Around Lille: Wattrelos, Comines and Armentières
Every year in April I go to a French travel blogger convention to attend interesting conferences and to enjoy some time with my fellow travel bloggers friends. This event takes place in a different city each year. This time it took place in Lille in the north of France near Belgium so we decided to visit some cities along the border. Indeed, we wanted to understand in what ways the Belgium culture have an impact on the life in the north of France, especially in those city along the border. So let’s go to Wattrelos, Comines and Armentières.
Museum of arts and popular traditions
In order to understand the History of this region we started by visiting the museum of arts and popular traditions in Wattrelos. Set in a renovated farm located only a few kilometres away from Belgium, this museum gathers an impressive collection of objects showing us how people use to live and makes us travel a few years back in the past.
As soon as we stepped into the museum we discovered an area dedicated to the smuggling activities that took place at the border between Belgium and France. Indeed, during many years, this border was a huge hide-and-seek playground for smugglers and customs officers. Either side people tried to bring back some cheaper or better goods. French people went in Belgium to buy cigarettes and chocolates while Belgium people went in France in order to bring back some nylon stockings. Lining of the coat, dogs collars with hidden compartments, babies clothes, women skirts… Everybody used many tricks!
We continued our visit of the museum by visiting a classroom, a small café and the weaver workshop as Wattrelos was an important city in the textile industry a few decades ago. Unfortunately, it was already time to head to our next visit. I would have been happy to stay there, surrounded by all these vintage things… My camera in my hand to catch this rush of nostalgia.
Accessibility: The museum is wheelchair accessible. Only a small room is not accessible but it is really a tiny area of the museum.
96 rue François Mériaux, Wattrelos.
Open from Tuesday to Saturday: 9-12am / 2-6pm. Open on Sundays : 3-6pm.
Free entrance. Guided tour (which are I recommend) are available upon appointements.
Discovering the Bourle game
Next stop: the bourloire of Wattrelos to have a game of Bourle. So what is exactly the Bourle game ? Well, you might know our french favorite pétanque and maybe even the Quille de Huit if you read about my adventures in Averyon. Like these, the Bourle is also a local game where you need to throw rolling object toward a target called l’étaque located on the opposite side, several metres away.
To get a better picture of what this is about, I would say that the Bourle game is a mix between pétanque and bowling: two teams are competing, but the rolling object, the bourle, looks like a cheese wheel that needs to slalom between the opposite team’s ones. And to make things a bit more challenging, there is a wide gap at the end of the curved track. Your bourle will fall into it if you are not careful! A skill that requires some training!
Les amis de la Bourle, rue Jean Castel, Wattrelos.
Saint-Chrysole Church, Comines
We are now heading towards the most surprising building of the day: the Saint-Chrysole church in Comines. This religious edifice is like no other church in the area surrounding Lille. From Inside to outside, its architecture and marvellous colours amazes visitors.
In 1915, the church was destroyed by English bombings as it was used as a munitions warehouse for the Germans. The reconstruction started in 1922 in a neo-byzantin and art deco style, which is rather unusual but splendid to look at. It’s an explosion of vaults and colours.
Before leaving, we take some time to glance at the beffroi de Comines, on the opposite side of the grand’ place. It has been a World Heritage Site since 2005. Again, we are all surprised by the tower original shape. At the top of it, there is a bulb shaped roof that makes it stand from any other beffroi in the area.
The church is open to visitors on Monday mornings.
Les prés du Hem
After visiting the church it’s already lunch time so we head to Marguerite Barameuh restaurant to discover some local dishes: maroilles cheese tart, carbonade flamande (meet stew in beer and served with gingerbread), fricadelle… Each dish is served with French fries and a good beer of course!
The meal was copious so we decided to go for a walk in les prés du Hem. This place is perfect to enjoy a family day. For a fair fee, we can enjoy 120 hectares of park and practice a dozen of activities such as sailing, paddle,
canoe, swimming, pedalo… We can also play a smuggler or a customs officer in an obstacle race.
As for those who like to experience new feelings, the Vanupieds is the perfect attraction! What is it? It is a one kilometre pathway covered by 63 different materials on which we can walk barefoot. Some materials are emblematic of the region: flax, bricks, beer caps. Other materials are not as local but really fun to walk on such as mud and crushed glass. A really enjoyable experience but unfortunately wheelchair inaccessible.
Except for the Vanupieds, the Prés du Hem are easy to get around in a wheelchair.
There are disabled toilets in Marguerite Barameuh restaurant.
People with a disability parking card can park inside the park by asking the security staff at the main entrance.
7 Avenue Marc Sangnier, Armentières.
Opening change depending the season. Fees entrance are due to June 1st to September 1st.
City hall and beffroi
To end this beautiful day, we discovered some architectural amazing pieces of work of Louis-Marie Cordonnier, one of the famous architect of the region during the 20th century. In 1918, he started the restoration of many building which have been destroyed by bombings during the Great War. He decided to depart from the neoclassical style to a Flemish local style made from bricks and stones.
Many emblematic building in the north of France were design by him, including the beffroi of Comines and also the beffroi and city hall of Armentières and the church Saint-Chrysole that we admired a few hours before.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to reach the top of Armentières’ beffroi because there are about 200 steps to climb. So I let my fellow bloggers enjoy the view and the clock mechanism inside the tower while I enjoyed a private guided tour of the city hall. I learnt a lot about the History of Armentières and the Flemish region.
Then the group and I met up in the main hall to end up this wonderful day doing some local food tasting: The Motte Cordonnier “René” beer, a beer which is traditionally brew in Flanders, and local waffle made by Jean Francois Brigant. These waffle are different from the Belgium one I am used to. They are flat, oval and filled with vergeoise (local sugar). We have also tried more tropical ones: Mojito waffles ! These are tasty and quite surprising, but I still prefer traditional vergeoise one, or the one filled with spéculoos.
Beffroi: 3,50€/adult et 2,50€/child. Guided tour on appointment from Tuesday to Saturday.
If you want to visit Lille and its surroundings the following hotel is wheelchair accessible and has adapted rooms:
Novotel Centre Lille Gare, 49 rue de Tournai à Lille.