Brunch & Culture • Musée la Piscine
The city of Roubaix in the North of France, just passed the Belgian border, has a long history as producer of wool. Unfortunately it lost most of its splendor after the crisis of the 60s. It did however excel at reconverting some of its landmarks. The old textile factories have been turned into lofts, offices and spaces for the arts. But the most spectacular conversion of all is the art deco swimming pool turned into a multi-disciplinary museum, a truly mesmerizing place.
Roubaix's swimming pool first opened its doors in 1932. Its construction plans were similar to that of an abbey, with four wings around a garden. The East wing was dedicated to the pool and the cabins and was glorified with two canopies representing the sunrise and sunset. The people of Roubaix certainly were lucky with a pool like that. I know I wouldn't have trouble motivating myself to go swimming if I could do it in a setting like that! Unfortunately, after 50 years of activity, the swimming pool had to close its doors for security reasons.
The place was born again as a museum in 2001 after a splendid renovation with respect for its original purpose. Beyond the string of water running across the room, everything is there to remind you of the place's history. The blue ceramics, the wave fringes, the tiled cabins, even the sounds of a lively swimming pool that are played every so often. It is a feast for the eyes and every corner has been utilized as to make the journey through the museum into a kind of treasure hunt.
Apart from its exceptional setting, the museum's collection is a real treat thanks to its diversity. You'll find sculptures, not only on the borders of the pool but everywhere throughout the museum. There are textiles displayed in the former cabins on the ground and the first floor that remind visitors of Roubaix's industrial past and that will surely speak to the fashionistas. Beautiful ceramics can be found too, with the amazing portal at the end of the pool serving as climax (it was made by Sandier in 1913 for the World Exhibition in Ghent). And let's not forget the many paintings that form a beautiful sample of the 19th and 20th century.
Before your visit, I suggest you have lunch at the restaurant located inside the museum. It is the famous bakery Méert from Lille that runs it so obviously you'll find some delicious pastries (make sure to try the vanilla waffles for which they're best known for), but they also offer a decent amount of lunch options. A noteworthy detail is that the menu is constantly renewed to be in the theme of the exhibition on display.
After your visit, make sure to drop by at Le Vestiaire right next to La Piscine. This industrial space is a platform for young designers to sell their work. Not only can you shop for unique clothing and accessories in the boutiques, you can also have a sweet break at La Bulle du 27, a tea room with mismatched furniture that reminded me of the mad hatter aesthetic in 'Alice in Wonderland'. Their 'thé gourmand' is composed of a tea of your choice with a few small portions of desserts. Delicious!
Roubaix is about 1h30 away from Brussels by car. By train it will take you 2 hours (the station is on walking distance of the museum). During the weekend, the museum opens at 13:00 (but you can already access the restaurant at 12:00). Most of the boutiques inside Le Vestiaire are closed on Sunday, but the tea room welcomes you all weekend.