Lille, France

The main square and the bourse on a snowy morning

Lille is a 2.5-hour drive from our house, yet until now my husband and I continually passed it up for its more glitzy neighbors: gustatory Brussels, the sparking Champagne region, picturesque Brugges.

It doesn’t help that Lille is not really known for anything, except its people, called Ch’tis by the rest of France. The Lillois are considered, um, sort of like how American Southerners and German Bavarians are perceived.

A playful corner in the old town

The Ch’tis speak with a strong accent. My French tutor likened a non-native French speaker’s lack of comprehension to a non-native English speaker listening to a rural Scottish person. This made me feel better since I had a hard time understanding the locals. It went both ways, though, since when I ordered d’eau avec gazeuse, I was served something with cassis. Not quite the same!

A colorful block

Well, it turns out Lille needs a better PR team to promote its many assets. It is a relaxed, comfortable city with a lot to offer. There are limited sights, but it’s enjoyable to just walk around. It has a young feel to it, due to a large student population, and the main areas are quite beautiful with unique, colorful buildings.

A typical street in the old town

The Vieux Lille is the heart of the city. It wasn’t gentrified until recently, though; until the late-1970s, this entire area was an abandoned slum with dilapidated buildings. Its 17th- and 18th-century Flemish brick facades were renovated and boutiques, antique dealers and restauranteurs moved in. Today its winding streets are filled with cute retail, cool design shops, antique stores and many places to eat and drink.

Lille is the largest city in northern France’s Nord-Pas de Calais region, which used to be known as French Flanders. It sits on the Deûle River near the Belgian border.

Some traditional buildings

Lille was long the center of France’s grimy textile industry but, with government help and a bit of time, it reinvented itself as a university, technology and banking town.

Lille has one major art museum, Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille. The modern art museum, Le LaM, is, annoyingly, 20 minutes from the center of town in the suburb Villeneuve.

I liked this artistic version of a common sight

A popular house museum is Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle, but we did not see it because it was inexplicably closed when we tried to visit at 11:00 on a Saturday morning.
Though many places close for a few hours at lunch, it was not the case. There was a sign on the door, “Sorry! We are closed this weekend.” Unfortunately, this was not atypical.

So, with that, we went to lunch.

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