Well, this three-month old luxury hotel, grandly and suitably named InterContinental Lyon – Hôtel Dieu is not exactly unique but, says the gal, it outshines competitors. 360 metres from one end to the other, the complex known as Grand Hôtel-Dieu. on the west bank of the Rhône, goes back in parts to the 12th century. See its exterior, close up, above – and its glorious interior, on the left. Until less than a decade ago it has been pilgrims’ relief and hospital. Now, thanks to massive investment from Crédit Agricole it is the ultimate community project. The total 2.5-hectare site includes a conference centre to seat up to 400, co-working and residences, 20 boutiques, a large food hall and two other food stores, plus 12 restaurants and bars, opened April 2018. Icon of the whole is the Dome, which bisects one perimeter facet, along the riverside quai Jules Courmon. Everything else was up and running before the hotel opened on 4 June 2019, and yes, it too is bisected by The Dome (you do have to make sure you get in the right bank of elevators).
I was enchanted from arrival to departure. Area GM Madelijn Vervoord, who is based here, had already opened one conversion, InterContinental Marseille, by the same designer, Jean-Philippe Nuel (yes, he who has also brilliantly shown how a ship’s cabin, as on Ponant’s Lyrial, can empathetically seem larger than reality). As I have said, the Dome bisects the length of the three-floor hotel building. Both the Club Continental lounge, to one side, and the salon of the Presidential Suite, to the other look down into the interior of the Dome, which is a magnet for the half-million who live in Lyon; apparently 50,00 traipsed through in the first three months, most buying at least a drink. One evening I had a lovely people-watching dinner there, a steak tartare paired with the house specialty, a glass shaped like a fish on one leg, stork-style, holding a wasabi and gin concoction bound with egg white. Now partly because Lyon is said to have 4,200 restaurants, including 20 with Michelin stars, the decision was made here to eschew fancy for really-great local ingredients cooked by a heart-throb of a young chef, Mathieu Charrois, who obviously loves working the floor.
And what a wise decision it appears to have been. All 90 seats were taken by the time we left dinner at Epona, named for the Gallo-Roman goddess of fertility and travel. Many automatically go for sharing cocottes but tonight I started with the signature Belle de Lyon, tomato nuggets immersed in Côtes du Rhône granita, with gazpacho poured over. We shared a magnificent smoked prime rib, brought to table, already carved, on a substantial wood tranche: requested vegetables are in small cocottes. I loved the 947 steak knives, by Percival. Daytimes and evenings, by the way, also see pop-up restaurants in the various cloister-surrounded courtyards no-space-available. Lyonnais love their food and they have flocked to these restaurants, independent of the hotel – some are run by food purveyors in the adjacent Les Halles market (oh what gourmet heaven, offering everything from ranges of Gillardeau oysters to just-pressed juices..)
Since one third of all adult locals were born here during the building’s role as a maternity hospital, masses want to come and stay. Nuel has tastefully blended locale and style in the 142 bedrooms. Reach’em via tall and narrow corridors, flanked by centuries-old stone pillars along one side, the Nuel carpeting, with dark mushroom and champagne burst, a reflection of mediaeval chiaroscuro. There are 28 duplexes, with bedrooms upstairs, but I was really pleased to be in single-floor, Rhône-facing 358. I especially liked Nuel’s soft-greys interior palette enlightened with bronze, and the fabrics and feel of day cushions. I eschewed the hotel’s gym – too far away and too public – in favour of a dawn-breaking walk over Lyon’s famous Pont de la Guillotière – in mediaeval times the only Rhône bridge south of Paris. And then, after a splendid breakfast which showed French products at their best, I walked through the conciergerie and across the public walkway under the Dome to reception. Note, incidentally, that space’s end wall of books, and its centuries-old ceiling. Some walls are partly covered by freestanding silk screens – Lyon is still centre of silk. This entire luxury hotel has so many stories waiting to be told, and shared. NOW SEE ROOM 358, AND TOUR THE HOTEL’S INTEGRAL FOOD HALL, LES HALLES