In 2010, “Gastronomic Meal of the French” was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, says Richard Barnes. To further this achievement, a French taskforce for food heritage and culture was appointed to launch a call for projects among local authorities. In June 2013, Lyon was chosen to host one of the four International City of Gastronomy projects, alongside Tours, Dijon and Paris-Rungis.
Fast forward to 2019, when Lyon saw the final touches added to what was the largest private renovation venture carried out to date on an historic monument in France – the Hotel Dieu project – a vast (two hectares) development, which saw Lyon’s central hospital complex closed – to be transformed into an extraordinary new centre of activity and life for the city.
One out of three Lyonnais was born in this place – giving it a special attachment to the local community. All buildings (except the International City of Gastronomy) were acquired by Crédit Agricole and the restoration work was conducted by Eiffage Construction. Along with International City of Gastronomy, the complex houses the five-star InterContinental ]Lyon – Hotel Dieu, with 143 rooms, a 2,740 sq m convention centre, shops, cafés, restaurants, offices, 11 apartments and a private car park. The external areas include courtyards, a cloistered walkway and historic gardens, all of which make for a relaxing setting.
This listed building, which covers a surface area of 51,500 sq m, was renovated in accordance with the highest professional standards, so as to respect the buildings’ architecture and structure. It has now been launched as a dynamic hub for the inhabitants of Lyon, expanding the city’s reputation.
InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu was reimagined by renowned interior designer, Jean-Philippe Nuel. He focused on maintaining the original beauty and architecture of the building. The “monastic yet sophisticated” design was inspired by the historical use of this place – as the city’s hospital for more than 800 years – combined with the desire to create a destination for global travellers.
The highlight of the property is the Dôme Bar – nestled in the heart of the hotel within the grand dome. Originally housing a chapel, today the dome is a space where hotel guests and locals come together under its 32m high ceiling. Originally designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot, architect of the Pantheon in Paris, Soufflot was called away during the project and he never saw the dome finished. The dome has since been named in his honour as the “Soufflot Dome”.
Meanwhile, the hotel’s restaurant, Epona, extends along the hotel’s front façade and opens on to an interior courtyard and garden. Head chef Mathieu Charrois offers world-class Lyonnaise dishes with a modern twist. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the hotel’s main restaurant is a destination in itself.
Lyon, former capital of the Gauls, extraordinarily rich in history (dating back 2,000 years), is now positioning itself as an ideal tourism ‘hub’ in France – with day trips to Burgundy and Dijon, Paris or Marseille made very simple thanks to France’s TGV train network.
Thanks to its history, Lyon – and the new hotel – are an exceptional attraction for residents of new world countries such as the USA and Australia, for whom ancient walls such as these exist only in fairy tales and school books.
The International City of Gastronomy, for its part, covers a surface area of 3,930 sq m, which is devoted to the theme: “gastronomy, at the crossroads of food and health”. Learning to eat well, while associating health with pleasure, boosting preventative measures, and discovering and furthering the latest breakthroughs in research, are the main missions chosen for this great and innovative project.
A permanent exhibition trail sees exhibitions on the history of Lyon’s gastronomy, great chefs and Mères Lyonnaises (female chefs), and the Hôtel-Dieu, as well as a digital space presenting the gastronomic meal of the French, terroirs and the making of meals. A space dedicated to the nutritional challenges of tomorrow, an interactive “World Gastronomy Atlas” room and a “MiamMiam!” (Yum-yum!) fun food space, introduce children to the pleasures of eating well.
The ambitious project of the Valley of Gastronomy is based on a selection of offers that allow to share and discover the know-how – a collection of remarkable experiences to live once in a lifetime – existing tourist gourmet offers related to gastronomy, wines and/or local products. As long as it is located within the perimeter of the Valley of Gastronomy, any tourist activity for the general public that enhances gastronomy, wines and local know-how can claim to be part of the destination.
The combination of the Valley of Gastronomy with the International City of Gastronomy in Lyon and InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu make a winning trifecta for travel professionals around the globe looking for exceptional new ideas for high-end clients. GM of this unique luxury hotel is Madelijn Vervoord.