Lille, France.

Title: A Long Weekend in Lille

Length: 740 words.

Reference: LIL

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Travel company: Shearings Holidays.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

A Long Weekend in Lille

La Bourse

For those seeking the French experience for a few days, Lille is a good choice. It is neither so large as to be impersonal nor so small as to lack facilities. It is about 90 minutes by Eurostar from London to Gare Lille Europe. The Metro station is nearby and provides a fast service to much of the town. It also connects to the comfortable overground tram service.

The museum

Lille had its early beginnings in 1030 as a little town surrounding the castle of Buc. It suffered hostilities during the 13th and 14th centuries having been destroyed, rebuilt, besieged and retaken. By the end of the 14th century the town came under the jurisdiction of the Duke of Burgundy and prospered until 1667 when it was besieged by the French in war with Spain. Further reversals occurred in the 20th century but now it is a peaceful and prosperous town.

We made an early visit to the tourist office by Gare Rihour for maps and services. It is open from 9.30 until 6.30 PM except Sundays and Bank holidays when it closes at 5 PM. The Lille Métropole City Pass, which includes day tickets for the metro, tram and bus services, costs 18 euros for one day, 30 euros for two days and 45 euros for three days. The Pass provides entrance to some 32 tourist sites and reduced admission to theatres. To make the purchase worthwhile be sure that at least two sites are open on the days you travel. Minibus tours of the city (included in the pass) leave outside the tourist office on the hour. A two hour guided tour of the Old City leaves at 2.30 PM on Saturdays.

The Palais des Beaux Arts is a short walk away. It is near the station of that name, and is considered the second most important Fine Arts Museum in France, after the Louvre. It is a nineteenth century building with extensive galleries containing an impressive array of paintings. Artists include Rubens, Goya and Van Dyck amongst many others. A large collection of 17th and 18th century ceramics from many European countries is housed in the basement. A further gallery is devoted to 19th century French sculpture. An unusual feature is the set of 18th century models of the countryside during various phases of the town's development.

WE relaxed at a café in the nearby pedestrian precinct. It was welcome after touring the museum. It was the place to watch the world go by. If the cafés are full then the restaurants will serve you coffee except at lunchtime.

The Citadelle, constructed by the order of Louis XIV in 1667, is the work of the Marquis of Vauban. It started as a little town surrounded by five bastions in the form of a star. 60 million bricks were used in its construction together with 3 million stone blocks. Guided tours can be booked at the Tourist Office. Three blocks to the East is the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, which has been converted into a museum.

From the citadel it is a short walk to the river. The riverboat tour is included in your City pass. While waiting for the tour we visited the nearby zoo. The boat, which starts from the lock, does not arrive until a few minutes before the advertised time. The hour-long tour takes you past the zoo and on to the Canal de la Deûle where commercial shipping still operates.

The Conservatoire de Lille by Rue Colos is opposite the Palais de Justice. In consideration of the public providing an audience, recitals by the students are free. The programmes of events are posted on the notice board; it may be necessary to book a ticket for popular events. Less frequently the Conservatoire gives free concerts at the Théâtre Sébastopol in Rue Solférino. These are popular occasions but it is a large theatre and we had no trouble in getting seats.

On the other side of the Palais de Justice is The Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse. It was formerly a hospital founded in 1237 by Jeanne de Constantinople. It now displays work by Flemish, Dutch and French artists.

There are numerous restaurants in Lille offering food of every nationality. The excellent guide to restaurants, bars and discothèques is free from the tourist office.

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