A little taste of Flanders in France
Why would a city in France also have a Flemish name? Lille (or Rijsel as it's known in Flemish) rests on the Deule River near the border where France meets Belgium. It is the largest of France's cities in the north. Lille is proud of its Flemish history and influence, which was once considered the quintessential example of fine taste and affluence. To live up to its heritage, Lille boasts notable architecture and style, providing visitors with an abundance of restaurants, hotels, museums and charming ambiance in its restored Vieux Lille.
In 2004, Lille proudly bore the title of the European Capital of Culture, and provided residents and visitors alike with outstanding music and art events. The center of all activity is known as the Grande Place at the southern edge of Vieux Lille. Here, the streets are jammed with shoppers and outdoor cafes (when the weather is agreeable – Lille rarely gets too hot in the summer, and often gets below freezing in the winter).
The city's most famous festival, the Grande Braderie is held every September. Essentially, this festival is a giant flea market and one of Europe's largest. Bargains abound and haggling is the obligation of every shopper. It's very crowded and you may have to muscle your way through it. But, when you've shopped ‘til you've dropped, plop down into a seat at a local café for moules frites (mussels and chips). Local restaurants actually compete to see who can sell the most, and for the proud waiters, racking up the largest possible number of empty shells brings personal satisfaction.
It is important to note that Lille is the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle. His house is now a museum and proudly displays the Citroen he was driving when the OAS attempted his assassination in 1962. One of the most famous names in modern French political history, he was born in this house in 1890. The museum also houses photographs and documents that relate to his childhood, adulthood and most importantly, his time as President of France.
With the opening of the chunnel and the arrival of the Eurostar train, Lille found itself at the center of a triangle connecting Paris, London and Brussels, and has become the hub of transportation for Northern Europe. Lille has capitalized on this by building Lille-Europe train station sleek, contemporary and elegant, the station houses the high-speed trains and services international routes. Lille's second station, Gare de Lille-Flanders, stands next to its more glamorous sibling and houses slower, regional trains.
Whether it's mussels and chips or foie gras, Lille is serving up something special for you.
To learn more about preparing your trip to France, visit Atout France by clicking here if you’re a US resident or here if you’re a Canadian resident
Contributed by: Mick, Rail Europe French Bilingual Staff, studied in France and became a nomad backpacker in Europe.