If you want to stock up on wine, cheese and pate in France, but you can’t face the hordes of shoppers at the port’s warehouses. There is another option. Road trip!
Instead, you can take a weekend break to Lille. Lille is only just over an hour’s drive from Calais. You can eat well, do some sightseeing and stock up by buying your food and drink from local shops.
Calais is easy to get to; you can catch the ferry from Dover which takes 90 minutes or take the Eurostar from Folkstone which has a 35-minute crossing.
Once you reach Calais, leave the shoppers behind. Put your beret at a jaunty angle and get moving on your road trip to Lille via the A16.
Where to stay
You won’t be short of places to stay in Lille. We like the hotels in the centre around the Grand Place. It’s also known as the Place de General Charles de Gaulle. It’s right in the city centre and it’s the perfect place to sit at a pavement café and watch the world go by.
If you want a room overlooking the main square, then stay at the Hotel Bellevue because it’s the only hotel in Lille with this view. It’s also a great location because there are plenty of bars and restaurants on the doorstep.
If you don’t mind a short walk into the town centre try L’Hermitage Gantois. It’s close the Lille Belfry, slightly out of the town centre. After being on your feet all day you can relax in the hotel pool or take advantage of their spa facilities.
The Hotel Clarance in the Vieux-Lille has a beautiful garden. There’s fruit trees, herbs, organic vegetables and beehives. The food they produce is used in their Michelin starred restaurant, La Table.
If your hotel doesn’t have parking it’s worth asking if they have any agreements with the local pay and display car parks. The one we used is behind the Grand Place, attached to Les Tanneurs commercial centre.
Things to do
Lille is packed with stunning baroque architecture, historical landmarks and tiny shops selling delicious cheese and pates.
Walk, walk and walk some more. Or, take a guided bike tour around the most popular sights. It’s a two-hour trip but English isn’t guaranteed unless there are enough people. But it’s still a fun way to the city. The tours run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10 am from the café Le Corfou at number 2 Avenue Leon Jouhaux.
If you love art then you’ll have no problem spending a few hours in the Palais Beaux Arts on the Place de la Republique. The building itself is jaw-dropping, especially the atrium. Inside you can see paintings and sculptures by Rodin, Claudel, Manet, Picasso and Rubens, as well as many other famous artists.
Also visit the Notre Dame La Treille cathedral, the Opera House, and the Lille Belfry. Do this one before you eat. It’s a 104 metres high. You can get a lift, but if you want to test your endurance and work up an appetite, walk up the 400 steps to the top.
Belfries were constructed to add prestige to a town, and you can see them in many areas of northern France. The Lille belfry was constructed in 1932 after the original town hall was destroyed in the first world war.
Eating and Shopping
Lille old town has cobbled streets and lots of independent shops where you can buy pâtè, cheese and wine. Try Fromagerie Phillip Oliver on the Rue de Curè, then stop for some tea and a sweet treat at Meert on the Rue de Esquermoise. It’s a shop too so you can buy some treats to take home.
In the same street, you’ll also find the Comtesse du Barry. It’s a traditional French delicatessen stocked with tinned and bottled pâtès, jams and fish delicacies.
When you want to buy your wine Au Gre du Vin on the Rue au Peternick is the place to go. Not only has it got a fantastic stock of good wines, but you can also stop for lunch at the restaurant which is at the back of the shop. There you can enjoy a glass or two of wine with platters of cheese and smoked meats.
If you want a full blown meal then find your way to Le Barbier qui Fume on the Rue Monnaie. It specialises in smoked meats and the menu includes smoked duck, salmon and sliced beef with camembert. You’ll definitely need a walk after a meal here.
Lille is a fascinating city to explore and easy to get to by car. On the way home, you can either double back on the A25 to Calais, or you can pay a quick visit to Dunkirk by taking the E42 road. You can have a look at another French Belfry and have some lunch before you head home.
After your trip abroad, you may find you’ve been bitten by the road trip bug. If that’s the case, take a look at our suggestions for a road trip a little closer to home – Wye Valley.