an emphasis on a lighter, more nutritious cuisine. His restaurants have consistently garnered coveted Michelin stars. My lunch at Le Nord, his bistro in the city centre , was the most memorable experience of my Lyon visit.

Lyon is steeped in history, a political, administrative and economic centre, “Lugdunum” to Julius Caesar. It was his base for conquering France and extending the Roman empire throughout Europe. A 2,000-year-old, 4,000-seat Roman theatre remains as a reminder of the occupation. In the countryside, various aqueducts remind us that Romans provided better plumbing than much of France has today.

Cafes abound in Lyon.

Vieux-Lyon, 500 hectares of the old town, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Renaissance architecture, heavy with Italian influences. It is a walker’s dream: small side streets called traboules invite exploration and many owners of historical architectural gems have agreed to leave their main doors open so we can view their beautiful courtyards.

High above the city, the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere dominates the skyline and demands a visit, in spite of the steep climb. Across the Saone, I was lucky enough to wander into the weekly market in the Croix-Rousse district, home of a once-thriving silk industry. On one side of the boulevard, the tackiest knock-off dry goods one can imagine, actually not even worthy of being called knock-offs. On the other, food that makes you weep for its beauty. Fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, charcuterie and varieties of cheeses, interspersed with bakeries, it goes on for blocks. I bought a lunch feast on the spot; the only challenge was matching my desire for a bit of everything to my limited capacity to consume even a part of what i wanted. It was an unexpected discovery of Lyon’s cornucopia, small wonder that restaurants were outstanding with such ingredients so readily available.

Dining at a bouchon: Meat is good — and there's lots of it.

A small number of restaurants called bouchons specialize in signature Lyonnaise dishes and are highly recommended. Having tried just one, I concur. The sausages, tripe, main courses of various types are huge and tasty enough that trying to finish the meal could result in a serious case of overindulgence. Warning: the menu seems to be built around the idea that meat is good and that every part of the animal can be the base of a special dish.This is no place for vegetarians.

Lyon also has a civic pride that is palpable. From the solemn remembrance of its role as a centre of the Resistance in Vichy France, to its introduction (first in the world) of communal rental bicycle depots around the city, to the support of its soccer team, Lyon is proud of its history and genuinely delighted to showcaae itself to any tourist.

Cafes abound and, like everywhere in France, they do not frown on the leisurely boulevardier. My favorite pastime is to seek out a cafe, scope out the best table for people watching, access to shade, quality of seating and eccentricity of clientelle. I seat myself and, for at least two hours, enjoy a pastry, an International Herald Tribune and an espresso while I pretend for a moment that I am a true Lyonnaise bon vivant and man of leisure. I’ve never gathered enough courage to buy a beret to add to my fantasy. Some day.

One final note. There is a salad, salade Lyonnaise to which I have become addicted. It requires a soft poached egg to be placed in the centre of a serving of lettuces, lardons and croutons. It’s likely to be on the menu at chez Bob for a while.