High-speed railway service Eurostar has announced the opening of a new route from London to Lyon, France. From May 1, travellers can get to central-eastern France from the UK capital in just over four and a half hours.

The development is being celebrated as Eurostar’s second route in France, and a new gateway to the country’s second-largest metropolitan city, home to 2.2 million residents and also known as the French capital of gastronomy. The train route continues on to the southern cities of Avignon and Marseille, with ticket prices starting at £89 (€124) return.

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“Ticket sales for Eurostar’s new direct service from London, stopping at Lyon, Avignon and Marseille, are proving to be extremely popular as the British love affair with the south of France continues to blossom,” said Mary Walsh, director of communications for Eurostar. “Having launched only one month ago today, we’ve already sold more than 65,000 tickets and sales are continuing to gather pace.”

Jacques de Chilly, executive director of Invest in Lyon, expressed optimism about the train line’s potential to raise Lyon’s profile in the UK. “UK tourists are not among the top five nationalities who come to Lyon, so the city is very happy to have this line. I’m sure it will have a positive impact on tourism for our city.” Tourism is an important part of Lyon’s economy – the city is France’s second most popular destination after Paris with 5.5 million visitors in 2011. Some of its most famous attractions include its myriad of Michelin-starred restaurants and the Festival of Lights, which attracts between 3 and 4 million visitors annually.

“This line will have a good impact on our image in London and the UK – British people will know about Lyon, where it is, and the fact that it’s a good place to locate business activity. To this extent we hope it can encourage UK FDI into the region,” said Mr de Chilly, who also highlighted the lower cost of property in Lyon compared with Paris.

Approximately 60% of Lyon’s tourists visit for business, and Mr de Chilly hopes that the Eurostar line will draw more attention to Lyon as a destination for conferences and business travel. Already numerous hotel and business centre developments are underway and have attracted several million euros in FDI. 

Lyon’s biggest sectors for FDI are in life sciences, IT and digital, green tech, creative industries and medicine. The city’s many research centres, universities and science facilities have made it one of the world’s most advanced cluster for pharmaceuticals and research. In 2014, consultancy Ernst & Young’s attractiveness survey named Lyon as the top city in France, after Paris, to locate a company.