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Take the Family › Family-Friendliness: Facilities or Attitude?

Family-Friendliness: Facilities or Attitude?

By TakeTheFamily
Main Square, Lille. OTC Lille / ©Laurent GhesquiereMain Square, Lille. OTC Lille / ©Laurent Ghesquiere


I’ve just taken the kids on a very inappropriate short break. And we had the best time. I’d done my research beforehand, of course, consulting the guides about the best things for a family to do and see in Lille in northern France. They suggested the zoo at the Citadelle and the Forum des Sciences park on the edge of town, with a planetarium and lots of interactive exhibits.

Our quest to have a proper family break began well. Taking the train from London to Lille took only 90 minutes – far less than visiting relatives in Liverpool. But after that it didn’t look at all promising. I’d booked the Hotel Barrière barely a baguette’s length from the Eurostar terminal so we could walk there in a few minutes, dump our overnight bags, and take a 10-minute stroll to the centre of town. It turned out that Hotel Barrière’s main clientele carry briefcases, not backpacks and Hello Kitty suitcases, which is probably why it was such a bargain (business hotels in public holidays are always good value). But the rooms were large enough to comfortably fit all five of us and the staff more welcoming than many an establishment that brands itself for families. They recommended we ate at La Brassiere des 3 Brasseurs opposite the old Lille train station. This is  in fact a micro-brewery serving very fine Flanders ale, but the 10-year-old twins hadn’t enjoyed themselves so much in a restaurant for a long time, tucking into junior steak frites, Alsace sausages and flamenkeuches – north France’s answer to pizza, a bit thinner and with no tomato paste or stringy cheese.

After eating came shopping, where we strayed even further into grown-up territory. France still boasts gun shops, openly selling shiny black pistols and battered leather holsters like a scene from High Chaparral. We strayed into Henry Huret on the Rue de Paris and marvelled at the extraordinary goods on display. As well as guns, the shop sold anything sharp – knives, scissors, daggers that looked as if they could feature in a Royal Shakespeare Company production, oyster shuckers… We bought a metal crabclaw-cracker, watching it being carefully wrapped up in brown paper with envelope ends and tied with old-fashioned string by a man wearing a dark-blue heavy cotton apron. The whole performance took more than half an hour. The kids were entranced.

We never made it to the zoo, or the science park. But we did wander around the cobbled old town with its wavy-roofed spindly houses as wide as our stretched-out arms. We peeked in through the window at a man carving the arm of a cello and admired the small smart cakes laid out in short neat rows – works of art as great as anything found in Lille’s famed Palais des Beaux-Arts. And we took the driverless metro out to the fleamarket at Wazemmes, where Lille’s North African population shop, which was rather like taking a morning trip to Morocco.

But we liked our adventures to adult-land best. Neither the hotel, nor the restaurant, nor the shop would feature in any family-friendly guide. Which only proves that family-friendliness isn’t about facilities but attitude. And about having a little bit of an adventure, even in somewhere as fabulously close and convenient to reach as Lille.

Offer of the Week

View down over Porto Elounda Golf and Spa Resort golf course.
October Half Term £4312 per family. Two adults and two children, 7 nights on half board basis, inc. return flights.


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