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Three reasons to go to Lens (when there's no football on)

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Three reasons to go to Lens (when there's no football on)
Photo: Nicolas Dilles/Flickr
07:40 CEST+02:00
Once England and Wales and their hordes of supporters leave the northern French town of Lens, there are reasons to go back there.

The one town in France everyone will be talking about on Thursday is Lens.

It's the small coal mining town in northern France surrounded by slag heaps, where England play Wales in their Euro 2016 group match.

As a result some 50,000 fans are expected to descend on Lens, which only has a population of around 36,000.

Which means if you are not into football, today is not the day to visit Lens, but there is good reason to go another day.

Lens, which is pronounced differently to the lens you get in a camera - it kind of rhymes with the word "once" -  is located in the Pas-de-Calais département in the north of France - one of the country's poorest areas.

Lens is considered one of France's large Picarde cities along with Lille, Roubaix and Arras.

So why should you visit lens and its fondly named residents, the Lensois?

1)   The Louvre-Lens

Forget Paris (well, momentarily); Lens has its very own Louvre. The polished aluminum and glass outside creates a very futuristic air for the gallery, which opened in December 2012.

It displays work from the collections from the Louvre in Paris on a regular basis and shares architectural similarities with its Parisian sibling. Its exhibits include the Galerie du Temps, which impressively aligns thousands of years of art from Antiquity to the Middle Ages through to the modern day in a single room.

The museum has also hosted various exhibitions about the Renaissance and Rubens. While it's far less known internationally than its sister museum in Paris, it's very much worth a visit nonetheless.

Photo: Patrick Bauduin/Flickr

2)   Cuisine 

Although guidebooks may have previously directed you to southern France for some especially French delicacies, the north of France offers a wealth of excellent food.

In Lens you can wash down some fresh seafood with Flemish Ale (or kill two birds with one stone and order a Carpe à la bière). Lonely Planet recommends the rustic Au Bouchot and Le Cesarine restaurants, which they claim serve up “some of the best local food in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais”.

3)  Plains and slag heaps

Lens, believe it or not, is at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin, which was added to the list in 2012.

Those slag heaps we mentioned are clearly worth checking out.

Here's what UNESCO says: "Remarkable as a landscape shaped over three centuries of coal extraction from the 1700s to the 1900s, the site consists of 109 separate components over 120,000 hectares."

Although the boast of “Europe's highest slag heaps” might not quite tickle your fancy, the plains of Lens have begun to attract tourists to the region. 

Scarred and shaped by the mining history of the area, they're an interesting area to hike, walk and explore. Asides from mining, many served as battlefields on the Western Front during the First World War, offering a unique insight into the last warfare of its kind.

Their historical importance and unusual beauty are worth a visit.

Photo: CDautriche/Flickr

So once the football is over, don't all forget about Lens. Ironically the city is also known for it's local football team RC Lens, whose fans are considered some of noisiest and most loyal in France.

So there is actually footballing reason to go to Lens, if you need one.

By Marianna Spring

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