Almost Three Days in Lille and One Book

Lille Post Office towerI’d been toying with the idea of a weekend in Lille for what must be a decade but had somehow never got around to it. When the train which took us to Amsterdam last year stopped there, less than 90 minutes after we’d left St Pancras, it seemed ridiculous not to go so off we set last Thursday, leaving Bath at 10.13 and arriving in Lille at 15.25 their time.

By the 1990s Lille was an industrial town in decline but the mayor pressed hard for a Eurostar stop which breathed new life into the city. We’d found ourselves a hotel in the old town which is all beautifully restored buildings, upmarket shops and restaurants. Some of the houses reminded me of Amsterdam or Brussels but then Lille is very much a Flanders town; think beer and waffles Art Nouveau (Lille)rather than wine and olives. There were a few arresting art nouveau fixes for me, too.

Friday morning was taken up with a visit to La Piscine in Roubaix, a 20-minute metro ride from Lille where the local authorities have turned their art deco swimming pool into a gallery. Neither of us were particularly keen on the paintings but there were some pleasing ceramics. The first floor offered some very fine textile exhibits plus a few fashion pieces including a lovely, simple, full-length dress by Jean Paul Gaultier, subtly patterned but for the designer’s name La Piscine (Robaix)which marred it ever so slightly for me once I’d spotted it.

No visit to Lille is complete without popping into Méert, beautiful both outside and in with its stained glass and tiling. The window displays of cake and chocolates would induce even the most puritanical tourist to step inside and neither of us is of the self-denying persuasion in that department. We went for Friday afternoon tea with cake for me and a gaufre for H which looked a bit sad when it arrived but proved quite tasty. Meert (Lille)

On Saturday morning we took ourselves off to the Palais des Beaux Arts where, rather like La Piscine, we were more taken with the ceramics than the paintings including a seventeenth-century two-handled mug, touchingly designed for the ‘tremblant’, presumably too shaky to hold it one-handed. We spied a few gilets jaunes through the window and a long line of parked gendarme vans. We’d seen no sign of a march but learned later that there’d been trouble, with the CRS wading in and one street filled with tear gas.

Sea Unicorn (Hospice Comtesse Lille)Our own Saturday afternoon’s outing was much more peaceable taking us to, for me, the best museum we visited in Lille: the Hospice Comtesse originally established in 1236 by Joan, Countess of Flanders. Rebuilt in the seventeenth century, the hospice now houses local artefacts offering a glimpse of Lille’s history. It’s a beautiful building whose entrance takes you into a kitchen entirely covered in blue and white tiles depicting a multitude of scenes and creatures including what appeared to be a sea unicorn. One for the brexiteers, I couldn’t help thinking.

We left Lille Europe station promptly at 12.35, arriving home in time for tea. Oddly, we’d heard very few British voices while in Lille. It’s such a delightful town and so easy to get there, I’m amazed it’s not overwhelmed with weekenders like us. Cover image

And the book? Not much time for reading on such a short break but I enjoyed what I read of Elizabeth Day’s swipe at the British class system, The Party. It’s about the friendship between two men who met at public school, Hotel L'Abre Voyageur (Lille) wallpaperone a scholarship boy, the other a privileged member of the upper classes. An incident at the eponymous fortieth birthday party results in a police investigation during which long kept secrets are spilled. Perfect holiday reading: well written, intelligent and absorbing yet unchallenging.

I don’t usually post pictures of wallpaper but this, from the corridor outside our hotel room, could not be missed. Yes, those are monkeys

37 thoughts on “Almost Three Days in Lille and One Book”

  1. Your trip was a lot more cultural than mine was a few years ago,. We just wandered the streets enjoying the architecture and the superb window displays. Why is that people in the French/Flemish region are so skilled at displaying goods???? Even a humble grocery looks enticing

    1. They certainly know how to tempt customers in. We’d have done a little more wandering but the weather wasn’t very conducive to being outdoors. We tried not to think about how glorious the previous weekend had been!

    1. Yes, the mug was particularly touching. It was a throughly enjoyable break, and so easy to get to – no miserable airport departure lounge hours to get through. Still things left to see for us, too.

  2. Being a fan of European city breaks too, I always enjoy your travel posts (and envy the option of jumping on the Eurostar). I enjoyed The Party too – excellent characterisation. Love the quirky wallpaper!

    1. Thanks, Helen. Those monkeys could not go unrecorded. The restaurant had a jungle theme. They’d called it Jane which I thought was a nice touch. Monkey wallpaper there, too!

  3. I’m so glad you enjoyed your weekend jaunt to Lille. It’s been a while since I was last there, but your post has revived some happy memories. The old town is rather beautiful, isn’t it? Ideal for a leisurely wander.

    1. Thanks, Jacqui, and I’m delighted to have brought back happy memories for you. It’s lovely, isn’t it. We were careful to leave a few sights for another visit.

    1. Yes, I’m glad it wasn’t actually in the room. Might have brought on a few strange dreams! It’s such an easy trip to Lille, Ali, and lots to explore when you get there should you need more temptation.

  4. Sounds like a lovely trip. I once had a pen pal from Lille and often wonder what happened to him. I’ve never been yet it seems super easy to get to. Isn’t Eurostar wonderful!

    1. Just 90 minutes from St Pancras and no airport departure lounge misery to endure. I’m a convert to rail holidays. Still thrilled that we managed to get to Warsaw via Amsterdam last year before setting foot on a plane.

  5. Sounds lovely Susan 🙂 I’m off to Birmingham tomorrow and it will take me 90mins to get there – when I could be in Lille! (No offence to Birmingham but I have been there before, plus I’ll be working…)

    When I was an occupational therapist we would order two-handled mugs for people with tremour – I had no idea they’d been around so long!

    It all sounds gorgeous – I’m definitely off to Lille soon…

    1. I think it was a seventeenth-century design, and quite ornate. I imagine the NHS version is a little more utilitarian! It was such an enjoyable break with so much less effort than the usual travel slog. I hope you do go – I’m sure you’d love it.

  6. Ha! It’s a good holiday when even the wallpaper is interesting! I had a look at the gaufre and I reckon you made the right decision to go with cake… 😀

    1. I have to say H’s face was a picture when the gaufre arrived, just itself on a white plate… The monkeys on the restaurant walls were all decked out in monocoles and smoking jackets. Someone in management had a sense of hunour.

  7. We used to love travelling on the Eurostar when we lived in London – we once went to Paris for lunch, just because we could! Lille looks fabulous and I hope we will be able to visit some day.

      1. I highly recommend that you give it a go – such a fun and decadent-feeling thing to do. Wake up in London, by the afternoon be strolling along the Tuilleries – swoon! If you can stretch to first class as a treat, you can’t beat having breakfast on the train as you speed along!

        1. Sounds lovely. We did travel business class to Brussels a few years ago, and last year went went to Amsterdam on one of Eurostar’s first straight-through runs from London. From there we went all the way to Warsaw before entering a dreaded airport lounge. One of these days we’ll avoid that bit all together!

  8. Is gaufre like a waffle? Do you eat it with something, like maple syrup or jam?
    I’ve watched several seasons of the baking show now and have yet to see them make gaufre!

    1. It’s a very thin, biscuity waffle which can be filled with a variety of things, Naomi. H thinks his filling was some sort of praline. If you follow the link you’ll see why he was disappointed when it arrived but it was actually very nice.

  9. Hi Susan. I’m an adventure travel author (I’ll contact you privately about this) and I’m amazed that it’s upon visiting your blog that I get inspired to visit my native town of Lille (and my cousins), something long due as I haven’t been there in over thirty years. Thank you for the prompt, I’ll plan a visit when the COVID situation will be under control. Maybe for its famous annual “Braderie”, one of the largest gatherings in France since the twelfth century, when the town fills with street stalls serving an unlimited flow of steamed mussels, French fries, and beer a great festive ambiance.

    1. Bonsoir, Jean-Philippe! I took this trip two years ago but it feels like another age, now. I’m delighted to have reminded you of home. The Braderie sounds right up my partner’s street. He has a weakness for all three of the things you’ve listed, possibly because he spent his first few years not too far away in Brussels. Let’s hope that travel will be open to us all again in the not too far distant future.

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