Having spent a week or so in Boulogne, we decided, for a change of pace, to visit the sizeable metropolis of Lille, which is in the far north of France, inland, not far from the Belgian line.
We have a warm remembrance of the city of Lille from about 30 years ago, where we hooked up with Michael Jackson, the famous beer writer (not the rock star, although our Michael Jackson was a rock star in his own right, albeit to the beer world, being responsible to a large degree for the present-day interest in craft beer). Lille holds, for us, fond memories of that rendezvous with Michael, at the then almost-fledgling Les Trois Brasseurs, when the three of us set out on a tour of the artisan breweries making the traditional “biere de garde”, an old specialty of the region.
We had been to Lille several times before that (from Paris) to enjoy the carbonnade a la Flamande, or beef cooked with beer and onions, the pungent Maroilles cheese, Flemish-inflected genever gins, and the breathtaking architecture of the Grande Place and Vielle Ville. Those charms still exist, but, sadly, Michael is no longer with us.
The trip of 2019 started tentatively; it poured heavily as we walked from our apartment in Boulogne-sur-Mer to the SNCF train station, just a 15 minute walk, but which seemed an eternity in the heavy rains. We both got soaked.
The train ride was only a hour and by the time we got to Lille and had lunch, the weather had dramatically changed and the sun shone brilliantly. A notable aspect of this part of the world is the changeability of the weather. One minute it rains; the next, it is sunny and bright. It is not a warm climate and, I have found, a jacket is always needed. As George Bernard Shaw said, the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco. Same thing here.
We stayed in a hotel close to the Lille Europe train station where we arrived – Lille Europe is a stopping off point for the Eurostar from St. Pancras station in London on its way to Paris, and just on the edge of the Vielle Ville. That train station is next to a huge modern-day shopping centre called Euralille and to the old train station called Lille Flandres.
By contrast, the old town has cobble-stoned streets and multitudes of independent and high-end clothing and accessories and food stores and many restaurants and bars. I liked, in particular, Gerard Darrel, Satellite, and Un Jours Ailleurs (UJA) there.
Gary enjoyed a craft beer bar called La Capsule in the old town. This is part of their very with-it beer list:
I am told there are three reasons to go to Lille, the food and beer, for business, and for the art collection at the Musee de Beaux Arts.
I would add to that listing, the beautiful architecture of its oldest buildings. The belfry attached to the city’s town hall, the Grande Theatre, and the Nouvelle Bourse are some of the finest examples.
Our short weekend culminated in a day at the Sunday morning Wazemmes Market, a bustling outdoor and covered market with vibrant colours and a wide diversity of clothes, household products, and food.
All in all, a lovely time in Lille. We highly recommend it.