A weekend in Lens and its surroundings

Welcome to northern France

Have you ever visited Northern France? The North is often overlooked when it comes to french destinations. It is considered a stop over on the way to the South of France or Paris. True, we do not have the warmest climate but it is nice. We have many beautiful cities. One being Lille, the other Arras and the third called Lens. 

Today, let’s talk about Lens. It is only a short drive away from Lille and if you’re taking the train it takes about 30 mins to get there.

I am from Paris and until 2 years ago , I had never been to Lens. When you said Lens to me it made me think of the countryside with fields as far as the eye can see and no historical or cultural sites to visit.

For the past 3 months I have been studying at the university of Lens so I had the opportunity to visit the city and fight the prejudices that I had regarding this town. Lens is actually an attractive city rich with its mining past and Art Deco buildings! So let me present to you the various places to visit in the city of Lens and its surroundings.

Today, let’s talk about Lens. It is only a short drive away from Lille and if you’re taking the train it takes about 30 mins to get there.

The beautiful art deco houses

At the end of the First World War, Lens 90% was destroyed so everything had to be rebuilt. The new architectural mouvement at the time was the Art deco. Born in the 1910s and globally diffused following the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, the Art Deco style was used all over the city of Lens. This art consists of simple lines, geometric shapes and stylised floral motifs that seduce the owners and architects of the interwar period.

Lens train station is part of the Art Deco style and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. The station building looks like a steam locomotive. Inside you can see different mosaics representing the life of the miners at the time. 

In the city center of Lens, Jean Jaurès the square is overflowed with houses in the Art Deco style. Look up! You will see these sculptures and mosaics. The Tourist Office, the Jean Perrin university or the Trade-Union House of Minor are also decorated in the art deco style. For more info, visit the website of the Lens-Liévin Tourist Office.

THE “NEW” LOUVRE-LENS MUSEUM

The Louvre-Lens Museum is a must-see! It was inaugurated on December 4th, 2012, the day of Saint Barbe, the patron celebration of minors. It is the 2nd most visited museum in the region. with an average of 450,000 visitors per year.

THE GALLERY OF TIME, THE STAR OF THE MUSEUM

The most impressive item in the Louvre collection is the gallery of Time.The Gallery of Time presents over 200 masterpieces on loan from the collections of the Louvre Paris. This gallery proposes a itinerary, from the invention of writing in Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium before our era, to the industrial revolution in the middle of the 19th century. Each year, about 10% of the works of the Gallery of Time are renewed. So you can come back and see something new each time. 

THE TEMPORARY EXHIBITIONS

Every year, the Louvre-Lens organizes two major exhibitions. The themes are varied, it can be à specific era, an artist or a civilization. Currently the exhibition «Soleils Noirs» is on display until January 25th, 2021. It tells the epic story of the color black from ancient Egypt till  Soulages. For more informations, check their website out! Louvre-Lens

The church Our Lady des Mines

Before the First World War, the city of Grand-Condé was one of the few mining towns not to have a church. During the reconstruction, after the Great War, the Société des Mines de Lens decided to provide  it with a chapel. The chapel, dedicated to Saint-Wulgan, was inaugurated on November 1st, 1921. Saint Wulgan was a 7th century English evangelizer who might have crossed the English Channel to “sow the good word” in the north of France.

In 1935, Marc Montaigne, a sculptor, offered the parish a statue of Notre-Dame des Mines. He added on the base of the statue bas-reliefs representing miners at work. Over the years, the chapel became too narrow for the number of worshipers who converged en masse. In this way, in March 1959, the families of miners of the city demolished the chapel and built a new church, thanks to generous donations that flow from everywhere: from Lourdes, the French Riviera or even Brittany and even Tahiti. Even the Général de Gaulle donated money for the church!

The architect, Fernand Pentel, produced a building that showed boldness. Construction began on 26 March 1961 and the miners took part in it. The stained glass windows made of coloured glass slabs joined by cement, are one of the particularities of the church. The church has 13 stained glass windows decorating the walls of the baptismal fonts and the 36 others decorating the walls of the nave. A large circular stained glass window installed on the ceiling offers splendid light when the sun illuminates the choir.

The new church of the city of Grand-Condé was inaugurated and blessed on March 11th, 1962.

STADE BOLLAERT-DELELIS

The Bollaert-Delelis stadium is one of the most popular football stadiums in France. Inaugurated in 1932, the Bollaert stadium has been renovated twice in recent years. Today it is one of the most modern stadiums in Europe with a capacity of 38,058 seats.

The Racing Club de Lens is the name of the local football team. Their nickname is the “Sang & Or”aka the Red and gold. At every game, the supporters sing the song “Au Nord, c’était les Corons…!”  The RC Lens plays in Lens every two weeks so you will have plenty opportunities to hear it and sing along.  

You can also tour the stadium. The guided tours are organised by the club and the tourist office. The guide will tell you  all about the greatest moments of football that took place in this stadium.

The visit allows access to the four grandstands of the enclosure and thus to the famous kop lensois, as well as the changing rooms, the tunnel and finally the press room. If you are a fan of the RC Lens and you want to see the football team play or go to the locker room or to the press room, do not hesitate and go to the Bollaert Delelis Stadium.

THE SLAG HEAPS OF THE NORTH

The Mining Basin has over 340 slag heaps. You’re going to ask me, what is a slag heap? A slag heap is a small artificial mountain built by accumulation of tailings during coal mining.

The two large slag heaps of Loos-en-Gohelle are a testimony of the mining heritage. They are the tallest in Europe and are part of the slag heaps of 11/19. The slag heaps of 11/19 are listed on the Unesco World Heritage. The numbers refer to the old mine well numbers, 11 for the 1920s metal headframe and 19 for the 1960 concrete concentration tower. 

The slag heaps of the 11/19 offer an abundant fauna and flora: 159 animal species and 190 plant species. All year round,à local organization  organises guided tours to explain how this fauna and flora develop on the twin slag heaps. Every year on these slag heaps, races are organized:  The trail of the black pyramids, La course des terrils and The Terril Trail Arena in Noyelles-sous-Lens.

But off course, you could just as easily go for a walk or take family hikes. Access to the slag heaps is free of charge. If you want to see these coal hills and climb on these slag heaps, typical of the North of France, do not hesitate and go to the Terrils de Loos en Gohelle !

Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, the largest WW1 french cemetery

Northern France is filled with WW1 sites. It is the opportunity to learn more about the soldiers who fought on the northern front.

Notre Dame de Lorette is the burial site of the bodies of 42,000 French soldiers who died during the First World War are buried. Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Necropolis is today the largest French military cemetery.

Since 2014, the Ring of Memory has gathered the names of nearly 580,000 soldiers who fell on the ground in Nord-Pas de Calais between 1914 and 1918 to remember and pay tribute to all these lives.

At the visitor center of the Memorial 14-18 Notre-Dame-de-Lorette is located there. Objects, archival images and dynamic maps can be found here to understand how the conflict in the Nord-Pas de Calais took place, and the living conditions of soldiers during the First World War.

The canadian memorial of Vimy

The Canadian Memorial consists of two columns of white stone symbolizing France and Canada and the many soldiers who died during the Great War.

The Visitor Centre, which is located next to the Memorial, offers a visit to the underground tunnels and reconstructed trenches, to imagine the living and war conditions in these places. For the monument, in the trenches or underground, tours are guided by Canadian students, in France for a few months.

CYCLING AROUND LENS

4 bicycle tours are offered by the Lens Tourist Office. One  is a Cycling tour around the Louvre-Lens, it takes you to the discovery of the most emblematic sites in Lens and to the twin slag heaps of Loos-en-Gohelle.

One is  10 to 15 km Cycling tour around major  WW1 memorial sites, the landscapes are gorgeous but be prepared, it is a proper workout! With a positive elevation difference between 280 and 420m, this ride is for the advanced cyclist, or…for those equipped with an electric bike. 

One goes around the mining towns. You will see how this territory has gone from black to green. Take the time to climb to the top of the slag heap 110 of Oignies! This 17 km route, takes you to the city centre of Carvin

Last but not least The Véloroute crosses the territory on a 10 km route, without elevation, and leads you from the Parc des Iles to Hénin-Beaumont to Lens (or the opposite), where you can catch up with the tour “Autour du Louvre-Lens”.

If you would like to take a bike ride in the city of Lens and its surroundings, check the Lens-Liévin Tourist Office website.

LEWARDE HISTORIC MINING CENTRE

In 1982, the Delloye Pit – listed as a Historic Monument – located in Lewarde, near Douai, 30 minutes from Lens, was chosen to become the Mining Historical Centre.

This museum allows you to discover the world of mining through seven major thematic exhibitions. The themes are varied, it can be the daily life of miners and their families, the history of coal mining or the place of leisure in cities.  It is possible to go down to the heart of the mine thanks to a guided tour of the galleries and attend a meeting with a former miner. 

During the visit of this pit, you will discover the different rooms in the mining city such as the bathroom, the lampisterie or the stables.

To learn more about the history of mining and the working conditions of miners, visit the Historic Mining Centre of Lewarde. And, believe me, we must not expect the same working conditions we have today !

LA SOUCHEZ RIVERSIDE

The Parc can be access from the banks of the river Souchez named after a town in the Pas de Calais called Souchez. In this town, the river Souchez passes by and we can admire a lovely waterfall. You can also walk around the Marais de la Galance of Noyelles-Sous-Lens. If you want to walk and enjoy the tranquility of the parks, then come and discover the Parc des Berges de la Souchez.

LETS EAT !

The Pain de la Bouche is a typical estaminet of the North. In a warm atmosphere, you can taste delicious regional dishes, such as gratinated faluche (round bread covered with cheese, bacon, onions, etc.) or the Flemish carbonnade (beef bourguignon with beer). all accompanied by a good beer. While tasting, you can see on TV whether the RC Lens team won against the opposing team and in this way celebrate the victory by eating local specialties, which are well served!

I advise you to go, you will enjoy it! If you want to eat a typical Northern meal, in an Estaminet, now is the time, winter is the perfect time to enjoy these types of dishes! 

I hope my list of things to do around Lens, will make you want to come and visit! Northern France is the perfect place for a road trip. Until next time! Don’t forget to explore things and be curious!

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