Lille, France


In case there’s someone who hasn’t heard, I changed my plans for March recently. I had intended to go to Sicily because I’ve heard and read so much about Lent and Easter there, about the people, about the food and the geography. Then a good friend who has family ties to Sicily and who has been there sent me a couple of emails urging me to be cautious. I’m so glad she did. Sicily and Malta are only 30 miles apart, and my experience in Malta convinced me (after I’d made new plans) that this wasn’t something this little old lady should be doing by herself.

So instead I’m going to Brittany in western France and to England. They are places that I had wanted more time for so they were “waiting in the wings” when I had a large opening in my schedule. Tomorrow I’m going to collect a rental car and drive west but today I’m not in western France at all.

I’m in the city of Lille, on the eastern border of France and Belgium. George and I stopped here for an afternoon in 2002 and I’ve wanted to return since. I had intended to come here while I was in Antwerp but bad weather and a nasty cold intervened. I only had an afternoon again today but in a compact old city a visitor can see a lot in a few hours.

Lille is said to be about 4000 years old. Like Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and other important cities of the “low countries” it was caught up in wars between the French, English, Spanish and Hanover for many decades beginning in the mid-1600s. Like those cities as well, Lille has a large central square surrounded by decorative 17th century tall buildings. While Antwerp made its fortune from the water, Lille’s came from the surrounding countryside: coal mines and wool.

A visitor to central Lille steps back in time, not just to the time of the construction of the great buildings found there still, but to reminders of the the early to mid-20th century in old theatres, newspaper offices and stores.

A walk in the opposite direction from my hotel, to what was once the edge of the city where the gate to the road to Paris once stood in the mighty city wall, introduced me to another era. As in many of the cities I’ve visited, I found a wealth of late 19th century buildings with over-the-top flourishes. There’s a 500 foot tall “belfry.” There’s a mile long boulevard (with a park through half its length) lined with homes only the French could create with such grandeur. In the biggest surprise of the day for me, I discovered the enormous purpose-built art museum, ordered up after Emperor Napoleon gave Lilly a large share of the art he’d “collected” from churches after the French Revolution and from countries he’d invaded. The place truly looks like a palace but was built in the late 1800s.

So here’s a 60-second tour of Lille. I wish it could be more.


A view of one side of the great square at the center of Lille. The tower in the background is attached to the Chamber of Commerce’s grand building. The column which stands in the center of the square is topped by a goddess. The building shown at the top of this post is the “grand bourse” or exchange. Many old cities in Europe have beautiful buildings that houses the place where rich men met to trade in currencies, land, cloth and many other negotiables over the centuries.


Another view of the goddess on her tall column. The triangular building behind her is (or was) the home of the newspaper of northeastern France.


There are countless places to see and photograph bits of history. The tower of the Chamber of Commerce building is peeking over a rooftop into the main square.


This old sign for a restaurant hangs from the front of one of the decorative old buildings on the main square.


On the edge of the central district, this beautiful old church is one of many in this very Catholic city. I loved the delicate stone work of the steeple.


You can see, as I did, only one end of the palace that houses the Museé des Beaux Arts (art museum). The rest of the building was wrapped in fabric-covered scaffolding.


One glimpse of the beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings lining the boulevard on the southern side of the city.


And I’m showing you this just because it’s so pretty. I hope the pale pink of the walls looks soft on your monitor. I believe this is an example of “art nouveau” but I’m no expert — somebody please correct me if that’s wrong.


P.S. There are very few places to eat on Sunday evenings in French cities and towns. The clerk at my hotel recommended I go to the 5-star hotel in the next block where I had a great roast chicken and mashed potatoes dinner in the pub. The Hermitage Gantois was a hospice (hospital) from 1462 until it was closed in 1995. Since that time it’s been transformed into a beautiful hotel and spa. You can see it here.


5 thoughts on “Lille, France

  1. Glad to see that you are feeling better and back on the road! I enjoy your blog and have missed hearing from you! The photos of Lille are beautiful. Safe travels to Brittany.


  2. Libbie, I am really enjoying your travels and pictures! Thanks for educating us about so many places, events and cultures. Continued safe travels to you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.