Enroute to and from the Champagne region, we stayed one night in Lille, a small town where French elegance meets Flemish flamboyance. Long gone is the gritty industrial city; Lille has undergone a major face lift in the past decade thanks to the generous government-sponsored historic restoration project. As Lille sits at the crossroad of several major high-speed trains zipping between France, Belgium, and The Netherlands, as well as the EuroStar train connecting U.K. to the continent, making Lille a convenient place for a quick stop-over.
In all honesty, you don't really need more than a day to explore Lille. The pretty little town is interesting enough to keep you busy for an afternoon. The attractive Old Town (Vieux Lille) is formed by three interlinked squares: Grand Place, Place du Theatre, and Place Rihour, flanked with beautiful historic buildings such as the stunning Opera House, Chamber of Commerce, and La Vielle Bourse.
The cute little cobblestone pedestrian streets with stylish boutiques, bookshops, and cafes makes for a lovely evening stroll, if just to admire the eclectic mix of architectural styles, or to smell the aromas of the famous Belgian import -- the delectable waffle. Further afield, the eye-catching Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille is quite interesting -- a 19th century neo-Gothic church with a bold modern west facade. Rue de la Monnaie, a short walk from the Grand Place, has no storage of restaurants and bars, definitely worth visiting for dining options.
In a country famous for wines ranging from Bordeaux to Burgundy, and from Loire to Champagne, Lille is definitely located in beer territory. Due to its shared Flemish history, Belgian beers reign supreme here. If you know Keenan, then you'll know he's a huge fan of Belgian beers (see the post where he took his Dad on a beer trip in Brussels). In between sampling Flemish specialities of arbonnade and potjevlesch, we also tasted some great local beers. Belgian beers are typically stronger and contains high alcohol content with some up to 8%, so be careful to pace yourself.
We'd happily recommend two microbreweries: La Capsule (25 Rue des Trois Mollettes) and Les Trois Brasseurs (22 Place de la Gare). La Capsule has an urban-grunge atmosphere that reminded me of Lanesplitter Pizzeria on Telegraph Ave in Oakland. Great selection of beers, friendly staff, and fun locals. Les Trois Brasseurs is conveniently located near the train station, a great place to kill time over some local brews and some light snacks.
The weekend came and went too fast, but overall I was really happy with our weekend in Champagne and Lille, sampling local 'champers' and beers. After a night in Lille, I found myself on the first train back to London on Monday morning. Amazingly, I left Lille at 7:30am and was at my desk at exactly 8:30am. Yes, one of the perks of living in Europe! Keenan stayed in France for his business meeting somewhere in the middle of Somme Valley, a major battlefield during World War I. The Battle of the Somme in 1916 was one of the bloodiest military operations in history -- over 50,000 British troops lost their lives on the first day of battle alone. I asked Keenan to take some photos if he pass by some military cemeteries.