Welcome to my place... Lille
The Lillois will welcome you with open arms, and entertain you with their beer and frites
Dana Killalea’s children took these pictures of her in the snow in Lille earlier this year
Dana Killalea is originally from Bray, Co Wicklow. After travelling, she met a French man and settled in Lille with their six children where she teaches and runs a business sending French children to Ireland to learn English. Not many tourists seek out the northern parts of France, she says, as the north is flat and it rains – a lot – “maybe even more than in Ireland”. The Lillois “will welcome you with open arms, and entertain you with their beer and frites,” she says. “Such genuine warmth and kindness more than compensates for the chilly climate.”
What’s the first place you bring people?
A wander around the cobbled streets of vieux Lille to see the Grand Place, browse the old books in the Vielle Bourse, visit Furet du Nord – the seven-storey book shop where you can while away the hours, queue for a gauffre (waffle) in Meert then wander across the Champ de Mars, past the zoo to the Citadel.
Top three things that don’t cost money?
Cycle along the canal from Marcq-en-Baroeul as far as the Citadel in Lille. One of the great things about life without hills is that cycling is easy. The canal banks are now all converted into pathways for joggers, walkers and cyclists.
Visit the Parc de la Deûle. Free to enter, this park runs along the Deûle canal and has amazing elevated boardwalks and shady trails which meander through a naturally swampy area.
Go to Palais des Beaux-Arts. There is free entry for the culture vultures on the first Sunday of every month.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Lille?
Try a carbonade flamande in any of the Estaminet (small bistro typical of northern France) in the Vieux Lille. It’s basically a hearty beef stew with beer as the secret ingredient.It is served with chips. Le Barbier qui Fume on rue de la Monnaie is a personal favourite because it’s beside Les Merveilleux patisserie, which serves up the iconic “merveilleux” - the cream-coated, chocolate-flaked encrusted meringue to die for.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Lille’s history?
The Citadel. Lille was under the control of Spanish Flanders until 1667. Vauban, Louis XIV’s engineer and architect was charged with building a military defence to protect from future attacks after Louis won it back. His pentagon-shaped creation, the Citadel, a masterpiece in military fortification, is still in use today as a NATO military barracks. The Citadel today is also a 60-hectare green eco-park with trees, ponds, walk ways, the largest green space in Lille.
What should visitors have in their suitcase after a visit to Lille?
A box of 12 gauffres from Meert. Charles de Gaulle himself was a fan. Also multiple bags of carambar for kids – sticky chewy toffees in various colours and flavours made in Marcq-en-Barouel, a curious version of Willy Wonka in my very own town. Finally, the DVD of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, an extremely funny family film about a banker from the sunny south of France arriving to live and work in the north. The accents, the clichés, the humour, it’s all there.
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