How to plan a walking tour of Lille, France's beer capital
In a country where wine is generally king, stroll around Lille for something different — this is France’s beer capital.
Beer can get personal in Lille. Many local brewers have great-grandparents who worked in the large breweries of the past — a heritage that dates all the way back to the city’s Flemish roots. Lille continued to be the home of beer-making in France until the world wars, when commercial production stopped; it remained almost completely wiped out until about 20 years ago.
However, the passion for beer never really left. Over the past two decades, a new generation of brewers has been reviving Lille’s beer scene. Today, there are more than 30 microbreweries in and around the city, many of which prefer to stay small and experiment with styles of beer outside the traditional.
This walking itinerary takes you through Lille’s beer landscape, from visiting its Flemish past to meeting innovative modern brewers. Enthusiasts should come in September around the time of the annual Bière a Lille, a week-long festival that promotes the Hauts-de-France region’s brewing culture through tastings and other events.
1. Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral
Get your bearings at this national monument. The cathedral itself is magnificent, but it’s not the focus here: around the perimeter of the square, a row of Flemish houses hints at Lille’s history. While Flanders only controlled Northern France for about a century, its cultural influence is still strong in this border region — the love of good beer being a classic case in point.
2. La Capsule
Considered one of best beer bars in France, this trendy corner space is the perfect place for an introduction to beers from Lille and the surrounding region. Just around the corner from the cathedral, it offers 28 beers on tap and more than 100 by the bottle. The most popular is the Belgian blonde, but for something different, just ask the friendly staff for a recommendation.
Feeling a little puckish? Right on the opposite end of Rue Doudin is Bierbuik, which translates to ‘beer belly’, one of the best modern Flemish brewpubs in town. Don’t let the pink decor fool you: the ever-changing house beers are nonchalant in style, sophisticated in taste and pair wonderfully with beer-friendly cuisine such as skewered meats and fries.
Just a minute away, you’ll find the store of Célestin, one many microbreweries in Lille’s city centre. Its history dates back to 1740, when Célestin Cordonnier opened a brewery in nearby Haubourdin that was subsequently passed down through eight generations; after a 60-year hiatus, his descendant Amaury d'Herbigny decided to continue the family legacy. Today, the beers are brewed just down the alleyway — book online for a tasting tour.
5. Klaxx Lab
Walk further south via the Grand Place, the main square, and past the Column of the Goddess to discover a different kind of microbrewery. Klaxx Lab takes an experimental approach to Belgian-style beers that’s inspired by street art. The ‘Lab’, as the tap room is called, is just a step away from where the beers are brewed, and the team is always around to answer questions. Klaxx has limited opening hours, so check the website in advance for weekly updates.
6. HEIN — Brique House
Walk through the cobbled streets of old Lille towards Lille-Flandres train station, whose 19th-century facade was actually lifted off the face of Paris’ old Gare du Nord. If you’re hungry from all the beer tasting, Hein is the perfect stop for a feast. A taproom of the Brique House beer hall, it brews a signature beer, which is served alongside a menu of traditional northern French cuisine with a modern twist.
Did you know?
In Lille, beer isn’t just for drinking: try the traditional dish carbonnade flamande, a stew of beef in a gravy of dark beer, served with gingerbread croutons and fries.
Published in the March 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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