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Lyon

It might unfairly be in the shadow of its more glamorous counterparts on the Cote D'Azur when it comes to attracting tourists, but Lyon is up there with the best as a meeting destination.

A few figures give you an idea of Lyon's capability as a MICE venue. The city boasts the second-largest meetings capacity in France and claims the second-highest number of hotel rooms (18,000), two-thirds of them classified three to five star. Lyon is 4 hours 41 minutes from London by direct Eurostar, plus its airport is France's fourth biggest and is served by all Europe's major airlines.

Lyon is a manageable size - around a 500,000 population, but in terms of meeting venues, it definitely punches above its weight. Renzo Piano's Lyon Convention Centre is the centrepiece, with capacity for up to 19,000 in 26 rooms and three amphitheatres, the biggest of them holding 3,000 delegates. The Centre hosts more than 300 events a year and is equipped with on-site hotels, restaurants and a casino.

On a similar scale is Eurexpo, France's leading exhibition centre outside Paris, with six halls offering spaces between 2,000 - 27,000 square metres. Three separate entrances mean several events can be hosted simultaneously.

There is far more to the city then just its functionality. Lyon dates back to the Gallo-Roman era and boasts one of Europe's largest Renaissance districts, with much of the old city UNESCO-protected. The grandeur contrasts neatly with Criox-Rousse artisan district, where young designers now fill spaces originally built for silk weavers and which houses some hip cafes and bars. Lyon's location on the River Rhine provides another night time destination, with many barges having been converted into bars and nightclubs.

Another definite plus for event planners is Lyon's status as a city of gastronomy, with more than 4,000 restaurants  and some renowned cookery schools. This reputation is underlined by the presence of SIRHA, the world's largest hospitality and food service show, held every other year at Eurexpo Lyon.

Lyon's famous covered market, one of the city's centres of gastronomy, can be hired for evening events of up to 2,000 guests. Another option for when the business sessions are over is the Fabrique du Chocolat, a building devoted to the world of chocolate, complete with production labs, tasting area and pastry school.

When the conference is finished, if incentive and add-on trips are part of the package, Lyon's location keeps on giving. The Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region is home to the Beaujolais wine culture and boasts 150 chateaux within 30 minutes of the city. Nearby St Etienne boasts one of Europe's biggest museums of modern art and is a renowned centre for design. To the east, Chamonix, the renowned Alpine town about two and a half-hour drive, is as adept at catering for winter sports enthusiasts as it is for summer hikers and climbers.

Lyon might not roll off the tongue in the same way as Paris or Nice, but Lyon and the surrounding region have an enormous amount to offer and if you are a meetings planner, it should be one destination that you examine closely.