Lille travel guide for tennis fans

If you enjoy combining watching tennis with sightseeing, this Travel guide series is made for you! Our first guide was dedicated to Paris, this one is dedicated to Lille, that will host the Davis Cup semifinal between France and Spain. Lille is a perfect destination for a short break, as it is just a couple of hours train journey away from London, an hour from Paris and just over 30 minutes from Bruxelles.

The city

Getting there

Lille has two train stations: Gare Lille Europe and Gare Lille Flandres, situated 400 meters from each other and only a 10 min walk from the city centre.
 Eurostar and TGV link Lille with Brussels (35min), Paris (1h) and London (1h40).
Gare Lille Flandres was Paris' original Gare du Nord, moved brick by brick and stone by stone. The town elders, not wishing to appear satisfied with second-hand goods, insisted on building an extra storey on to the station façade to create an even more imposing frontage.

Gare Lille Flandres
Gare Lille Europe

The Lille Lesquin International Airport is small but convenient for entering Lille or travelling on to nearby areas across the border in Belgium. Both major and budget airlines operate scheduled services. A direct coach connects to central Lille (stops outside Euralille, next to Gare Lille Europe) in 20 minutes, and runs once an hour costing €8 (return ticket is €10). The closest major airport is Paris Charles de Gaulle, which links direct to Lille with highspeed TGV in around an hour.

Getting around

Lille’s transit system features two metro lines (lines 1 and 2), two tramways (Roubaix and Tourcoing) and a network of buses that connect Lille centre with the suburbs. In the city centre, metros run every two to four minutes from 5.30am until 12.30 am.
 A single journey ticket costs €1.50. A 1-day unlimited pass (Pass journée) allows unlimited travel on the bus-underground-tram network for 24 hours and costs only €4. 2-days and 3-days pass cost respectively €7.50 and €9.50.

Lille also has its own public bicycle sharing system called the V’lille. To hire a bike, new users must register by providing a security deposit of 200 euros (which is not debited), either online or at any of the credit card enabled bike stations. Once registered, simply pick up a bike at any hire location then return it to any bike station around the city. The first 30 minutes of each rental is free.


City at a glance

- Lille owes its name - once spelled L'Isle - to the fact that it was founded on an island in the River Deûle, back in the 11th century.
- Lille was in turn under Flemish, Burgundian and Spanish rule before becoming French in 1667.
- With a population of 230,000 Lille is northern France's largest city.
- Lille is known for La Braderie, its flea market that takes place each year on the weekend of the first Sunday of September. It claims to be the largest such event in Europe, and dates from the Middle Ages, when servants were permitted to hawk their employers' old garnments for some extra money.
- Lille was one of the 11 cities to bid to stage the 2004 Olympics. Lille's bid failed but the city was chosen to become European Capital of Culture. Lille 2004 is estimated to have attracted 9 million people through 2,500 cultural events, with 750,000 visitors just for the opening event.
- Lille has been designated World Design Capital 2020.

Must see

So close, yet so different from Paris. It's easy to get the impression that France = Paris. You may even think Lille is not worth a visit in its own right, but you might be surprised by the city's impressive architecture, its charming cobbled streets and its plethora of shops and restaurants.

The legend of Lydéric and Phinaert

According to legend, in the 7th century, the Prince of Dijon was travelling to England when he was attacked and killed in the woods by the evil brigand Phinaert. The prince's wife fled the scene and gave birth to a baby boy, handing him to a hermit before she died. The hermit raised the biy and christened him Lydéric. Years later, Lydéric, a brave, young knight found Phinaert and killed him in a duel. Phinaert's lands are given to Lydéric, where the young man founds the city of Lille in the year 640 AD. Today, the legend lives on when giants Phinaert and Lydéric are carried through the streets of Lille on feast days and in carnival parades.

La Grand Place, officially called Place du Général de Gaulle was originally the wheat market. Today, the Grand Place is the city’s heart and contains some of Lille’s finest buildings. At the centre of the square, the statue known as la Déesse (the Goddess) celebrates Lille’s victorious resistance against the Austrians in 1792.

Lille Grand Place
Lille Grand Place

La Vieille Bourse (old stock exchange) is the gem of the Grand Place. Probably the city’s most beautiful monument, it is made up of 24 identical houses surrounding a cloister. Inside, it houses a little booksellers’ market and sometimes chess players or tango dancers.

Lille Grand Place

La Vieille Bourse, Lille

La Vieille Bourse, Lille

East of the Vieille Bourse, place du Théatre is dominated by the Louis XVI-style Opéra and the neo-Flemish Chambre de commerce. Both were built in the early 20th century.
 Opposite the chamber of commerce is the Rang du Beauregard, an uniform alignment of three-storey houses, typical of 17th century architecture in Lille.

Lille Opera

Vieux Lille, which means Old Lille, is a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets, filled with ancient buildings, cafes, restaurants and designer shops.
 Vieux Lille’s main sight is l’Hospice Comtesse, rue de la Monnaie. This former hospital run by nuns was founded by Joan of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders in the 13th century. It is now a museum exhibiting the interior of a religious 17th century home in Flanders.

Vieux Lille

Vieux Lille

Another must-see is the Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille, a cathedral you will either love or hate. The body of the cathedral is a Neo-Gothic construction begun in 1854, but the facade, a translucent marble skin supported by steel wires, was not completed until 1999. Housed within the crypt of the cathedral, the Centre d'Art Sacré is a modern collection of modern religious weeks by artists including Baselitz, Desgrandchamps and Warhol. Open on Saturdays and Sundays afternoons.

Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille, Lille

The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, the largest French museum outside of Paris, is a short walk from the Grand Place. The collection include works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, Rodin among many more. It also houses ceramics, a cabinet of drawing and a spectacular collection of relief maps showing cities fortified by Vauban.

Lille Palais des Beaux-Arts

Eat and drink

There's a few bars around Gare Lille Flandres, but you should head instead to Place Rihour or Grand Place, where cafés buzz with life. La Chicorée, Place Rihour, serves food nearly 24/24 and 7/7. Not the best cuisine, but useful if it's getting late and you don't know where to eat.
West of the centre, rue Solférino and rue Masséna are a host of pubs and bars but it's dead in the afternoon and attract a young crowd.

Lille street

Northern brews

French Flanders brew some excellent bière blonde (lager) and bière ambrée (amber beer). While in the area, beer lovers should try some of these brands, which give the Belgian brewers a run for their money: 3 Monts, Brasserie des 2 Caps, Ch'ti, Jenlain, Moulins d'Ascq, St-Landelin...Source: Lonely Planet

If you want to try some traditional flemish cuisine, head to Vieux Lille, especially rue de Gand, a street lined with estaminets and restaurants.
 Chez la Vieille and its sister restaurant Au Vieux de la Vieille (place aux Oignons) serve local comfort food like carbonnade flamande (beef stew), waterzooi (chicken or fish in a creamy sauce) or pot’je vleesch (cold meat with gelatina).

If you have a sweet-tooth, you should head to Meert (rue Esquermoise), a beautiful pâtisserie and tea room known for its gaufres (waffles filled with vanilla paste), or to Aux Merveilleux de Fred (gare Lille Flandres and rue de la Monnaie), a shop dedicated to merveilleux cakes (meringues welded with whipped cream).

Lille and the Davis Cup

Lille has hosted 3 Davis Cup ties in the recent years: the final opposing France to Switzerland in 2014, the France vs Serbia semifinal and the France vs Belgium final in 2017. I was lucky enough to attend all those ties, you can find my previews and recaps here:
- 2014 final: Federer's lone Davis Cup trophy
- 2017 semifinals: getting ready for the France vs Serbia Davis Cup semifinal, my Davis Cup weekend: France vs Serbia
- 2017 final: France vs Belgium, the preview, le jour de gloire est arrivé: France's first win since 20011

The tie will actually be played in Villeneuve d'Ascq, in the Lille suburbs, where the Stade Pierre Mauroy is located. Initially called the Grand Stade but renamed in honour of the former Lille mayor and French Prime Minister, Stade Pierre Mauroy is the home stadium of LOSC football team. One unique feature of the stadium is that half the pitch can be lifted and slid over the top of the other half, revealing a second lower level floor plan and surrounding seats called Boîte à Spectacles, with a flexible capacity of between 7,000 and 30,000. It hosted concerts, Eurobasket 2015, 2017 World Men's Handball Championship and the 2018 Volleyball Nations League.
The stadium could also host the Davis Cup finals in 2019. According to Gerard Piqué, founder of the Kosmos group that has the partnership with the ITF to transform the Davis Cup competition, the other candidate cities are: Madrid, Istanbul and St Petersburg. The host city will be announced after this year's semifinals.

Metro line 1 serves the stadium. Hop off at Villeneuve d'Ascq Hôtel de Ville (cross through the shopping centre and the parking lot), Cité scientifique or 4 cantons, and follow the signs, or the crowd. You're not allowed to bring food inside the stadium, but you can buy inside of course (beer, softs, waffles...). There are also a couple of bars, restaurants as well as drink and food outlets outside the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

Lille Play In Challenger

A men's tournament takes place each year in Lille. Created in 1991, the Open de Lille renamed Open du Nord in 2013 was a $25,000 Futures tournament. Past champions include Ronald Agenor, Greg Rusedski, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or more recently Karen Khachanov and Mikael Ymer. Check out the recaps of the 2015 and 2016 editions:
- Open du Nord 2015: Khachanov wins the title
- Open du Nord 2016: second title in Lille for Mertens
New name, new category, new sponsors, the tournament got a new look this year. The top names of the first edition of the Play In Challenger were world number 101 Nicolas Mahut, and Bernard Tomic, the "enfant terrible" of Australian tennis. But they both fell in the first rounds and qualifier Grégoire Barrère prevailed on home soil with a straight set win over Tobias Kamke in the final, to win his maiden Challenger title.

The tournament is organized by the Tennis Club Lillois Lille Métropole (TCLLM) and played in March at the Complexe Tennistique Marcel Bernard, on indoor hard courts. Prices very between €0 and €15. By public transit: metro ligne 1 station "CHR Oscar Lambret" then bus ligne 10 stop « Rue de Londres » (or 15 minutes by foot).
For more info, check out Play In Challenger and Tennis Club Lillois Lille Métropole official websites.

Marcel Bernard, the unlikely Roland Garros winner

Marcel Bernard, born in La Madeleine near Lille in 1914, was the first French player to win the French Open after World War II, in 1946, but he should never have won...
He made his Grand Slam debut aged just 17 at Roland Garros in 1931, where he lost in the third round to Fred Perry. In 1932 Bernard lost in the semis to Henri Cochet. He made the quarters in 1933 and 1935 and in 1936 lost in the semis to Gottfried von Cramm. Then War broke out. By the time the 1946 French Open came around Bernard was 32, out of form, and just wanted to enjoy himself so he had planned to only play mixed and mens doubles. When his mixed partner Margaret Osborne decides to withdraw from the mixed doubles to focus on the singles, the tournament referee convinces Bernard to enter the singles competition. He beats Pancho Segura and Budge Patty to reach the semifinals where he defeats Yvon Petra in five sets before coming from two sets to love down to beat Jaroslav Drobny in the final. He then wins the doubles with Petra.

If you have any suggestion or question, feel free to leave a comment below. Our next Travel guide will be dedicated to Antwerp, Belgium.

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