I’m always looking for new places I can visit with my girlfriends, particularly during wedding season if we want to organise a hen weekend that’s different from all the ones we’ve been on before. After visiting Lille last month I can firmly place this on the girlie weekend location list. From shopping to cake-eating and nail-decorating this city has every indulgence wrapped up in its historical buildings.
Lille can be reached from London in just 1 hour 20 minutes on the Eurostar. Travelling to the continent by train feels like a luxury in itself, I shall never tire of the excitement of boarding a train from our little island and arriving in another country. Eurostar has 3 carriage classes (Standard, Standard Premier Class or Business Premier) and on my trip last month we travelled in Standard Premier Class, which comes with ample seat space, reading material and a light meal during your journey.
From the Lille Europe terminal the old town of Lille is only a short walk away. The grand old buildings of the appropriately named Grand Place (or Place Charles-de-Gaulle) immediately transport you to a place you feel you should wear a corseted gown to explore. The most impressive building on the square is the city’s original 17th Century stock exchange, La Vieille Bourse, which now hosts something better – a second hand book market! During the summer months the temperatures are raised a notch as the inner courtyard is transformed into an Argentinian Milonga with tango dancers strutting across the tiles. (Every Sunday from July to September between 7 and 11pm.)
Heading deeper into the old town you’ll find the salon of young entrepreneur Charlotte at Parlons Vernis & Co. Not wanting to open just another nail salon in the city Charlotte decided hers would be a bit different – she would teach customers how to care for their nails instead. Charlotte took us through the multi-step process of filing, trimming, buffing and painting our nails –something no one had ever showed me how to do properly before. In the airy two floored premises Charlotte sells an array of nail products on the ground floor and hosts the nail classes on the cutely decorated mezzanine.
For ladies who appreciate a fashionable input on their clothing choices, Lille’s Printemps offer a free personal shopping consultation. In their roomy, private dressing room personal shopper Virginie can tell you about the latest styles and suggest how you can make them work for you. The room can fit up to 15 guests at a time so would be great fun for a group of girls who enjoy dressing up.
Lille is absolutely bursting with sweet treats (I dedicated a post to them here) but one of the most famous and oldest cake shops/chocolatiers in the city is Meert. Meert have a tempting concession in the Printemps store – here you can try their famous filled waffles without having to queue.
After all that shopping and cake-eating you can inject a bit of culture into your girlie weekend by hopping on the metro to the neighbouring city of Roubaix. Roubaix La Piscine museum is one of the most remarkable I have ever visited – a 1930’s art deco swimming pool has been converted into an art gallery. Statues line the length of the still filled pool, the light reflecting from stained glass windows at either end. The building designed by Albert Baert is listed so the museum retains the exact same layout as the swimming centre – even the shower cubicles form part of the gallery. The exhibits range from fashion and textile to decorative art and sculpture and it takes several hours to take them all in. If you’re in need of some sustenance after all the browsing though you can head to the original pool cafeteria, which is now a tea room run by (guess who?) Meert!
Back in Lille the place to dine at the moment is the restaurant of Top Chef finalist Florent Ladeyn. Bloempot is a Flemish canteen housed in a old carpenters workshop, which is hidden in a tranquil courtyard of the old town. The restaurant décor is an unique as the organic food – I couldn’t help but appreciate the beer pump that has been turned into a bathroom tap. The menu, designed to ‘bring nature to the city’, changes daily. It is not written down but is recited to diners instead. When we visited for lunch 2 courses cost just $20.
Sunday mornings were made for wandering around markets and at Wazemmes Lille has one not to be missed. Wazeemes central square and neighbouring alleys transform into a Moroccan medina on the weekend when Arabic cuisine is sold alongside French cheese and vintage furniture. It’s a fascinating place to wander or pull up a chair and simply observe.
If you only have a day or 2 to spend some quality time with the girls, Lille has all activities you would want to indulge in – and it’s just a train ride away from London.
The Eurostar from London takes just 1 hour 20 to reach Lille and return fares start from £69.