Bedside electronic buttons that opened six-meter high curtains to reveal the waters of the River Rhône sparkling in the sunshine – that was my morning delight at the InterContinental Lyon Hotel Dieu.
Once a hospital for several hundred years, the hotel and the retail complex around it are the result of nine solid years of renovation at a cost of well over 200 million euro, the largest renovation of an historical building in Europe, a seamless merging of old and new, historic and modern.
Opened three years ago, this three-floor, 144-room, 5-star hotel is the ‘grand dame’ of Lyon hospitality and home-from-home to many people in the city who were born in its former maternity wings.
Located in the Presqu’île district in downtown Lyon, the hotel sits on 2.5 acres of land, its main entrance on a traffic-busy road alongside the Rhone. One can also enter via a series of six elegant courtyards in the shopping and restaurant complex that embraces the hotel.
The InterContinental Group certainly knows how to inject new life into old buildings, having done so already at Le Grand Hotel in Bordeaux, a success that helped it win the bid for management of this prime Lyon property.
From the outside, the property presents a majestic picture postcard image – a 280 meter-long façade designed by 18th-century architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot who also created the Panthéon in Paris. The interior is the work of celebrated hotel designer Jean-Philippe Nuel.
A nod to the hotel’s former history, the back of the reception desk features floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with 19th century medical books. Also in recognition of local history, 20-foot high, brass-framed rose-pattern silk screens stand throughout the lobby provided by Metaphores, a subsidiary of Hermes, and refer to the city’s illustrious silk-making industry, with added contemporary creations by Veronique de Soultrait. Original wood beams have been uncovered on the lobby ceiling and the flooring is Burgundy stone.
The hotel’s Le Dôme bar nearby is an impressive sight, both by sheer proportion and intricate decor. Its coffered ceiling is a massive 32-meters high and the design around and below it features ornate rosettes, frescoes, balconies and alabaster pillars. A colorful floral display has been designed in the center of the gleaming black and white checkered marble floor where an altar once stood.
The bar’s cocktail list is also impressive, so much so the mixology team won ‘Best Hotel Bar in the World’ award last year with their creation, Pantheon – a blend of floral St-Germain liqueur, homemade Blanc de Blancs champagne syrup, vodka, white tea and lemon juice. Of the 13 other cocktails, I chose Boulevardier, comprising Woodford Reserve whiskey, red vermouth and Campari.
A huge painting with black and gold pigments by Manuela Paul-Cavallier entitled ‘Les Invisibles’ pays tribute to the thousands of people who helped those less fortunate when the hotel was the city’s maternity hospital from 1493 until 2010. It is believed one in three people from the city were born here.
My companion and I stayed in a spacious 2-level junior suite, 244, atypically with the living-room upstairs and the bedroom down a short flight of steps. Facing the river and the city’s main thoroughfare, double-paned windows guaranteed us a quiet night’s sleep.
Our upstairs living-room was well-furnished with TV, sofa, coffee table and writing desk with night lamp and ample cupboard space. Downstairs was a separate bedroom, with a king-size bed, toilet and bathroom with double sink, walk-in shower and tub plus magnolia-scented products by Parisian perfumer Frederic Malle. Comfy bathrobes and slippers were also provided.
Hotel staff were both courteous and efficient, a tribute to general manager, Madelijn Vervoord. A native of Holland, Madelijn has worked for the InterContinental Hotel Group for 20 years and was centrally involved in the development and opening of the InterContinental Lyon Hotel Dieu. She worked at the InterContinental Paris le Grand for eight years eventually becoming general manager there. She also opened the InterContinental Marseilles and is IHG regional manager, with more than ten properties in her portfolio, including Bordeaux.
Dining at InterContinental Lyon Hotel Dieu takes place at the elegant Epona restaurant (named after the ancient Celtic goddess of horses) with windows looking on to the river. Guests can also dine alfresco in the peaceful Saint-Louis courtyard, among pebbled pathways with foliage all around and a sandstone tower in the middle with a Roman-style fountain.
After a full day of sightseeing, we enjoyed a relaxing dinner here prepared by Bourges-born executive chef Mathieu Charrois, and had the opportunity of speaking to friendly food and beverage director, Julien Jacquin and cluster revenue director, María Sánchez Altube.
Our evening began with an amuse bouche of barley risotto, pecorino cheese and basil and starters of Brittany lobster cannoli with greens and herbs and carpaccio of sturgeon with bottarga cream, roasted pistachios and pike eggs presented like a colorful miniature flower and herb bed. Our mains comprised tuna slices with zucchini twirls and pickled blackberries with leaves of fresh lemon balm and saddle of lamb with Japanese panko crust, potatoes and aubergine caviar and sweet breads. Wine pairings included MIP, a Vermentino from Provence; a rosé of shiraz and cinsaut, also from Provence; and a smooth red Touriga National from the Douro region of Portugal.
We had decided beforehand to avoid desserts but how easy such declarations can be disregarded, especially when a skilled pastry chef such as Vincent Thomassin presents you with a tantalising strawberry sorbet, coulis and sesame caramel biscuit and gluten-free macarons in various sizes made with almond powder, ganache with Spanish olive oil, pistachios and Calamansi lemon sorbet.
While accommodating individual visitors to France’s leading culinary city, InterContinental Lyon Hotel Dieu also caters to corporate and personal events. It has 12 meetings rooms, some with natural lighting, with 1,500 square foot of space, and a ballroom. Layouts range from theatre style for around 460 people to more intimate boardroom occasions.
For a sense of history in a convenient downtown location within walking distance of both Old and New Town, it’s hard to beat this particular hotel.