France’s “Valley of Gastronomy” is stepping out – starring Lyon – France’s foodie capital.
Gastronomic tourism is taking major strides in France, with the creation of an ambitious project – the Valley of Gastronomy, stretching from Dijon, via Lyon, all the way down the Rhône Valley to Marseille. Added to this is the opening of the “International City of Gastronomy” in Lyon linked to the city’s breath-taking new Intercontinental hotel – part of a massive new development in the city centre.
It all began in 2010, when the “Gastronomic Meal of the French” was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. 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 4 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 the buildings (except the International City of Gastronomy) were acquired by Crédit Agricole and the restoration work was conducted by Eiffage Construction. 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.
Along with International City of Gastronomy, the complex houses the 5-star InterContinental hotel 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.
InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu was reimagined by the 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 will offer world-class Lyonnaise dishes with a modern twist. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the hotel’s main restaurant will be a destination in itself.
“It’s a village… a destination within the destination”, says Laure Chazeau, the hotel’s Director of Sales, adding that the complex attracts a large number of locals, who regularly come to this place as a new cultural hub in the city.
Ms Chazeau also says many travellers from around the world are coming specifically to the city stay here. “Visitors arriving in Lyon are generally surprised by the exceptionally friendly, easy going welcome offered by the locals, known worldwide for their “art de vivre”. The 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 Intercontinental – 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.
“One Australian tour operator has developed a new circuit from Lyon to the south of France, based on the ‘Vallée de la Gastronomie’ – creating a new dynamic from Dijon to Marseille, taking travellers off the beaten path – to discover the authentic, local flavours of France”, according to Ms Chazeau.
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 soon 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 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 combination of the Valley of Gastronomy with the International City of Gastronomy in Lyon and the fabulous new Intercontinental hotel make a winning trifecta for travel professionals around the globe looking for exceptional new ideas for high-end clients.
(Photo – top of page – copyright Thierry Fournier – Metropole de Lyon)