Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
You know you've arrived in Paris when you walk up the sweeping staircase from Gare de Lyon into the extraordinary surrounds of 'Le Train Bleu' restaurant. The signs from the staircase are very modest, and even the neon lighting above the actual door gives little indication of the treasures which await you inside.
Opened in 1900, The Gare de Lyon was built in the Belle Epoque (ie, over-the-top) style as part of the major building program undertaken for the great Paris Exhibition. The 'Buffet' of Le Train Bleu was opened by the French President in 1901 and was reputedly created to provide a 'comfortable' place in which 'the English' could wait for their train. To this end, the tables are organised to create a sense of being on a train, with racks above each table. There is also a 'Big Ben Bar' of immense leather armchairs and sofas. However, the undoubted magnificence is the absolutely extravagant decor and 41 painted frescos on the walls and ceiling, detailing a scene from the railway networks or famous events form the 1900's. As you walk through the doors, there is a small, free brochure in English which explains the key paintings.
The service in the restaurant is impressive: the are many, highly efficient waiters waiting to usher you to either the restaurant for a meal, or the sofa areas for high tea. English is widely and graciously spoken and menus are also bilingual. If coming for a meal, reservations are recommended. Mains are around the 30-45 Euro mark, and include classics of French cuisine: Charolais beef steak tartare, duck shepherd's pie served with a sauteed escalope of foie gras in perigord sauce, roast leg of lamb with gratin potatoes and Fourme d'Ambert cheese. There is also an inspiring degustation menu served during evening meals. The prices here means that a meal at Le Train Bleu is a very special and treat, but one which you will remember for many years.
Another more affordable way to enjoy the experience, is to take coffee or tea before your trip. Le Train Bleu serves a fine range of specialist teas in beautiful silver pots with some of the most moist, delicious macarons I have ever tasted on the side. We had chai marsala and 'The Passion d'Orient, which was a delicious green tea with a hint of red fruit. Pots of tea (which hold 2 good size cups) are between 7-9.50 Euro.
Tea and Macarons at Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon, Paris
I couldn't recommend Le Train Bleu highly enough for those wanting to experience the romance of train travel and who wish to recall a more gracious time when 'hurry up' was not in the dictionary. I would venture to say it's worth a trip to Paris purely to experience the splendour of Le Train Bleu.