Postcard from Lille, France

23 Jan 2014
POSTED BY Y Magazine

Helene Hardy, recommends: The city of Lille, France  



As one of France’s liveliest and most urbane of cities, I feel particularly fortunate to have studied in Lille. I have so many wonderful memories of my time there. For the French, Lille is synonymous with freedom and culture. The best thing about the city is its unrivalled location at the centre of a triangle connecting Paris, London and Brussels.

Thanks to its brilliant transport network, considered one of the most modern in the whole of France, you are easily connected to one of Europe’s three major capitals in less than two hours.

With a population of 230,000 inhabitants, Lille is the principal city of the Lille Metropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in France after Paris, Lyon and Marseille.

Its heritage is represented within the ‘old city’, which proudly stands as a reminder of its history and geographical importance all the way back to medieval times. However, many new districts were developed with the industrial revolution in the 19th century. More recently, Euralille, the new business district, has been a symbol of economic renewal for the last 15 years.

In a nod to its erudite image, Lille was elected European Capital of Culture in 2004. It had a fantastic impact on the local economy and was the impetus for development of the city, giving the Flemish, Burgundian and Spanish influences that make Lille a truly European capital.

My advice is to just go and discover Lille and its refreshing way of life. Buy yourself a vintage coat from the Wazemmes market, the largest and liveliest market in France. Eat some moules- frites (mussels and chips), grab a rental bike and make your way to the remarkably restored Vieux Lille (Old Lille) and look up to appreciate the flamboyant architecture: At the corner of the Grand Place is the Lillois’s favourite meeting place, officially named Place du Général De-Gaulle, after Lille’s favourite son.

Sit at Monsieur Jean’s table, a charming restaurant on Esquermoise Street and enjoy a sugar tart, a custard cream or a waffle filled with ‘vergeoise’ (made from sugar-beet syrup). Then take the tram, the bus, or the metro and drop in at The Fine Arts Museum, which houses prestigious collections of 15th to 20th century European painting, 19th century French sculpture and ceramics.

My favourite place   I absolutely love and highly recommend La Maison Folie de Wazemmes. Situated in the district of Lille, at the door of Wazemmes market, it was previously a textile factory, but now contains a theatre, studios, exhibition space, ateliers, offices, a foyer, a restaurant and a hammam. Both the architecture of this cultural complex and the fantastic mix of things to do will blow your mind. There is something for everyone and every taste.

Highlights

You must go to the cinema when you’re in Lille. You’ll discover fantastic, authentic cinema halls with a world programme that will make you wish for more hours in the day. I have spent so many hours laughing, dreaming and crying with my best friends while watching so many good movies. I highly advise you to discover the Melies cinema and the Kino Ciné in Villeneuve d’Ascq, and Le Fresnoy in Tourcoing.

If you time your visit to the first Sunday of September, you can enjoy the annual braderie, the largest flea market in Europe. Residents and traders set up stalls in the street and people come from all over the world to attend.

Whether you stay one day or longer in the city, get the Lille Metropole City Pass. It’s the best way to save money and discover great sights, including guided tours in English. Perfect if you don’t want to miss any details of Lille and its beautiful surroundings.

Seasonal sights include the annual Christmas market in Place Rihour, with its Ferris wheel and where you can also find the tourist office. Many high street shops as well as bakeries and brasseries are happy to welcome you all year round in this busy city centre.

Lowlights

Two words: the weather. It’s pretty chilly all year long in Lille. Summer can be very rainy too. If you forget your umbrella and scarf, it’s a fantastic opportunity to go shopping in old Lille where you’ll find luxury goods. Department stores and international brands are situated in the Euralille district next to the railway station. Go bargain hunting and ethnic shopping in the Wazemmes district.

Former IMF boss and one-time favourite candidate for the French presidency, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s scandal taints the image of Lille’s beloved Carlton Hotel located in the Grand Place.

Souvenirs

Do you want to give an unforgettable gift to your friends? Then you must get them some Maroilles cheese. It is a cow’s-milk cheese made in the region of Nord-Pas-De-Callais. But be warned – it’s a very, very strong cheese and you will share the smell with everyone on your way home!

Treat your loved ones to a box of famous ‘Chuques du Nord’ sweets and a paquet (packet) of brown sugar filled Flemish waffles.

Where to stay

You can easily find a nice place to stay in Lille with plenty of accommodation for all tastes. Find offers on www.lilletourism.com website. They offer packages for Lille flea market and the Christmas market seasons. For a luxury stay, go to Hotel Barriere, where reknowned architect, Jean-Paul Viguier created one of his masterpieces. Comfort and sophistication are standard.

A fantastic B&B is ‘Au Troubadour’ in Hellemes district. They have three unusual, comfortable en-suite bedrooms, with access to a fully- equipped kitchen and you’re free to come and go.


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