A weekend around the Louvre-Lens
People all over the world visit the Louvre in Paris, but some of France’s most precious cultural treasures can be seen closer to home. At the crossroads between Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain, Lens offers an alternative Louvre experience and it might just be the perfect first acquaintance with the Pas-de-Calais region in Northern France. In combination with the small city of Arras, the second regional capital next to Lille, a trip to the Louvre-Lens will delight any traveler in search of culture, gastronomy and history!
Dinner at L’Oeuf ou la Poule | 13 Rue des Balances, 62000 Arras
This weekend getaway starts on Friday night already, arriving in Arras with the high-speed train. Upon your arrival in this historic town, head to one of its most original restaurants called L’Oeuf ou la Poule, a reference to the old riddle ‘Which came first: the chicken or the egg?’ but also and most importantly to the star ingredients of chef Gabriel. In a humble decor, he serves up creative and colorful dishes, as exemplified by the Oeuf Parfait, an egg that’s been cooked for one hour at 63 degrees and served with a gingerbread crumble and Maroilles cheese. Focusing all his creativity on eggs and poultry, his concept is unique and refreshing! Still, he’s watchful of any preferences, so you’ll also find a vegetarian and a fish dish of the day on the board.
Stay at B&B l’Hotel Particulier | 8 Rue du Péage, 62000 Arras
For your stay in Arras, B&B l’Hotel Particulier is a safe bet! Located on walking distance from the city center and the train station, this ancient mansion combines the classical charm of the past with contemporary design and comfort. With only five rooms available and a host that’s highly attentive and welcoming, l’Hotel Particulier feels both chic and homey. On top of its high ceilings and elegant moldings, the mansion boasts a picturesque garden that you can admire from the room where the breakfast buffet is served.
Exploring the Place des Héros
Life in Arras is and has always been centered around its two main squares: the Grand’Place and the Place des Héros. Located right next to each other, the squares look very much alike because of their alignment of striking, baroque facades. There are 155 in total, making it a unique ensemble in Europe! Overlooking the Place des Héros, the Belfry offers the best panoramic views over the city, so don’t miss the chance to go up 55 meters. Coming back down, make sure to have a walk around the square to discover the local shops behind the arcades. At Pâtisserie Thibault (nr 50) and Jean Trogneux (nr 66), you can find an intriguing local specialty called the Rat d’Arras, a chocolate version of one of the city’s emblems. It’s a mystery to me why any city would want to take the least glamorous animal as emblem, but I like the fact that they own it!
For lunch, push the door at La Dame Jeanne (nr 1). Here you can have a taste of excellent wines aligned to your tastes and desires thanks to the friendly advice of the owner and grab a bite through the boards of meats and cheese that are meant to be shared. The place looks very crowded at first, but there’s a cosy cave downstairs with more room.
Enjoying the Christmas Market on the Grand’Place
During the month of December, Arras celebrates the holiday season with a grand Christmas Market on the Grand’Place. This is the perfect occasion to enjoy some glühwein in between eyeing the more than 100 little shops. On top of that, you’ll find a skating rink, a carousel and a Ferris wheel, in other words all the ingredients to get in the Christmas mood!
Dinner & stay at l’Hotel Louvre-Lens | 168 Rue Paul Bert, 62300 Lens
On Saturday night, hop on a 15 minutes train ride to reach Lens, your second and final destination. To make the most of your stay, book a room at l’Hotel Louvre-Lens located right in front of the Louvre-Lens Museum. Obviously the location of the hotel is very convenient, but there’s more to it! Housed in a former ensemble of mining row houses, the hotel is a beautiful tribute to Lens’ mining history. On the outside, you get to see the original brick facades, whereas on the inside you can enjoy all the modern comfort. The hotel counts 52 rooms that feature black walls as a subtle reference to the coal mines, as well as a wellness area and a restaurant. The later highlights the regional cuisine through modern reinterpretations of local dishes. With its large surface and open kitchen, this laid-back brasserie is perfect to enjoy yourself before heading back to your serene room.
Visit of the Louvre-Lens Museum | 99 Rue Paul Bert, 62300 Lens
The Louvre-Lens Museum is unique in multiple ways. First the building itself is an extremely modern, yet subtle construction that seems to blend in with the surroundings. Designed by a Japanese agency, the contemporary structure made of glass and aluminium stretches horizontally through the park set on a former mine yard, reflecting the landscape, almost disappearing in it. The same innovative spirit that aims for transparency and openness can be felt on the inside. The main hall of the museum (for which entrance is free) called the ‘Galerie du Temps’ is simple yet groundbreaking. More than 200 pieces from the Paris Louvre are presented chronologically (going from the Antiquity, to the Middle Ages, to the Modern Times) and grouped according to their geographical origin. This way visitors can experience 5,000 years of history throughout the continents at their own rhythm and according to their own preferences. The Louvre-Lens Museum truly feels like the museum of the future with its minimal yet highly immersive concept. And with regular updates of the art works on display, the face of the Galerie du Temps keeps on changing over time.
The Louvre-Lens Museum also hosts highly qualitative temporary exhibitions, as exemplified by ‘Amour’ (26 Sept 2018 - 21 Jan 2019) with a selection of beautiful works of art depicting the universal emotion of love. Through seven chapters, shown in seven rooms each with their own color, the exhibition depicts the evolution of the ways of loving, from the original sin illustrated by Eve and Pandora, to the contemporary quest of liberty embodied by Niki de Saint Phalle. From a personal point of view, I really liked the fact that the museum showed all forms of love, opposing the Christian conception of the heterosexual relationship as only model to the former belief in Antiquity that one’s true love can be both male and female.
Lunch at l’Atelier de Marc Meurin | 97 Rue Paul Bert, 62300 Lens
Located right next to the Louvre-Lens, you’ll find the ‘Atelier de Marc Meurin’ restaurant. With its round shape and glass walls, it almost feels like an extension of the museum, which you can admire from your table. Marc Meurin was born in Lens and is a proud ambassador of the cuisine of Northern France in the world, so it only feels natural for this rewarded chef to own this space. There are only three starters, three main courses and three desserts on the menu, but the plates are refined and highlight seasonal and local products. Make sure to book your table since this spot is very popular (which means it can get noisy at times).
You can reach the Pas-de-Calais region very conveniently with the high speed train. On Friday night, the TGV will take you from Bruxelles-Midi to Arras in about 1 hour. As mentioned earlier, going from Arras to Lens on Saturday takes just 15 minutes by train. Once you’re in Lens, you can either take the free bus shuttle to the Louvre-Lens Museum or you can take the pedestrian trail (20 minutes). The train ride back from Lens to Bruxelles-Midi on Sunday takes approximately 2 hours with a connection in Lille.