Lille: The beer capital of France

Whatever happens on and off the field, the shape of the glass will have definitely changed by the time the green army transports itself north from Bordeaux morphing from wine glass to something broader and more frothy.

A fact that may be of more than passing interest to Irish fans: Lille is the beer capital of France.

The locals will tell you their brewing tradition is older and better than Belgium’s. For further details enquire in any of the numerous pubs, over a glass of top fermented Bière de Garde.

Lille is just 200km from Paris but culturally a world away. It is a very Flemish city, with a culinary style, accent and ambience that is quite different from the France that lies to the south, turn east and north (and, from some points, west) in Lille and you are in Belgium. A trip on the city metro brings you into its Belgian suburbs.

This is as much Belgium than France, 11km from the border. Which means the chips are better. The city was dressed up for European City of Culture in 2004 and has kept its chocolate box attractions and restored “old” town in shape since then.

A hopping city in every sense of the word, Lille is normally home to 30,000 students and with a nightlife to match.

Star après match attraction might well be Trois Brasseurs brew pub, others worth a stop include T’Rijsel, MacEwan’s and L’Arms Park.

The local brew, Pelforth originated in MonsenBarœul but is, in reality a recreation of an earlier tradition.

The shortish distance from Paris means that Irish fans will be likely to drop in for a short stop here rather than use it as a base. The local airport has a curfew which effectively rules out day trips. Ryanair base Charleroi is 90km away, Beauvais is 194km, but beware of poor public transport connections from both. The only way to get from Beauvais to Lille by train is to go all the way to Paris and back.

For fans arriving by rail, the Gare LilleEurope metro station is a work of art in itself. Check out the amazing mural.

For the cheapest bed, there are two Formule 1’s in close proximity (one at the airport which goes to bed) and a Mister Bed, but at match time, you may have to stray further along the motorway network or base yourself across the border in Courtray or Tournai, 25 kilometres away.

There are about 100 restaurants locally, the star attractions include La Table, Quai 38, Le Potager des Demoiselles, La petite Table, Aux Epherites and (don’t forget you are virtually in Belgium) Bloempot.

There are clusters of chocolate shops selling hand crafted product for the journey home, and little patisseries serving hangover-soaking local pastries As with Bordeaux the Irish embassy will have a temporary consulate open, manned by Irish consular officers, from today through Thursday.

It was a fortress town for centuries and you will find one of those massive star shaped citadels near the maze of streets that is the restored old town. For a culture breakout the city’s signature attraction is the Musée des Beaux Arts with works by Monet, Manet and Flemish primitivists. For those currently overdosing on the centenary of WW1 some of the key Flanders battlefields are about 80km away to the south, with sad shrapnel scattered throughout the farmlands around Fromelles, which had an disproportionate casualty rate among Australians but was really a sideshow to the Somme. For a return visit (with the insignificant other), La Howarderie just outside the city is one of the finest romantic getaway venues on the planet.

It remains to be seen whether, by the time the Lille match against Italy comes round, the glass will be half full or half empty.

The author is editor of www.travelextra.ie 

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