A Weekend In Flanders

This post has been a long time coming because I haven’t been able to find the right words to describe our weekend in Flanders. Because, well, it wasn’t my favourite.

We travelled over to Flanders one weekend in early September, jumping on the Eurostar and basing ourselves in Lille. It’s only about an hour away from London and the Gare De Lille station is less than a 10-minute walk from the centre. We had three nights in Lille and spent one full day in Brussels.

Now, I think I didn’t fall in love with Lille (I did more so Brussels, which I was pleasantly surprised by) because of two reasons;

1) I was ill. So not at all Lilles fault! For a bit of context; I had just started my new full-time role and it was stressful. We had to set up our shop from scratch, we were crazy busy in our first two weeks and then I jollied off to France for a weekend. The timing wasn’t great. Turns out, bubbling away I had a nasty bacterial infection that lasted for about three weeks. What I believed to be tiredness and stress, was actually an infection. This greatly impacted my experience of the trip.

2) I wasn’t blown away by Lille. The fact I was actually ill, paired with the fact there isn’t that much to do in Lille was just a bit of a bummer. The architecture in Lille was gorgeous but as the city is quite small, you could see it all easily in one day. It was quite difficult to stretch everything out to three days and if I could do it all again, it would have been better to base ourselves in Brussels for the three nights and visited Lille for the day. Being a vegetarian who doesn’t really eat cheese was a struggle and we had a couple of rude experiences with staff which made us feel just a bit shit.

While I wasn’t overly enamoured by Flanders, overall we still did have a lovely weekend. On the afternoon we arrived, we checked into our hotel, dumped our bags and headed out for an explore – the weather was gorgeous and we were blown away by how beautiful the buildings were.

Lille is really small, with the Belfry standing tall in the centre. The main square of Lille is pedestrianised and there are lots of cute little restaurants and bars dotted around which were always bustling.

We decided to dine al-fresco in a little side street and planned our weekend over drinks. I’d already eyed up where we were going to eat breakfast (Paul, which was actually founded in Lille) and we decided to spend our first full day in Brussels, a short 35-minute train journey away.

Having previously visited Bruges and having one of our favourite holidays ever, my hopes for the Belgium capital weren’t that high – how could it be better? Turns out, Brussels completely exceeded my expectations.

It was beautiful. We arrived at Brussels Midi shortly after 10am and left just after 4pm giving us just over 6 hours to explore. We began in the main square, The Grand Place, and it was one of the most beautiful town squares I have ever visited. The ornate details, the golden embellishments – it certainly lives up to its name.

From there, we walked the cobbled streets and explored the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert (a beautiful shopping arcade) before heading towards Laurant Gerbaud in search for Belgian chocolates. We used this cafe as our little pit-stop, where you are offered a free chocolate with your coffee. They have so many different flavours and if you want to try them all, you can hand-pick whichever flavours take your fancy to create a picture perfect chocolate box.

From there we walked around the park, passed the Brussels Palace and then towards Mont Des Arts, beautiful gardens that overlook the city. By this time, we had built up an appetite so we walked back to the centre in such for fries and waffles. I read that Friterie Tabora were the best in the city and at only a couple of euros for a huge portion of salty french fries, we were certainly happy.

Now, my top tip for getting a waffle? Just get a waffle. No frills, no fuss – a plain ole Liege waffle. It’s important to try a liege waffle as they, in my opinion, are so much tastier than the American style version. Liege waffles are soft, chewy and caramely, made so by the pearl sugar within the dough that caramelises as it is cooked. When the waffles are that good you don’t need to add any toppings.

We finished off the day at Delirium Cafe, a pub with over 200 different types of beer to try. We were tired after all the exploring (and eating!), so we stopped off here, had a couple of drinks outside and watched the world go by. It was glorious. 

The next day was the first full day that we spent in Lille, but having already seen most of it on the afternoon we arrived, we decided to have a chilled out day – wandering around the city, exploring the farmers market, having a late lunch followed by a relax in our hotel room. We ended our night with drinks in the main square, beer for David, cocktails for me, people watching and putting the world to rights.

It was a slower pace of city-break than I am usually used to, with just not enough to keep us entertained for the full time we were there. While I wouldn’t discount Lille, you can certainly see and do it all in a full day, with noticeable landmarks including The Belfry, Grand Palace, La Vieille Bourse and Rue de Gand (a pretty street with lots of local restaurants on!). 

Food wise, as a vegetarian I did struggle – but we did have a lovely meal at The Crêperie de Lille and Izumi, a Japenese restaurant. One thing you absolutely must try when in Lille are Aux Merveilleux de Fred, hand-made little meringues slathered in buttercream and coated in glorious toppings such as chocolate, hazelnut or freeze-dried raspberries. They were heavenly. Like eating clouds. I could have eaten a dozen in one sitting, I swear. 

Flanders while absolutely beautiful, wasn’t very ‘me’. But, unfortunately, you can’t fall in love with everywhere you travel. Have you ever found that with a destination you’ve visited? If so, where was it? I’d love to know what places you haven’t been blown away by!