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France: Hope springs from the ashes of Lyon's ill-fated International City of Gastronomy

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Lyon's International City of Gastronomy during its launch in 2019.
Lyon's International City of Gastronomy during its launch in 2019.   -   Copyright  Natalia Oelsner/ Euronews
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A huge gastronomic centre in Lyon, touted as a "new hotspot" of culture in the French city, has closed its doors for good less than nine months after its official launch.

Despite an easing of lockdown measures, management at the International City of Gastronomy blamed uncertainty over the economy and tourism amid the coronavirus pandemic for its closure. But it has also faced criticism for being overpriced.

However, since the announcement earlier this week, there has reportedly been much interest in redeveloping the site. The authority for the greater Lyon area says a team is already working on a new project with a view to rapidly reopening the centre to the public.

Natalia Oelsner/ Euronews
Lyon International City of GastronomyNatalia Oelsner/ Euronews

"It's an opportunity to claim back ownership of this emblematic place," said the Lyon conurbation's new president, Bruno Bernard, from France's green party which won control of several large cities in June's local elections.

He promised to approach all involved to secure a future for the site which "can only be constructed with the city's inhabitants."

As Euronews reported last year, the 4,000 m2 centre was designed to be a cultural space hosting culinary-themed exhibitions. Lyon is often dubbed France's gastronomic capital and was chosen from four French cities to develop the venue.

In 2010, the "Gastronomic Meal of the French" was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

The €20 million project was developed from what used to be Lyon's Grand Hôtel-Dieu, once a hospital for the poor along the banks of the River Rhône.

Natalia Oelsner/ Euronews
Lyon International City of GastronomyNatalia Oelsner/ Euronews

But despite its ambition to make the centre "like everyone's home" with a mixture of gastronomic experience, health information and interactive displays, there was little time to cultivate a following among locals and tourists before the COVID-19 outbreak forced it to close.

The International City was also criticised for its steep €12 entry fee, plus an extra €12 charge for food-tasting with portions described by one Lyon news site as "minuscule."

"In the face of the economic and touristic uncertainty, and despite our efforts to save it, we have taken the decision not to reopen the City and to stop its exploitation," said a statement from the Spanish operating company, Magma Culture.