Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Is it French or is it Flemish? It is hard for the visitor to decide when visiting Lille, which has been officially part of France for 350 years but still at its core retains the ambience of the medieval wool towns of Flanders. The historic core of Vieux Lille is filled with grand architecture and cobble-stoned streets and squares, with a 'Grand Place' reminiscent of both Brussels and Amsterdam.
This confusion of cultures does not detract from this bright and beautiful city, set in the north of France, which was capital of Flanders during the Middle Ages. With the advent of the Eurostar fast train service from London, Lille, a major stop on the route to Paris, has been revived as a weekend break destination, and has plenty to offer longer-term tourists who arrive at its international airport as well.
Vigorous shopping takes place along its commercial thoroughfares, and some attractive sights beckon visitors, like the neo-Gothic Notre Damme de la Treille Cathedral, and the Hospice Comtesse, a former hospital housing a museum of Flemish art, furniture and ceramics. Old Lille is pleasant to stroll through, with its cobbled streets and mixture of shops, restaurants and cathedrals.
Those whose taste runs to art will also find a feast here, with Monet and Renoir being permanent tenants at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and works by Picasso, Braques and Derains along with more modernist marvels are on display at the Musée d'Art Moderne in the suburb of Villeneuve d'Ascq just outside the city.
Many visitors, though, are here for the beer. The best Belgian beers are on tap and served up in most of the popular bars, to wash down the delicious local cuisine, which focuses on seafood and rich sauces. If your main aim is to eat, drink and make merry in a historic environment, Lille is the place to be.
The best thing about Lille is that its local populace is not only welcoming, but adept at enjoying life, as can be witnessed by visiting any of the many bars and bistros (known as estaminets) in this fun city, which belies its reputation as the grim northerly cousin of pretty Paris.