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Hop on the Eurostar to Lille this Spring

Lille in France is the 2004 European City of Culture and for SE1 residents it is easier to reach than past title holder Glasgow or Cork in 2005.

The Eurostar train from Waterloo, now running on new track through Kent, takes just 1 hour 40 minutes to reach Lille. This is quicker than the Waterloo-Bournemouth journey and makes a day trip easy.

Our train left Waterloo at 8.34am and arrived at Lille Europe only a few minutes after the 11.29am scheduled arrival time.

The entry into the town is across a vast concourse to the Gare Lille Flandres, which has the frontage from the original Gare du Nord in Paris.

Lille's new status is being boosted by its mayor Martine Aubry, daughter of Jacques Delors, who has been in London recently talking to the travel trade. Her city has two opera houses and the largest art collection after the Louvre. An old waffle factory is housing a colony of painters and historic buildings are being turned into mini art centres.

The first historic building to visit is the Tourist information Centre, a former compact vaulted palace, in the Place Rihour.

The Musée des Beaux-Arts has Goya, Monet and Renoir in its large collection housed in a partly modern building.

The house where General de Gaulle was born will reopen in June as a major museum. Meanwhile artists will be transforming Grand Place where plans for part of the cultural year include a bamboo jungle.

Lille's history is represented best at the Musée des Canonniers Sédentaires de Lille where the defence of the city over 500 years of shifting borders is explained.

porte


An impressive example of defence can be seen at the 17th-century Porte de Grand at the end of the old town. The rooms above the town entrance are now a restaurant.

There are plenty of tempting restaurants. Down the side of Gare Lille Flandres is a branch of of the incredibly good value Flunch chain. The menu is vast and you can eat as many chips and vegetables as you wish at no extra charge.

Butr we stopped in Place du Théâtre to lunch at the unique Moulin d'Or, a former underwear shop Morel and Fils which still has 'lingerie, bonneterie, corsetière' above the large windows. Inside the walls are now covered with paintings for sale and old magazines are strewn about on the tables. A copy of L'Illustration was dated 30 November 1940.

The croque monsieur with salad (3.15) tasted incredibly good made with bread from Paul.

paul


Paul, which has a branch in Covent Garden, is the boulangerie in Lille. The original shop is on the corner of rue de Paris near the main square and has an even better selection of bread than in the London branch.

Like London it has queues so it is a good idea to try the delightful no name boulangerie run by Paul on the corner of rue Basse and rue Lepelletier near the cathedral.

The cathedral has at its far end the 'Notre-Dame de la Treille' Virgin and Child statue visited by St Thomas Becket whilst in exile from Canterbury. His figure can be seen in the Chapel of St Charles the Good. The stations of the Cross are very recent and in the light of new research depict Christ carrying just the crossbar of his Cross.

Easily missed is the crypt which has an outside entrance and a monastic shop. Here you can buy organic wines, biscuits, cheeses, honey and chocolates made in numerous monasteries and convents across France. Products also include good quality clothes and delightful tiny sheep (just 2) and donkeys for a crib at Christmas.

Shopping is an important part of any visit with the opportunity to brouse in the giant FNAC, a good value stationers and bookstore. The eight-storey Furet du Nord is one of Europe's largest bookshops.

There are all the big name clothes shops as well as some bargain stores. Because the town is near Belgium there are many shop windows filled with dark chocolate. In the Euralille shopping centre near the station there is a handy Carrefour hypermarket.

At dusk we just had time to drop into the huge St Maurice dating from the 14th century. Inside there has been hung a huge sun, like the one also temporarily in Tate Modern, as a focal point.

On the way back to the station to catch the 6.36pm we passed through the new Centre Euralille. It pays to be early for we spotted a Paul tearoom offering tea and a final chance to buy bread for home.

Thanks to the time zone we were back in SE1 by 7.28pm with a free evening ahead.

• A day trip on Eurostar costs from 55 but many special fares are available.

www.lille2004.com

Lille: The Brandt Mini Guide (5.95) has just been published for Lille 2004. Copies are on sale at the Lille tourist information office.
Lille hotels and short breaks with lastminute.com

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