48 HOURS IN LILLE ; Lille's Tenure as European Capital of Culture Will Soon Be over, but the Closest Foreign City to Britain Still Has Plenty to Offer Weekend Visitors. Simon Calder and David Orkin Go Exploring
Simon Calder and David Orkin, The Independent (London, England)
WHY GO NOW?
The foreign city that is closest to the British mainland has 40 more days as European Capital of Culture. The tourist office (00 33 3 59 57 94 00; www.lille2004.com) has details of the last special cultural events, such as a flower sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and an exhibition of early 20th-century Mexican art. But even when the baton is handed on to Cork, Lille will continue to boast great art, architecture and a Flemish ambience - which helps to explain why the city boasts the best beer in France.
From South-east England, the easiest way to reach Lille is by Eurostar (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com) from London Waterloo (100 minutes) or Ashford (one hour). The lowest return fare is pounds 55, with cheap add-ons from regional cities. Alternatively, fly to Paris and take the high-speed train north to Lille, which takes around an hour. Either way, you arrive at Lille-Europe (1) station. Many city- break operators sell packages to Lille, and given the city's chronic shortage of accommodation, largely fuelled by British visitors, it could be a smart move to book an inclusive trip.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
The least inspiring vista you will see during your stay is the 10- minute walk from the space-age station (1) along Avenue Le Corbusier to the city centre - but even that is enlivened by the sight, to your left, of a gigantic boot-shaped building over the railway line that houses the Credit Lyonnais bank. You pass the modern Euralille shopping complex (2), in which a Carrefour hypermarket, open 9am- 10pm daily, is hiding. The city centre starts at Lille Flandres station (3), the fine building that was the original Gare du Nord in Paris, before it was moved north brick-by-brick. Everything apart from the modern art museum (see Icing on the Cake) is within easy reach on foot. The tourist office (00 33 3 59 57 94 00; www.lilletourism.com) is on Place Rihour (4); it opens 9.30am- 6.30pm daily except Sundays (10am-noon and 2-5pm).
The modern two-star Hotel Lille Europe (5) on Avenue Le Corbusier, (00 33 3 28 36 76 76; www.hotel-lille-europe.com) is characterless but clean and friendly. A double room costs EUR73 (pounds 52) and breakfast costs an extra EUR8 (pounds 5.70). For more character, try the quaint Hotel Brueghel (6) overlooking the Gothic St-Maurice church at 5 Parvis St-Maurice (00 33 3 20 06 06 69, www.hotel- brueghel.com). It has a wood-panelled lobby, 65 simple and small rooms and a tiny lift. A double room costs EUR75 (pounds 54) and breakfast costs an extra EUR7.50 (pounds 5.40). Recently opened as a boutique hotel is the Hermitage Gantois (7) at 224 rue de Paris (00 33 3 20 85 30 30; www.hotelhermitagegantois.com). Some of the original 15th-century features have been preserved. Doubles start at EUR191 (pounds 136), breakfast is a further EUR18 (pounds 13).
TAKE A VIEW
Lille has many splendid spires, towers and belfries, but they are not open to the public. If you visit from 24 November-29 December you can take a ride on a big wheel erected in the Place du General de Gaulle (8) as part of the Christmas market. The next best option is not quite as enticing: the rooftop view from the top (seventh) floor of the car park at the Printemps department store (9).
TAKE A HIKE
Lille has three plausible candidates for the title of main square. Start at the elegant Place du Theatre (10). Head south into the second option, the Place du General de Gaulle (8), and the third, the Place Rihour (4). Each is a commanding size and flanked by a melange of architecture. Continuing south, the mairie (local town hall) (11) is embellished by a fine mural. Float across the Place de la Republique (12) with a nod towards the Palais de Beaux Arts (13) and admire the Art Deco former university medical faculty (14), which is now an apartment block. The end of …
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Publication information: Article title: 48 HOURS IN LILLE ; Lille's Tenure as European Capital of Culture Will Soon Be over, but the Closest Foreign City to Britain Still Has Plenty to Offer Weekend Visitors. Simon Calder and David Orkin Go Exploring. Contributors: Simon Calder and David Orkin - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 2, 2004. Page number: 14,15. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.