If you’re looking for a quiet mini-break option in France, then Lille is worth considering.
Easy to get to from London on the Eurostar, this is a place with plenty of history and all of the things that France does really well.
A great starting point for your exploration of Lille is the Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille. The Palais des Beaux Arts is a beautiful old building with an interesting collection. I’m a total sucker for a sculpture garden, and the sculpture garden of the Palais des Beaux Arts is spectacular. There’s something so powerful and emotive in these huge chunks of marble or bronze transformed into beautiful frozen moments of time. It always reminds me of images of the people of Pompeii – preserved by the ash for eternity.
Highlights of the collection that you’ll find at Palais des Beaux Arts include Grande Ombre by Rodin - one of a group of three representations of the biblical Adam he created for the Musee d’Orsay between 1880–1902. I also loved the masculine and imposing duo of Spartacus (1847) and Cincinnatus (1834) - two impressive works by Denis Foyatier - legends of Rome guarding the entry to the room where the sculpture garden is displayed.
Lille has some beautiful and impressive buildings . The opera house, the theatre, and the chamber of commerce are all buildings that imbue Lille with a general air of solidity and project that Lille is a city with a strong sense of its place in the world.
Lille is a city with an interesting history . Culturally, it’s a Flemish city, and throughout the centuries it’s been ruled by the Spanish, and the Dutch, plus it was besieged by the Austrians. In recent centuries, Lille has pretty much been part of France since it was annexed by Louis XIV in 1668.
Lille’s textile industry has driven much of its prosperity through the years, with Napoleon’s blockade against the United Kingdom in the early 19th Century giving it an added boost, as did the industrial revolution.
Lille sustained significant damage and hardship during both WW1 and WW2, but it has managed to retain much of it’s old-world character and charm - narrow, cobbled streets, and solid stone buildings that exude a very European sensibility.
One of the things I love about France is the food - not just the fancy restaurant stuff, but also simple treats such as cheese, bread, and red wine. For €15 I bought a bottle of Pauillac, a Saint Marcellin cheese, and a crusty baguette – pretty much exactly what will be on my list if I ever need to decide on a last-supper.
If you’re into markets, then you’ll want to be in Lille for the annual Braderie vintage market in early September. This is a massive market, focused on antiques and second-hand items.