Lille_Gare Saint-Sauveur©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Maxime Dufour PhotographiesLille_Gare Saint-Sauveur©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Maxime Dufour Photographies
©Lille, Gare Saint-Sauveur|CRTC Hauts-de-France - Maxime Dufour Photographies

Lille – thriving cultural hub

Scratch the surface of world design capital Lille and you’ll find a diverse and free-spirited art vibe that knows no boundaries, from the traditional artworks at Palais des Beaux Arts to the progressive modern art festival that is Lille3000. Street Art is one of Lille’s greatest treasures and you can follow a 4km trail of inventive frescos, the epitome of 21st century escapism.

Northern France _Lille _ Shop ©CRTC Hauts-de-Franc e- B TeissedreNorthern France _Lille _ Shop ©CRTC Hauts-de-Franc e- B Teissedre
©Northern France, Lille, Shop |CRTC Hauts-de-France - B Teissedre

Lille’s street art blazes a trail

Everyone in Lille knows the name ‘Saint So’, so just ask a local for directions to this bistro on Boulevard Jean-Baptiste Lebas, as it’s the starting point for guided tours of the city’s Street Art. Just 100 metres from here you’ll see artworks some 20 metres high. Julien Prouveur, tour leader and coordinator of a collaborative art project known as Renart, explains that the aim of the collaboration is to make art accessible to everyone. He long ago noticed that too many people miss out on the joy of Street Art simply by failing to look up, so he’s forever reminding people to do just that!

The tour kicks off at Lille’s cultural quarter Gare Saint-Sauveur with the art of Hervé di Rosa, the nomadic artist who invented ‘Art Modeste’  ̶  a movement celebrating the everyday in art. It’s here you’ll see a fresco of monumental proportion (4m x 10m) featuring a series of smiling cyclopes.

Raising your head automatically gives you a new perspective

Mexican and Polish influence on the streets of Lille

A colourful representation of Poland and its links with French mining heritage can be seen on the corner of Lille’s Rue Maubeuge. Here stands the giant fresco by the world-renowned Polish artist Marius. Bearing the name of his pseudonym ‘M-City’, it recalls the history of coal and Polish immigration.

Nearby, you’ll find the work of the Franco-Austrian Street Art duo ‘Jana & JS’ who specialise in detailed stencil work and the theme of observation. Now turn around and you’ll see a fish, one of many dotted all over the city by a group of artists known as ‘Poisson’. Moving on to Rue Dupetit Touars we find the work of six artists known as BIG (an acronym of ‘Battle Internationale de Graff’) and on the opposite wall, Mexican artists have chosen to highlight the plight of minority groups in their frescos, representing social justice and the Grim Reaper.

In the Moulins district, graffiti artists present messages of peace. The Mexican art duo Tlacolulokos worked with calligraphy artist Lady Alezia from the Renart collective whose striking message of love ‘Hydrate toi d’urbaine liqueur’ appears amidst symbols of gang warfare. Last, but certainly not least, is the vibrant 20-metre-long snake by Mexican graffiti artist Spaïk at Lille’s Porte de Douai metro station.

Stop for a drink at the city oasis

Heading back to Saint So, you’ll find its iconic bistro convivial and inviting  ̶  like a farm transposed to the city. Surrounded by hops, beehives, and plants thriving in pots, the ethos is that customers should be able to choose vegetables made from lesser-known, non-hybrid seeds of species and can share concern for the issues of the day, such as how to limit impact on the planet. Just a little further afield, local resident groups are making full use of ‘permis de végétaliser’ [growing permits] whereby they make a commitment to nurture the growth of plants in their locality, and work with others to ensure sustainability. Take a look at Rue Camille Desmoulins, for example, showcasing Lille’s eco-design spirit.

In tribute to Charles de Gaulle, man of the north

Charles de Gaulle, one of France’s most famous historical figures, is brought to life in Street Art all over Lille, care of the artist Thomas (also known as Mister P) who chose the famous figure as a way of expressing pride in his home city. Head to the main city square (named after De Gaulle, in fact) to see the first of the Street Art portraits, only a few streets away from Meert patisserie where young Charles spent his pocket money on waffles. You’ll find another example where Rue du Béguinage et Rue Princesse intersect, as this is where De Gaulle was born, the home of his grandparents. “Placing the portrait here was a tribute” explains Thomas. “What interests me is the universal aspect of the image and I have copied my image of De Gaulle in his cap over 1,000 times all over the world, from Sri Lanka to Los Angeles and from Paris to Portugal. Only De Gaulle, man of Lille, has this international resonance.”

The Hauts-de-France region was significant throughout De Gaulle’s whole life: He was baptised in the Church of Saint André on Rue Royale, went to school in Place aux Bleuets, and spent summers on the beaches of Malo-les-Bains, Wimille and Wimereux. After leaving Saint Cyr military academy, he chose the ‘Arras 33rd RI’ infantry regiment and went on to marry Yvonne Ventroux in Calais. De Gaulle’s own son Philippe said that his father’s homeland provided his “way of seeing” whilst French Gaullist politician Jacques Chaban-Delmas said that you couldn’t separate De Gaulle from his roots, from “… the great plains, the infinite skies, the brick and slate, the miners’ cottages and the factories.”

Local's tip

Olivier Duhamel Villeneuve D'ascqOlivier Duhamel Villeneuve D'ascq
Watching the world go by from a café terrace on Place du Théâtre in Lille

What I love about Lille is its unique character and way of life ‒ the mixture of the French and the Flemish influence ‒ and there really is no better way to while away an afternoon than sitting in Place du Théâtre with a local beer and good company. Beer and heritage go hand in hand here and in fact the region is the second biggest brewing hub in the whole of France. So as long as you consume in moderation, you’re definitely in the right spot to try a beer or two, or ‘une mousse’ as it’s known locally! At the foot of the opera house and the belfry, Place du Théâtre is the best place to get a taste for it, with no one rushing around, just people spending quality time in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, cares left behind. Later on, you might see people sat on the opera house steps too ‒ and for good reason; it’s a great place to contemplate and enjoy the last light of the day, that key moment when street lights take over and the heart of the city continues to beat into the night. A magical and memorable moment to share, for sure.

Olivier Duhamel’s first love is modern architecture in and around Lille
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