Written by Laurence Phillips
Lille is in shock. For the first time in over 70 years, the Braderie de Lille will not take place this September. So, what should you do if you have already booked your trip to the city?
Laurence Phillips, author of Bradt’s award-winning city guide to Lille, has a few suggestions.
An institution since the dawn of the 12th century, the Braderie, the annual citywide flea market cum garage sale, is one of the highlights of the French calendar. Last year attracted 2½ million visitors – ten times the city’s population – to mooch over 100km of pavements and browse the stalls of Europe’s biggest antique and junk fair.
© Laetitia Lecointe
Dating from the days when the nobles and gentry of this typically benevolent town would allow their servants to sell cast-off clothing, this has become the biggest festival of the season, the last hurrah of summer before going back to work. Only the Nazi occupation of World War II has ever caused the event to be cancelled (and Lille was liberated by the Allies on what would have been the Braderie weekend of 1944).
The following year, townsfolk returned to selling from their doorsteps and vowed nothing would stop the annual festival again. Not the floods and storms five years ago, not the terrorist threats in the 1990s, and even last year, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, the Braderie was held as usual (albeit with heightened security).
But after the Bastille Day terrorist atrocity in Nice, France declared a state of emergency and measures were set up to restrict this year’s event. The following week it was announced that the sprawling city-wide affair was to be contained in a more limited area, with police and army drones drafted in to monitor the crowds, and ever more armed units on the streets. Sadly, in early August, after weeks of consultation, mayor Martine Aubrey announced the unthinkable: La Braderie would be cancelled. The half marathon, the mega consumption of moules, the 24-hour public transport and all-night bargain hunting is no longer on the calendar for the Rentrée 2016.
All hotel rooms in the city will have been reserved months in advance, but, just as the spirit of the Lillois will not be cowed, n’importe quoi, so pre-booked visitors toLille can still experience the buzz of northernFrance and make the most of the weekend 3 and 4 September.
If you’d planned a trip to Lille on this weekend for the market, don’t be disheartened: here are our tips for savouring some of that Braderie spirit.
Become a smaller scale chineur (bargain hunter)
© Anna Moores
The regular Sunday morning flea market at Wazemmes might not be as big as the Braderie, but it is the next best thing. Wander among the hubbub of stalls selling everything from bread to budgerigars and you’ll be sure to pick up a bargain.
Enter a bargain wonderland
If its discount clothes you are looking for, head off to l’Usine at nearby Roubaix. McArthur Glenn may be the slicker more commercial outlet mall, but l’Usine is a great place for finding those end of line fashion bargains from the mail-order houses.
Indulge in some moules-frites
© Anna Moores
The 500 tonnes of mussel shells that are the hallmark of La Braderie may not line the city streets this year, and the legendary brasserie Aux Moules may have closed its doors for the last time earlier this year, but the northern staple dish is always at the menu Brasserie Andre.
Grab your tracksuit
© Ralf Siemieniec, Shutterstock
Missing the Braderie marathon? Join the weekend joggers and runners who trot and plough the paths of the Bois de Boulogne parkland surrounding the Citadelle. A legacy of the age of Louis XIV, the fortress is still a working garrison, and you can identify the soldiers outrunning middle-aged joggers by their blue tracksuits.
All the fun of the fair
The Foire aux Manèges, a festival of merry-go-rounds, carrousels and fairground attractions on the Champ de Mars and Esplanade, runs through September with more than 100 rides to try into the evening.
Find another festival
September is more than just Braderie month in Lille. Don’t forget the Heritage Weekend (17–18 Sep), when many national monuments and private homes, usually closed to the public, are thrown open for the weekend. Highlights this year include a walking tour of Vieux Lille arranged by the residents, including author Michel l’Oustalot, known locally as ‘Le Roi de la rue d’Angleterre’. And if you are staying on a couple of days longer, the first ever Mange Lille foodie fest takes place at Saint Sauveur from 19–26 September, where top chefs and food producers gather for a week of shared indulgence. This follows on from the success of 2015’s grand picnic in the park, and this year’s gastro-feast in Arras, and is set to become an annual event.
Find out more about what this northern French city has to offer in Laurence’s award-winning guide: