Lauren Jade Hill, Contributor
The launch of InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu marks a new era for the centuries old Hôtel-Dieu complex of Presqu’ile.
The historic Hôtel-Dieu complex, which was a hospital for more than eight centuries before closing in 2010, sits within the Presqu’ile, or Peninsula, neighbourhood — a narrow strip of land between the Rhône and Saône rivers. Now, this landmark building is starting a new chapter with the opening of the Intercontinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu following a four-year renovation that’s seen the completion of restaurants, bars and boutiques in recent months.
This is thought to be one of the biggest private renovations of a classified site in France in recent years, involving more than 800 craftsmen and opening the landmark building up to the public for the first time in years.
Now, both locals and visitors to the city can wander through its covered walkways likened to Lyon’s historic traboules (interior passageways used as shortcuts from the Middle Ages) and stop in its shaded courtyards. You can now shop in its high-end boutiques, stop by Le Tigre Yoga Club and Spa and find a seat in its restaurants and bars – the hotel’s Dome Bar is the jewel in the crown. The Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie is opening soon.
The new hotel encompasses much of the development. “Every city in France has its Hôtel-Dieu,” explains the general manager of Intercontinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu, Madelijn Vervoordt. “It was always built in the shadow of the cathedral and used to welcome pilgrims and as orphanages or hospitals. Here in Lyon it’s always been a site where we host pilgrims and visitors from abroad, so we actually went back to the original meaning of Hôtel-Dieu by opening this hotel.”
The hotel itself a 360-metre-long façade facing onto the river, with interiors combining original architectural features with modern design. Rooms overlook the river, inner courtyards and Fourvière district and the space beneath the soaring Soufflot Dome is now home to the chic Le Dome bar.
As well as paying tribute to the history of the site, the interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel drew on Lyon’s prominence in silk, using printed fabric from celebrated silk house Maison Verel de Belval, which is part of the Hermès group, in silk screen panels and furnishings.
“At the beginning we had a building that was very rich architecturally but that was actually very humble inside because it was made to cure the poor people and as a place for pilgrims to stay,” explains Nuel. “Now you can see that same contrast of precious elements and very simple design in the decoration. In the lobby we have silk on the screens but then we have the work of the artist Veronique de Soultrait who uses rope. We kept the natural stone floors and beamed ceilings then added the precious elements you now see. That’s the approach for the whole hotel. The goal was to add layers of design to the original interiors to respect its history. I wanted to give it a special understated luxury. This kind of space doesn’t need to show off.”
“In each project there’s a story,” he continues. “For the guests, this story is a part of the experience. All design is a dialogue between the past and now. Here we have the contrast between monastic and modern with local craftspeople involved. For me, a project is like a movie or a novel. If you have the first page, it’s easier to continue the storyline after this first inspiration. This is a unique place and a unique project that I hope will create a new relationship between the people of Lyon and the building.”
“Part of the building experience is being able to stay in a historic monument and to be able to talk about the history and design,” Vervoordt concludes. “It’s a whole experience. We’ve come up with a series of stories about the history and design, which we’re going to use in audio guides. These guides are also for the people of Lyon who this building means a lot to. It’s our responsibility to share this site with those who have personal links with Hôtel-Dieu. A lot of people want to come in and see how it is now.”
Using this newly opened hotel as your base, you can take the funicular up to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and panoramic viewpoint on Fourvière Hill. You can seek out the hidden traboules of the Unesco World Heritage city centre and step into the silk workshops of La Croix-Rousse. And you can get a taste of the city’s greatest claim to fame, its gastronomy, starting with the culinary creations of chef Mathieu Charrois who reflects Lyon’s gastronomic culture in the new hotel’s restaurant Epona.