48 hours in Lille

Just a channel-hop from Dover is a city rich with Flemish architecture, cobbled streets, old masters and mouthwatering `moules-frites'.

WHY GO NOW

Lille's weather is almost identical to that of south-eastern England in terms of cloud and rainfall. But in summertime, the pavements are overflowing with cafes and the vernacular facades on the old Flemish buildings of the Grand' Place are at their prettiest. It's not quite the Cote d'Azur but, then again, it's definitely not Kent either.

BEAM DOWN

I travelled as a guest of Thomson Breakaway, whose three-night breaks B&B in the Hotel de la Paix in Lille cost pounds 201 (pounds 212 if departing or returning Fri/Sat/Sun). Prices include transport on Eurostar. For do-it-yourself breaks, staying in (for example) the hotels listed right, the simplest approach for most people will be by Eurostar (0990 186186) which is two hours from London Waterloo (or one hour and 20 minutes from Ashford in Kent). The best current price from London, if booked seven days in advance and staying a Saturday night, is pounds 69 return. If driving your own car, reckon on half a day from anywhere in south-eastern England; less than a day from many other parts of the country.

CHECK IN

I stayed at the Hotel de la Paix (00 33 3 20 54 63 93) (1), at 46 bis rue de Paris, a comfy, central place with every room themed to a different artist. Double rooms with showers are FFr390 (pounds 40). Of the cheap places across the road from the old Lille-Flandres Station (not to be confused with the Lille-Europe station used by Eurostar and TGV trains), the Hotel des Voyageurs (00 33 3 20 06 43 14) (2) is one of the best value with double rooms from FFr155 to FFr260 (pounds 16 - pounds 27). For more refinement, try the Carlton (00 33 3 20 13 33 13) (3) overlooking the opera house at 3 rue de Paris. Pavarotti stays here when he is in town, but doubles are still only FFr710 (pounds 73).

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The vast Musee des Beaux-Arts (00 33 3 20 06 78 00) (7) at 18 rue de Valmy in the Place de la Republique is another monument to bourgeois Lille and one of the grandest European art galleries you'll find outside a capital city. In towering rooms, masters from Goya to Delacroix to Rubens are all represented. I also enjoyed the Musee d'Art Moderne in the Lille suburb of Villeneuve d'Ascq (1 allee du Musee; 00 33 3 20 19 68 68) where permanent exhibitions include works by Picasso and Modigliani. Get there on the new Metro line.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

The Lilleois answer to fast food is moules-frites with beer. The traditional place to enjoy this speciality is Aux Moules (5) at 34 rue de Bethune, where great steaming bowls of mussels and dishes of chips will not cost more than a tenner.

WHERE TO WORSHIP

Not in church (Lille is very thin on ecclesiastical properties) but in the fabulous building of the 17th-century Bourse (8), where the Flemish god of money is still very much in evidence. This jewel of the Grand' Place is decorated with Bacchic torsos, bunches of grapes, Spanish towers and busts of great old industrialists and presidents of the chamber of commerce.

DEMURE DINNER

If money is no object, I have to suggest L'Huitriere (tel 00 33 3 20 55 43 41) (9) at 3-7 rue des Chats Bossus, which is one of the most elegant fish restaurants in France. The set-menu of about pounds 50 features lobster and other crustacea, though you may need to book weeks or even months in advance. For those on lower budgets, the Brasserie Andre (10) at 71 rue de Bethune is a traditional excellent French brasserie where dinner with plenty of wine will be about pounds 25 per head.

TAKE A RIDE

For a fascinating glimpse into the industrial past of the Pas de Calais region, as depicted by Emile Zola in Germinal, visit the coal mines of Lewarde, about 40km away (best access is to take a 25-minute train ride to Douai, then catch a taxi). Tours are guided by ex-miners and include a convincing experience of descending 400m into the mine itself. The mine is open daily from 10am to 5pm and entrance is about pounds 6. For more information call 00 33 3 27 95 82 82.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

For the vast majority of visitors from the UK, stepping off a Eurostar train and emerging from the Lille-Europe station, your first sight will be of the strange ski-boot shaped building of Credit Lyonnais, perched on top of the Euralille shopping complex (4). But a few minutes walk from here, across the bridge with Euralille on your left, will bring you to the centre of town and most of the hotels.

TAKE A HIKE

If you have a car, get out to the Cote d'Opale (an hour from Lille) for a day; there are some great walks to be had along the coast, with cliffs and, further south, miles of uninterrupted beaches. From the prominent headlands of Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Gris-Nez, watch the sea and sky merge into the white cliffs of Dover.

AN APERITIF

Try Les Trois Brasseurs (11) at 22 place de la Gare (immediately to your left as you emerge from Lille-Flandres train station). The beers are home- brewed in the Flemish style; of the several varieties I liked the blonde which is light but still very organic in flavour. Other varieties include ambree, brune and blanche.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Le Meert at 27 rue Esquermoise (6), a delightful cobbled street in the old city, is a patisserie-confiserie to die for. Unchanged since 1839, its interior features baroque flourishes and painted wooden tableaux - as well as smells of some of the finest chocolates and cakes on the continent. Gaufres, exquisite sweet, filled waffles, were ordered from this shop by Charles de Gaulle throughout his life.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Environment
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth