Welcome to Lille

Lille, France’s fourth-largest city located near the Belgian border, is one hour from Paris on the TGV (train à grande vitesse.)  Citizens from Lille are called Lillois and they’re far friendlier than Parisians.LILLE 1 May 2013 197Strategically located at the centre of a triangle connecting Paris, London and Brussels, Lille has its own Eurostar train terminal that links the four cities.  Lille was elected European Capital of Culture in 2004.LILLE 1 May 2013 007There’s a lot of brick in Lille that you don’t see elsewhere in France. I think this building is a refurbished textile factory.LILLE 1 May 2013 009

Here’s the gorgeous L’Hermitage hotel where I spent New Year’s Eve. The building used to be a medieval hospice.LILLE 1 May 2013 034Attached to the end of the hotel is an excellent, reasonably-priced restaurant called L’Estaminet.LILLE 1 May 2013 044I took the kids there for lunch. It was so warm and sunny we sat on the terrace. They’re not my kids, incidentally.  They are the children of my best friend who lives in Lille.LILLE 1 May 2013 084The fruit salad was delicious.LILLE 1 May 2013 091

Afterwards we walked to the park. Lille is a socialist city run by the efficient mayor, Martine Aubry, daughter of Jacques Delors, an esteemed economist and politician who was 8th president of the European Commission. Lille is pro-family and has a wide range of programs and facilities for kids.LILLE 1 May 2013 054LILLE 1 May 2013 058LILLE 1 May 2013 069LILLE 1 May 2013 021The kids call this “le parc rouge” on account of the red gates, but it’s really called the Jean-Baptiste Lebas park.  After I read the biography of this fervent politician turned resistance leader during World War II who was captured by the Germans in 1941, sent from camp to camp and eventually died from exhaustion after years of forced labour, I agree that this man deserves a beautiful park named after him.LILLE 1 May 2013 033LILLE 1 May 2013 042Unfortunately our favourite place was closed that day.  Located directly across the road is a refurbished train station called La Gare Saint Sauveur.  We go there all the time.  It’s now a recreational space for kids and adults. There’s a cinema, a restaurant, a hall with changing exhibitions, science fairs and occasional free sports activities for kids.LILLE 1 May 2013 004LILLE 1 May 2013 001Later in the afternoon I dumped the kids (sorry, kids) and headed over to the main square to get lost in the maze of narrow streets in the Old Town.  This is where the best shopping is.LILLE 1 May 2013 163LILLE 1 May 2013 098On this May Day, the 1st of May, everything is closed in France except for a few boulangeries and cafés. It’s a national holiday.  A perfect day to loaf.  Europeans love loafing. In France we have four bank holidays just in the month of May alone!LILLE 1 May 2013 100LILLE 1 May 2013 105LILLE 1 May 2013 126The deeper you penetrate the Old Town, the narrower the streets.LILLE 1 May 2013 134LILLE 1 May 2013 144I got totally lost, but that’s the fun of wandering. When lost you can stumble upon unexpected treasures which you might not discover otherwise.LILLE 1 May 2013 151Like this amazing pastry shop called Aux Merveilles de Fred on the rue de la Monnaie. They sell a Flemish specialty of Lille called cramique which is a sort of dense, yellow-coloured brioche studded with raisins. Delicious with coffee in the morning.  The queue of customers waiting to buy spilled out into the street.LILLE 1 May 2013 152I love the brick; it reminds me of England.LILLE 1 May 2013 159High-end and also funky boutiques line the streets of the Old Town.LILLE 1 May 2013 107LILLE 1 May 2013 112LILLE 1 May 2013 119There are also several chocolate shops and a Nespresso boutique.  Throw in a bottle of wine and what more do you need?LILLE 1 May 2013 111And that was my day in Lille. Within one hour and 45 minutes I was back in my flat in Paris. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Brussels.  Monday May 20 is another holiday here and I’m off to Brussels for three days. For those who missed it, I posted two Brussels blogs in January.  I had such a great time there (despite the freezing cold), I’m going back for more.