When in Lille, technically you’re in France. But its cobbled streets, filled with vendors of bingeable waffles, feel more Belgian. A quick TGV ride from Paris, a trip there is like experiencing two countries at once.
Spend at least a couple of days in Lille and stay at the Clarance, an 18th-century mansion turned hotel. After check-in, immediately find a beer. The bière de garde lager from La Capsule is coppery with a toasted sweetness. Prefer blondes? Brasserie Dupont’s bittersweet Moinette goes down perfectly with Maroilles, a stinky, soft, and transcendent local cheese.
More tasty regional eats are found at the ubiquitous publike estaminets. For a stand-out, Google Bloempot, where award-winning chef Florent Ladeyn serves dishes such as haddock with nettle cream. The region has been a hub for art since Napoleon. In fact, he ordered the construction of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, which holds everything from Rubens to Rembrandt. For something less traditional, try La Piscine, a museum that was once an art deco bathhouse. The pool (still full of water), showers, and other features now show off work by Chagall and the surrealists he inspired.
A 30-minute train ride west to an old coal-mining town gets you to the Louvre-Lens, an extension of the Parisian art mecca. Half the spectacle is the building itself: Its glass and aluminum walls seem to fade into the trees. Inside, they offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the museum’s staff at work. As for the art, pieces are rotated from the collections of its famed sibling in the capital. Yet another thing to feast on in this part of the world.