With its fabulous Flemish architecture, designer shopping, an art gallery to rival the Louvre, and hearty Flemish cuisine, the capital of Flanders has lots to offer for Le Weekend away says Sharron Livingston.
Just 20 years ago, Lille was an ailing industrial town with only a defunct textile industry to show for itself. Since then it has undergone a multi-million euro face lift, attracted world-famous designer shops into its gabled buildings, became a feted university town and got itself onto the Eurostar network.
With its Flemish culture, its Ch’ti dialect, and gorgeous Flemish architecture, Lille has lots to offer Le Weekender.
Why go now?
Lille’s streets are ablaze with festive lights and the Christmas market is in full swing. Eighty wooden chalet shaped stalls grace Place Rihour, roasting chestnuts and selling jewellery, toys and gifts. Don’t miss the waffles and gingerbread.
Nearby at Grand’Place a big ferris wheel offers a bird’s eye view over the city and there’s a merry-go-round dancing to the sounds of Noel.
Life is a Cabaret
Spend an evening at the all sequins and feathers dinner and cabaret show at La Prestige Palace (think mini Moulin Rouge) for a spectacular show. After a three course dinner, the pink and silver curtains draw open, the drums roll, and out come the dancing girls and boys singing tunes like Hello Dolly in Franglais and of course Life is a Cabaret.
You will find world famous designers such as Hermès, Louis Vuiton and Lacoste in rue de la Grande Chaussée to smaller boutiques by individual designers on Lille’s oldest street, rue de la Monnaie so named after the royal mint. The best department store is Printemps (think Debenhams) on rue Nationale or pop by the market in Wazemmes on Sunday morning and rub shoulders with the locals.
Rue de la Clef is great for browsing through shops selling old records and French comics and Euralille shopping mall (soulless but good for rainy days) by the Eurostar terminal houses around 150 shops.
Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille in 1890. His former childhood home on 9 rue de Princesse is now
Musée Natale du Général de Gaulle museum [UPDATE: since 1st January 2014 the house is run as a cultural center, not a museum]. As well as insights into what made him tick, you’ll see the room where he was born, his cot and the robe in which he was baptised. Just around the corner is the Saint-André church where baby de Gaulle got to wear it.
Don’t miss the famous Palais des Beaux-Arts at Place de la République. Considered second only to the Louvre in Paris, this magnificent building has a prestigious collection of paintings sculptures and ceramics displayed over 22000 m². Allow at least two hours to enjoy works by Donatello (in particular the Feast of Herod sculpture), Van Dyck, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rubens, Rodin and Delacroix and the impossibly romantic The Kiss by Carolus-Duan.
Lille’s cobbled medieval vieille ville – old town – is dotted with Renaissance architecture. On Grand’Place the stunning 17th century Vielle Bourse, a quadrangle of 24 ornate houses surround a rectangular courtyard where trading took place. Note the cute chubby cherubs, saucy female forms and garlands.