Famous for its branch of the Louvre museum, football team and rich mining history, the city of Lens, in the department of Nord, with its art deco facades, in Hauts de France, is at the heart of a culturally dynamic region that boasts a strong network of museums. The people of Lens are known for their friendliness and love of football, the crowds at the football stadium are regularly voted as “France’s best public” and visitors receive a warm welcome.
What to see and do in Lens
Without a doubt the Louvre-Lens is the most significant place to visit though there are many museums close by. Quite unlike the Paris Louvre, this very modern gallery, built on the site of an old coal mine is stunningly innovative and despite its youth has a lot of soul. The exhibitions range from ancient to contemporary and you can walk around and get up close and personal in a way that’s not possible in most museums. Get there by free shuttle bus from the station at Lens. Details: www.louvrelens.fr
Lens is close to several important War Memorial sites such as Vimy Ridge and Ablain-Saint-Nazaire French Military Cemetery, also known as Notre Dame de Lorette, the largest French military cemetery in the world. Here, a memorial, lists the names of every soldier who died in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais in the Great War. Whatever nationality, whatever side they were on, whatever their rank – united in a ring of remembrance. It is an incredible monument.
Where to Eat
Place Jean- Jaurès is the central square in Lens and here you’ll find several bars and restaurants. Heritage is a passion in Lens and this is reflected by the many restaurants that have an air of yesteryear and make you feel as though you are dining chez grand-mère. Hearty northern cuisine is very tempting, and filling! Try dishes like flammekeuche, a delicious pizza made with sour cream or carbonnade, a beef stew with sugar and beer. And, don’t forget to take home some Maroilles, the very strong, smelly local cheese, there’s a Philippe Olivier fromagerie in Lens that is out of this world scrumptious.
Locals love: Le Pain de la Bouche (41 Rue de la Gare) a two minute walk from the station.
Cosy: L’etiquette (118 bd Basly) is a wine bar and offers a menu of home-made traditional dishes such as potjevleesch (chicken, rabbit, pork and veal in jelly) served cold with chips.
Dine in style: L’Atelier de Marc Meurin, is a gastronomic restaurant in the garden of the Louvre-Lens, a light bright dining area and a delicious seasonal menu that’s haute cuisine in style.
This is beer country and there are lots of breweries. If beer’s your thing you will love Lens. The most famous ale of the region is Ch’ti (a word which defines the local patois), known as “the blonde who dominates”. There are plenty of bars in town, most of which sport the red and yellow colours of RC (Racing Club) de Lens, the city’s much loved football team. Find some of the most popular venues dotted around the station area and Place Jean- Jaurès.
Venture a little further to discover a local brewery:
Saint-Germain Brewery: Take a tour and enjoy a tasting at one of the most famous breweries in the area (on Saturday only for individuals, cost €5). Details: www.page24.fr
Popular with the locals: La Loco (105 rue Jean Letienne) for a good selection of regional beers and snacks.
The Inside Track
We can’t talk about Lens without mentioning the UNESCO listed slag heaps (black residue left over from the mining process) that are a local landscape and an important reminder of the past. You can visit 11/19, the numbers, 11 and 19 refer to the numbers of the ancient mine wells. Visit the old 11/19 pitheads, the mining museum and climb the slag heaps, so huge they are almost mountains.
The beautiful town of Arras is a short journey by train (just over 10 minutes) and well worth the trip. With its grand squares, shops, museums and war memorial sites there is much to see and do here. It’s also great for restaurants and bars with a thriving café culture. Must-sees include the Boves (underground tunnels that run beneath the city), the Belfry with fabulous views for miles around, several museums and the historic Town Hall.
The vibrant city of Lille is just 45 minutes away by train (see page 14). Don’t miss the old town, Vieux Lille, with its grand squares, museums, shops and fabulous restaurants.
Take a Selfie
In this town they’ll tell you that the football stadium is the most popular place for a photo! There’s also the art deco train station, the Louvre-Lens museum and the top of one of the huge slag heaps now teeming with flora and fauna, one of them even has vines planted on it – wine of the mines…
Buses run in the town and around, you can pay on board (1 Euro).
Tourist Office Website: www.tourisme-lenslievin.fr