My mom and sister flew in from Oklahoma for the wedding. It was my mother’s first time in England and we had little time for sightseeing. We did do the typical London sights and explored Folkestone, but she really wanted to take a day-trip to France as well. I didn’t feel like she could properly see Paris in a day, so I took the opportunity to take her somewhere I have been REALLY wanting to visit anyway.
Lille is France’s fourth largest city, and the capital of the French Flanders region. It is easily accessible from England via the ferry from Dover, the Eurostar from London, or the Eurotunnel from Folkestone. (ie It is well connected.) I took the ferry, which if you keep up with my posts, should really be no surprise at this point. Once we arrived in Calais, we jumped a train to Lille. The trains in France are very modern, and the trip from Calais to Lille is incredibly scenic. Picture rolling countryside dotted with the occasional vineyard, centuries old churches, and dilapidated farmhouses only the French could pull off.
I have visited quite a few cities all over France now, but Lille wowed me. It is such a quintessentially French city. Patisseries at every corner. Charming streets full of locals meeting over lunch and wine. Chocolatiers whose windows are filled to the brim with Cointreau filled truffles, candied chestnuts, and rainbow colored macaroons. Street musicians serenading you with saxophonic melodies. Lille has it all.
While I always hope to find that magical French atmosphere when I visit a new city, it doesn’t usually carry me away as much as it did in Lille. I think the answer for this lies in the absolute phenomenal architecture. Every direction you look, you are entranced by the wide array of architecture from different period’s of Lille’s past. In the main square you are welcomed by a clash of history. The Flemish Renaissance sits next to Flamboyant Gothic- with subtle reminders of the city’s relationship with the Dutch weaved seamlessly throughout. The city itself is like viewing a masterpiece. You feel like you have stepped back into many different periods of time, but somehow it all still feels modern and now.
Lille, France is best seen walking. (Although I feel that way about every city.) The city does offer a bus tour, but I think you get so much more walking the cobbled streets and taking in the sights and smells… and tastes- up close. We feasted on bread and wine along the way, and snuck in the most delightful baked Camembert. I have no pictures of those. I promise they were good. My favorite part of the day was just exploring the streets and getting to know Lille like a local. (Assuming locals feast on cheese and croissants and wine all day, and take long strolls through the city.)
We did visit the town hall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for a birds-eye view of the city, which was pretty incredible. Making our way to the town hall, which was once the tallest building in France, I embarrassingly asked five separate people for directions. In all honesty, I was armed with a map and GPS capabilities, but that didn’t seem to help me. I only share this tidbit because the last gentleman I asked told me that when I get to the most magnificent gate in the city, I would be there. I had kind of chuckled at the time because I thought every building was magnificent, but when I first saw the Old Paris Gate I knew right away that it was the one he meant.
The current Town Hall was built between 1924 and 1932, after the first town hall was badly bombed during WWI. The belfry stands at 104 metres, and is most definitely not disabled friendly. There is an elevator, but visitor’s must first climb one hundred steps to get to it. Once you have made it to the top, you are given an incredible, panoramic view of the city. You can take the stairs down and learn more about the city’s history and fun facts like the distance between Lille and all of her sister cities around the world.
My day in Lille went much too quickly. I longed to stay a few more days and get to know the city better. I think it was the perfect choice to show my mom a piece of France, and she left in love with the French way of life. Knowing how easy it is to get over, I will probably be visiting again soon. Au Revoir!
Thanks to the Lille Tourism Board for the complimentary tickets to visit the Town Hall belfry. All opinions and posts are always 100% my own!