The PR company for Eurostar’s Little break, Big difference campaign recently invited some food bloggers on a culinary day trip to Lille in northern France. Little break, Big difference encourages people to take short breaks to Paris, Brussels and Lille on the Eurostar, (which can cost as little as £59 return, subject to all those terms and conditions!), introducing special events and experiences in these cities. The itinerary was packed with food activities, and it was hard to resist. I was initially hesitant about going, given the recent furore over food bloggers accepting PR freebies. However, I do enjoy traveleating and I would have wanted to visit Lille anyway to see what it has to offer foodies, so I decided to accept the invitation.
I love the research and planning part of any traveleating trip and can spend months choosing restaurants and places to visit (I’ve been doing this since July for the November Japan trip!). It was therefore a little strange to be handed an itinerary, even though it was entirely food-related, and to be guided around the city, when I’m very much an independent traveller. I had decided not to do any research whatsoever, so everything we did on Saturday was entirely new to me.
Lille city centre is no more than a ten minute walk from the train station. We wandered up and down little cobbled streets in the old quarter known as Vieux Lille lined with independent shops, cafés, restaurants and boutiques, – Rue de la Monnaie looked particularly exciting – as well as walking around two pretty squares, the Place du General-de-Gaulle and Place du Théâtre. The area is very photogenic and I loved the architecture, so it wasn’t long before I decided I would be returning to Lille again very soon.
We visited Meert, a traditional pâtisserie and tea room that has been open since 1761 (there is also the restaurant, see website below for more details) and sampled La Gaufre Meert, their famous Madagascan vanilla-filled waffles (€2.80), which you can also buy in small gift boxes in the adjoining shop. A few people also ordered their other speciality, the Merveilleux, a gigantic chocolate-coated meringue filled with rich chocolate mousse (€5.50). They have a good selection of teas, but I had a non-alcoholic fruit cocktail, the Intensive Cherry Cactus (€6.00), a delicious thick and definitely intense berry drink. I also bought a little packet of florentines from the shop afterwards.
The next stop was L’atelier des Chefs (a chain of cookery schools in France, London and Dubai where you learn to make two or three courses for lunch and dinner, then eat what you have prepared), where we were divided into four teams and following instructions from the chef, learned to make lunch for ourselves, which we ate at the communal dining table. Very fresh pan-fried cod lacquered with honey and beer sauce on a bed of vegetables was followed by tiramisu.
We were soon on the move again, to the regional beer and cheese tasting, which was held in the basement of La Capsule bar. Unfortunately, due to a family emergency, the cheese shop owner had to close his shop, so he couldn’t attend to introduce the cheeses. I was disappointed as I fell deeply in love with the smelliest and strongest of all the sampled cheeses, the Maroilles, and wanted to buy some to take home. I also liked the Crayeux de Ronqc and the Mimolette, a hard orange cheese, which I’ve had before in London. Philippe Olivier is therefore most definitely on my must-visit list for my next trip, as there is also the ‘cousin’ of the Maroilles, Vieux Lille, also known as ‘the Lille stinker’, which I want to try!
The beer expert more than made up for the cheese owner’s absence however, and he described in detail the four specialty beers local to Lille and the north of France. I’m not a beer drinker, but I particularly liked La Bavaisienne, an amber beer, and later bought a bottle from La Capsule’s specialty regional beer shop L’Abbaye des Saveurs, just round the corner. The beer later got its seal of approval from the husband patiently waiting at home for food treats. By the time we were back on the train again, I could barely sit upright from all the food I had consumed.
If I were to organise my own day trip to Lille, I would have a leisurely breakfast at Meert, then buy plenty of goodies from the adjoining shop. The bakery, Aux Merveilleux de Fred, that we walked past twice also looked very enticing, as did Patisserie Patrick Hermand. With just one day to explore the city and with so much to eat and do however, I wouldn’t attend a cookery course again. I like L’atelier des Chefs very much, and there is one in London which I’ve been to, but I would much rather dine in some local restaurants where I wouldn’t have to do the cooking! There are also numerous cafés and little food shops where I would love to spend time browsing, and of course the upscale independent shops selling clothes and interiors. The beer shop and the cheese shop would be essential stops towards the end of the day. And I would try to time my trip to visit the open market, Marché de Wazemmes, (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings). However, the Little Break trip was certainly an excellent introduction to Lille (thank you to everyone at We Are Social), and has inspired me to do more research and return very soon.
The day’s events are also told in this set of Lille photos on Flickr, which can be viewed here, posted in reverse chronological order (last photo appears first). You can also watch We Are Social’s short You Tube video of the day here.
We travelled courtesy of Eurostar in Leisure Select, which I’ve never heard of before, but it’s the class between Standard and Business Premier. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included, depending on the time of travel, as well as a complimentary glass of champagne before lunch and dinner. The breakfast, strangely, was far better than the dinner. Perhaps we were too full from good food in Lille?
We took the 06:59 train from St Pancras, arriving in Lille an astonishing 90 minutes later, at 09:27. After a short ten minute walk, we were already in the city centre. It was very easy to walk around the little streets and explore the city, and there was no need for taxis or public transport as stayed in the centre.
We returned on the 18:35 train, arriving back at St Pancras at 19:03 UK time. It was a long day, but definitely manageable. I’m now debating whether to do a day trip, leaving slightly later in the morning and returning on a later train after dinner, or stay overnight and have a more relaxing weekend.
Meert Patisserie – Salon de thé 27 rue Esquermoise 59000 Lille France Tel: 0033 (0)3 20 57 07 44 www.meert.fr
Opening Hours : Monday: Closed Tuesday to Friday: 9.30am-7.30pm Saturday: 9.00am-7.30pm Sunday: 9.00am-1.00pm/3.00pm-7.00pm
L’atelier des Chefs 74 Boulevard de la Liberté 59000 Lille France Tel: 0033 (0)3 20 17 17 50 www.latelierdeschefs.com
L’Abbaye des Saveurs 13, rue des Vieux Murs 59000 Lille France Tel/ Fax: 00 33 (0)3 28 07 70 06 www.abbayedessaveurs.com
Fromagerie Philippe Olivier 3 Rue Curé St Etienne 59800 Lille France Tel: 00 33 (3) 20 74 96 99
The food bloggers (and one wine blogger) who went on the trip were a mixture of old friends and new acquaintances, all writing about very different subjects within the vast realm of food (and drink).
Niamh from Eat Like A Girl Chris from Cheese and Biscuits Helen from Food Stories Kang from LondonEater Krista from londonelicious MsMarmitelover from The English Can Cook Andrew Barrow from Spittoon Liz from Gastronomy Domine Margot from Coffee and Vanilla Michelle from Greedy Gourmet Stephen and Kerri from Dinner Diary