One of London’s many advantages is that it has five airports (six if you count upstart Southend). Plus it has the Eurostar train, which can whizz you to France in far less time (and possibly money) than it takes to get to most major UK cities. So, as it takes half as long to get to Lille than to Leeds, it’s the ideal target for a great day out.
The first Eurostar leaves a heaving St Pancras just before 7am and arrives at Lille in good time for a morning visit to the Palais des Beaux Arts, and its current exhibition: Flemish Landscape Fables. This ravishing display of magical scenes filled with bizarre creatures in extraordinary settings takes you into another world. There are wacky confections by Hieronymous Bosch: gruesome heads on legs, devils stirring hellish flames, snakes emerging from hollow eyes. And there are velvety-blue and gentle green panoramas of mountains, rivers and meadows by Joachim Patinier. Imagination runs riot whether it is scenes of paradise or achingly idyllic countryside that could only exist in the mind.
This wonderful show of 16th century paintings continues until January 14th, so there’s still plenty of time to catch it. If further inducement is needed, Lille has a lively Christmas market and there’s the chance to sample special festive season beers from just over the border in Belgium.