Lens is in the region Nord-Pas de Calais. It’s located in the Department of Nord, about 35km from the capital of Nord, Lille and 16km from the capital of Pas de Calais, Arras.
In 2016 Lens will be one of the host cities for the UEFA European Football Championship 2016™.
Guide to Lens France
Everyone always mentions Lens as a former mining town and there’s a reason for that, this place is peppered with enormous slag heaps, mountains created by the residue left behind in the mining process. They are like huge pyramids and have changed the landscape of the area and are today among its most treasured features. In fact, so incredible are these mounds, and so much a part of the history of Lens, they’ve been given UNESCO heritage status.
Like many towns that have had to adapt to a changing world, one that doesn’t, in this case, involve mining, Lens has had to reinvent itself. The creation of a wing of the Paris Louvre, built appropriately over the top of an old mine, has gone a long way to helping it along the route to its renaissance.
What to do in Lens
Lens isn’t a pretty town like some on the French tourist route but it is an interesting place and central for battlefield memorial visits and of course the Louvre Lens.
You can take a free shuttle bus from the town’s train station to the huge new museum which opened at the end of 2012. Nothing like the Paris Louvre, the Louvre Lens is a contemporary building and not less beautiful for it. To try to recreate the original would have been disastrous, steering to a completely modern design as has been done simply works. Inside, the awesome collection which is largely provided from the artworks of the Paris Louvre are wonderfully accessible. You can walk round, look underneath and behind things in a way that’s just not possible in most museums. Don’t miss the basement where you can see through a glass wall into the storage area where specialists examine, study and repair precious artworks – I found it quite thrilling to be able to see behind the scenes.
The town has some spectacular art deco buildings, it’s friendly and there are several good shops such as the fromagerie (cheese shop) of the famous cheese merchant Philippe Olivier – try the Maroilles, it’s incredibly stinky and utterly delicious, a must for true cheese heads.
Head to the tourist office for information on local battlefield and war memorial sites such as Vimy Ridge, Notre Dame de Lorette and the magnificent Ring of Remembrance, and the newly opened 1914-18 History of War and Peace History Centre.
You can also climb the Lens slag heaps, many of them have had trails created, planting galore and are now a haven for wildlife. There is a mining museum and you can visit an old pit head.
Where to eat and drink in Lens
It’s not a gastro town but the food here is good and hearty, typical northern fare with dishes such as potjevleesch (chicken, rabbit, pork and veal in jelly) served cold with chips – it’s a bit of an acquired taste I find, and I haven’t yet acquired it – too much like jellied eels!
Beer is king here in the north and bars and cafés serve a good choice of local, regional and tipples from its close neighbour Belgium.
Where’s the Fanzone and Football Stadium in Lens?
A fanzone will be created at the Place de l’Hôtel-de-ville in the centre of town. The football stadium which has changed its name from Stade Félix Bollaert Stade Bollaert-Delelis is about a ten minute walk from Lens train station.
How to get to Lens
By train: Trains run regularly from Lille (about 40 minutes), Arras (10 minutes) and Paris (1 hours 15 minutes) to Lens station which is a listed building.
By Car: Lens is about 60 miles from Calais.
Tourist Office 58 rue de la Gare
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