I like to plan travels in January, as once Christmas is over, everyone is on diets, not drinking alcohol, have no money and it’s just been raining for months, it’s good to have something to look forward to.
This year, I had a particular date to aim for. This January marked the 100th anniversary of my Great, Great Uncle dying in WW1. His, as well as 35,000 other names, are marked and remembered at Tyne Cott Cemetery, in Northern France at Passendale. We believe only one other member of our family had been able to visit in that time, so seemed even more important to visit at the centennial anniversary. He was aged 23 when he died on the 17th January 1918.
We were staying in Lille and travelled on the day to lay a wreath of poppies at his name. This trip felt important for my family and to mark Richard’s sacrifice as well as that of so many on both sides. Walking through the many headstones and names, the vastness of the losses was overwhelming. Multiple family names from the same battalions listed.
It’s not easy to transition from writing about the loss of lives than the superficialness of writing about cake, but I honestly can’t think about the best way to continue to write about the rest of the holiday, so please bear with me and imagine I did it seamlessly.
It was our first time to this pretty city, sadly they were taking down the Christmas decorations when we arrived, but then it cleared the way for it’s all year round beauty.
One of my favourite places would, of course, be a 1600’s salon de thé, Meert located right in the city centre is a glorious step back in time. Pressing our noses to the glistering display window of the rows of perfectly crafted patisseries. Picking one to try would be a very hard job.
I went for the Caramel Religious, with nuggets of caramel studding the silky crème patisserie in the craqulin coated choux bun, whilst balanced on a disc of caramelised white chocolate, a gold leaf adorned salted caramel macaron. Delicate and decadent in a single hit. I enjoy the theatre, the flourishes and the little touches to make the visit an experience rather than just grabbing a coffee to go.
Lille are also known for their waffles, not the fluffy Belgium ones or the caramel stuffed Stroopwafel, but gaufres, thin oblong waffles, handmade in a hinged iron press, split open and filling with a rich Madagascan vanilla filling, similar to a buttercream.
I tried mine at the café in the museum of fine arts after wandering around a Millet exhibit. I would have thought a buttercream filling would make the waffle super sweet but the balance of the vanilla and the toasted waffle made it the perfect pick me up after a day sightseeing.
For dinner, we tried the recommended Aux Deux Cocottes, in the shadow of the Lille Cathedral. Starting with the signature dish and restaurant namesake, the cocotte. A bubbling dish of cream, smoky ham, herbs de Provence with eggs baked into this divine mixture, all topped the local cheese, Maroilles. Sounds low calorie doesn’t it! Dipping and scooping it with fresh baguette made for a rich wonderful starter. Loved the runny egg yolk, just to add to the richness of the dish.
I went for a light main course after the cocotte, sense the sarcasm here, for the confit duck with potato puree. I’m a complete sucker for duck and the meat was meltingly tender, just falling off the bone with the potato puree catching all the little morsels meat and sauce.
A wonderful traditional meal, with lovely staff, making this restaurant a complete gem, well worth hunting it out.
Lille was wonderful but a little small to satisfying our weekend exploring needs. Being an hour drive away we spent a day in Bruges as well. Of course, being the capital for chocolate, I was in my element and excited to do some shopping!
I made a beeline for The Chocolate Line, which I visited five years ago with my friends. Then I could only afford a single chocolate truffle, luckily this time I was able to buy a bit more than that! They have renovated the shop since I last visited and now have open areas of each step processing beans through to the finished bars. It also as you can imagine smells amazing.
I managed to navigate us back to a restaurant, again I visited five years ago with my friends. Cambrinus has an impressive beer menu of over 400 beers to try. The menu is of course loaded with dishes utilising all the wonderful beer, including a crème Brulee flavoured the dark Abbey beer of Ename.
I went for the Flemish Onion Soup with “Oud Brugge” cheese and the Beer “Brugse Zot” to warm up with on an icy day. And because I can’t walk away from a croquette, we also shared a portion of the Trappist beer and cheese croquettes. Gooey beer rich béchamel fried to perfection in a crisp breadcrumb crust. The perfect hearty meal to have alongside one or three of their many beers.
What else do you need to do when in Bruges? Have a Belgium waffle of course! I was also recommended Mariloup. We went for the chocolate overload. The Hot Chocolate came as a big mug of hot steamed milk and a pot of chocolate drops to melt into the milk to make the hot chocolate to your strength. Of course, all my drops went in! As well as the chocolate tablet on the side went in. Rich and delicious, so much better than hot chocolate made by a powder mix.
The waffle was lovely and fluffy, with a rich chocolate sauce to be poured over into the golden wells waiting for its chocolate invasion. Lighter than some waffles I’ve had in the past, which was good with all the chocolate! Such a lovely spot, slightly out the main tourist area so the other tables were filled with locals having an afternoon glass of cava.
We had a wonderful time wandering around the city and even more so with my selection of shopping I picked up in the many chocolate shops in the city!
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