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Northern France by train
Nord-Pas de Calais is a border land, which has for neighbours Belgium and the French region of Picardy. The north coast of the region faces the English Channel and the North sea. Its geographical position, along with a very developed transport system, have certainly contributed to the fact that the region is a very industrious one. Locals are proud of its strength, cultures and they are open to all trade. The region has also a rich ethnic diversity which is marked by the use of regional languages such as the Ch’ti or Flemish.
The region was a land of invasion back in days, and there is a certain spirit of resistance which is still expressed on the ramparts of every fortified town and port, in the thirteen citadels in Vauban’s Square Field, in the immense First World War battlefields and in the giant blockhouses of the Second World War.
Nord-Pas de Calais has an undeniable pride which is marked by its belfries with giant spires of stone and brick dominating the towns and cities (more than 15 of them are listed as UNESCO World heritage site). Today more than thirty arts museums bear witness to the wealth of regional styles with their famous collections and works by no less famous local artists such as Rubens, Matisse and Carpeaux.
Nord-Pas de Calais is the ultimate destination to visit Northern France and discover its local festivals, belfries, beer, art, natural coastline and hospitable population. From Brussels, you can reach Lille, the gateway city of Nord-Pas de Calais, in just 35 minutes by train. From London or Paris, the train will take you there in about 1 hour.
With its trendy bars and contemporary exhibitions, Lille will offer you a new experience every time you visit it.
Train stations being the gateways to the city, you’ll either get off the train at Lille-Europe or Lille-Flandres, both of which have connections with the Lille metro system. A few metres away, you’ll find yourself in the fabulous Grand Place amidst buildings marked by the Flemish architecture. It is the ideal place to relax on a café terrace, bask yourself in the local atmosphere and absorb the buzz of this vibrant city. Have a look at the Vieille Bourse (Old stock exchange) which was built in 1652 and undoubtly the town’s finest building. From the Grand Place, you can succumb to the retail temptations of the boutiques located in the pedestrian district, a short stroll away.
Amateurs of fine arts will be delighted to visit the Palais des Beaux Arts, which is France most important museum after the Louvre and where you will have a panorama of Europe’s best artistic creations from the 12th to the 20th century. Afterwards, you can head to visit other equally interesting museums or one of Lille’s majestic churches. The best way to have a glimpse of everything in a day, is to buy a city card or take a minibus tour which will allow you to see other wonders such as the Hospice Comptesse Museum, Saint Maurice’s Church and the Citadel.
After a day’s visit, try the local gastronomy in a Estaminet where you’ll eat and drink heartily. If you want to have a treat, the L’Huitrière will suit you. On the menu, you will have the best fish, oysters and shellfish of the region. Don’t forget to taste the marouille cheese.
Our tip: Every year during the month of September, more than 2.5 million visitors flock in to the Braderie de Lille, Europe’s biggest flea market. Over a 100 km of stalls, 10,000 vendors and a yearly contest between them to see which one can build the highest pile of empty mussel shells, make this event an unavoidable event. Don’t forget to have a traditional dish of mussels and chips if you are there!
Lille > Roubaix
Take the metro line 2 to Roubaix, a shopping paradise located a few kilometres away from Lille. Spend the first half of the day there and you will find that Roubaix is a place where nothing is done in the same way as elsewhere. You’ll find a museum in a swimming pool, you’ll have lunch in a factory, and you will shop in designers boutiques and factory shops. Indeed, La Piscine – Museum of Roubaix Art and Industry, will allow you to plunge in the most beautiful swimming pool of France. As for the fashion addicts, they will find themselves in a shopper’s paradise. Don’t resist the discount stores of L’Usine or designer boutiques of Mac Arthur Glen. After your shopping spree, head back to Lille.
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