Friday, October 28, 2005
Beer Shops in Wine Land: Lille and Arras
On my latest trip to Belgium I was tempted to explore Flandres. My base in Belgium was as usual Antwerpen, the biggest city in Flanders (Vlaanderen), but on this occassion my destination was the old French province with the similar name.
The old province name features also in the name of the main train station in Lille, Lille Flandres, which is connected to Antwerpen via Kortrijk and Gent by hourly trains. Or you could travel in style with the Eurostar service from Brussels, arriving at nearby Lille Europe station after only 38 minutes on the rails.
Bordering Belgium this province is probably France's beeriest, in competition with Alsace and Bretagne, and is known for its bières de garde. A good selection of these is to be found just down the road from Lille Flandres station at no. 66, Rue Faidherbe. La Vinothèque offers most things in alcohol, and luckily that includes also a good range of craft brews from the region.
Convenient as this shop is I was even more impressed by a find in the town of Arras, reachable by a 45- 80 minute train ride from Lille Flandres; the travel time depending on how many local stations you are lucky to call at along the line.
Arras has a very Flemish feel to it, with two very nice big squares, Place des Heros and Grand' Place, surrounded by beautiful brick buildings. Connecting the two squares is Rue de la Taillerie and at no. 8 bis is the excellent beer shop Le Cellier des Arcades.
The service is friendly, knowledgable and unhurried, the prices are surprisingly good and there is a great selection of French, Belgian and Belgo-French beers. The latter category pretends to be French, but a closer look at the label reveals (if you are lucky) that it started life in one of the East Flanders villages of Lochristi, Melle or Ertvelde.
Even the beers named after the town, Arrageoise, belong to the latter category. They can be found on tap at Pub l'Arrageoise, conveniently located near the railway station at no. 39 of Boulevard Carnot, providing a perfect last stop before returning to Belgium, where the beers were actually brewed.