Lyon’s love affair with chocolate goes back to the seventeenth century, when two influential chocolate lovers, archbishop Alphonse de Richelieu and Anne of Austria, ensured a steady supply into the region. The archbishop relied on chocolate to relieve his bad moods, and the abundance of chocolatiers that have since flourished in Lyon might explain the even-tempered nature of the population.
Home to around 50 chocolatiers, including six winners of the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best French artisan) title for pastry and chocolate and one for chocolate alone, Lyon is not so much a creative hotbed of this craft as a keeper of traditions.
One of the city’s best-known chocolate shops, Bernachon, has been making bean-to-bar chocolate in its laboratory behind the shop since 1953: impressive considering that only a handful of chocolatiers in France do the same today.
The first thing that strikes the visitor to Bernachon is a spectacular cake in the window, the pastry equivalent of an Elizabethan ruffle. Soaked with cherry alcohol, filled with hazelnut gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut paste) and topped with an explosion of chocolate, Le Président was created in 1975 for president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, with the original cake weighing 3 kg and serving 20 people. Now available in multiple sizes, it remains a signature pastry.
Though it houses a pastry shop and tea room, Bernachon is primarily a chocolaterie, producing its bars and filled chocolates by hand on the premises with beans that it imports mainly from Latin America. Founded in 1953 and still a family business, it has only one shop in Lyon and its chocolates are difficult to find elsewhere.
Two unique bars available here are the Jour et Nuit, with dark chocolate on one side and milk chocolate on the other, and the Kalouga, caramel-filled dark chocolate. Worth exploring too are their bite-sized chocolates, including the celebrated Palet d’or filled with dark ganache and topped with gold leaf, or the Pacha, an intense rum praline coated with dark chocolate. Freshness is key here, and the chocolates come with instructions to savour them quickly: not a problem for most.