By Lucien Libert
PARIS (Reuters) - For the first time in months, Justine Prebolin had good reason to arrive early for her train out of Paris on the day France further loosened COVID-19 curbs: a table for lunch at the Gare de Lyon's sumptuous Le Train Bleu restaurant.
French restaurants, cafes and bars resumed serving customers indoors on Wednesday, following a seven-month shutdown ordered by the government to try and contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Asked how it felt to dine on steak tartare under the restaurant's ornately painted ceilings and chandeliers, the 33-year-old said: "Happiness. A taste rediscovered, a true feeling of freedom."
Eating out is a ritual that is part of France's social fabric. The French spend more time eating and drinking than citizens in any other developed nation, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The third round of unwinding an April lockdown also saw among other measures the reopening of gyms, the return of up to 5,000 supporters inside sports stadium and the relaxing of home-working rules.
France reported just over 6,018 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. At the peak of the third wave in April, the seven-day average neared 40,000.
"We've made it!" President Emmanuel Macron tweeted. "We've missed this life so much!"
Reunited for the first time since the autumn, waiting staff in crisp shirts, waistcoats and bow-ties swarmed around Le Train Bleu, which featured in the 1972 movie Travels with My Aunt and Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita.
"We've been waiting for this day for several months. The pleasure is as much ours as it is our diners," said the maitre d'hotel Tony Gonsard.
Seated at another table, Caroline Rousseau said she felt alive again now that everyday routines were returning to normal.
"I can't wait for it to go on like this," she said. "Hopefully it will."
(Reporting by Lucien Libert; Writing by Richard Lough, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)