For those that don't know, the Braderie is an enormous flea market festival dating back to the 12th Century that takes over the entire city. It's the largest in Europe.
It is a fabulous mix of antique furniture, objet d'art, bric a brac and ephemera. The whole event has a wonderful festival spirit - which even a little rain this morning failed to dampen.
Every festival in France has - as you might expect - a gastronomic backbone, and what I love is that it is always so proudly regional. The Braderie is no exception with every restaurant, cafe and bar turning over the regular menu to serve solely Moules Frites (mussels and fries) accompanied by the finest local and Belgian beers. Stacks of mussel shells form impromptu art installations within the main eating quarters.
The surprise of the weekend was to find just how beautiful this city is. It's the fourth largest in France (behind Paris, Lyon and Marseilles) and has a medieval history. The architecture shows the best of this part of Europe - tall houses with shutters and iron features (similar to Holland and Belgium) with many cobbled roads called pavé (which remind me so much of the famous cycling races of this region!). Today, Lille is a very popular university city, so the population is young and there really creative feel about the place.
Our top 5 things about Lille :
1. Of course the Braderie, which you really must put in your calendar to visit at least once!
2. Meert. We had a late breakfast lunch in this fantastic shop/cafe/restaurant.
3. The beautiful houses in the Vieux Lille (that's old town Lille). Charles de Gaulle was born here (his home is now a museum).
4. Le Merveilleux, home of the best chocolate/meringue combo you'll ever taste.
5. The moules-frites and beer. You'll definitely reach your limit by the end, but it's fun to enjoy this local tradition - the beers really are wonderful, if a little strong!
There were so many things that we didn't get to see: the Vielle Bourse, local parks and the neighbouring Roubaix to name a few, but we'll definitely be back here again one day very soon.