For a relatively small-town venue, L’Opéra de Lille (Place du Théâtre; 33-8/20-48-90-00; www.opera-lille.fr) has attracted eminences from all walks of culture to its Beaux-Arts stage (the original 1788 building, destroyed by a fire, was rebuilt in 1914); Merce Cunningham, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Trisha Brown have all performed there. The 2006/2007 schedule features productions of La Traviata and Handel’s Julius Caesar for the traditionalists; for those in search of something more contemporary, there are avant-garde dance performances. Check out the "Mercredi à 18 Heures" series of concerts in the Opéra’s opulent foyer. On the vast Place de la République, the Palais des Beaux-Arts (33-3/20-06-78-00) holds a collection that can trace its inception to the French Revolution. The late-19th-century building houses a satisfying number of Flemish and Dutch masters—including Rubens and van Dyck, and several first-rate landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael—and notable 19th-century French paintings by Jacques-Louis David, Delacroix, and Corot.
Lille, France GETTING THERE High-speed trains depart every hour from Paris’s Gare du Nord for the one-hour trip to Lille. The city is 38 minutes by train from Brussels’s Gare du Midi and a three-hour ride from London on Eurostar (see www.raileurope.com for more information). BEST TIMES TO VISIT Lille is pleasant year-round, with relatively mild winters. Fall ushers in the famed opera season—also a good time of year to indulge in Lille’s cold-weather comfort food. INSIDER TIP Visit the Wazemmes market on the Place de la Nouvelle Aventure for fresh organic produce, flea-market finds, and the occasional bona fide antique.