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DISCOVER LILLE, ONE OF FRANCE’S BEST-KEPT SECRETS

Grand Place, Lille and its beautiful Flemish-style architectue. Photo, Shutterstock

Capital of the Hautes-de-France region, Lille may be France’s most underrated city.  Recent decades have seen the country’s 4th largest city transform from an industrial powerhouse into a vibrant and highly attractive cultural and commercial hub.  Lille offers a beautiful old town with magnificent French and Flemish architecture, renowned art museums, a wide variety of great shops, outstanding cuisine, and a lively atmosphere thanks to a large population of university students and some 1600 designers in its environs.  High speed direct trains from Paris and Brussels and 1½ hrs on Eurostar from London, makes Lille an easy choice for inclusion in a European itinerary.

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A ONCE-FAMOUS LONDON COURTHOUSE NOW A CHIC HOTEL

NoMad Hotel, the former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court.

The latest London hotel everyone is talking about is NoMad, the first outside New York for the group that owns it.  The interesting thing though is that it occupies the former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station, a landmark historic building.  It’s located opposite the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and had been closed since 2006.  It was the most famous Magistrates’ Court in England in the latter part of its 266 year existence, being the venue for such notorious cases involving high profile trials for the likes of Oscar Wilde, Giacomo Casanova, the Kray twins, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, Christine Keeler, and General Pinochet, among many other reluctant visitors.

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A DRAMATIC TRANSFORMATION OF A LONDON ICON

View of the entire Battersea Power Station complex.

Since it was decommissioned in 1983, the Battersea Power Station had stood derelict on the south bank of the River Thames.  Renowned for its four chimneys and Art Deco design, after decades of decay, the iconic Grade ll* heritage listed building has undergone a massive transformation, opening in late 2022.  This complex project has opened the building and riverside to the public for the first time, retaining the power station’s unique historical features, but giving it a new 21st century purpose.

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TWO RADICALLY DIVERSE MUSEUMS TO DISCOVER IN ROME

The entrance of Villa Farnesina facing into the garden.

For those of us who have been to Rome numerous times and have seen all or most of the city’s major monuments and museums, it’s great to come across two lesser-known attractions.  These two museums are complete opposites to each other: one being a small, very fine Renaissance villa set in a beautiful garden, while the other is Rome’s newest gallery of contemporary art and architecture, housed in a former automobile factory with a dramatic extension by the late Zaha Hadid, one of the 21st century’s most gifted architects.

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TWO UNFORGETTABLE SITES IN PUGLIA

Aerial view of Castel del Monte.

Not to be missed on a visit to Puglia is a 13th century citadel, the magnificent Castel del Monte, about 70kms north of Matera.  Strategically perched on a hilltop in the Murgia region at an altitude of 540m that can be seen from many kms away, it seems to dominate the entire Kingdom of Sicily, of which Puglia was a part at that time.  Another site, that’s one of the country’s most historically important, is Cannae.  Anyone who has ever heard of Hannibal will doubtless know that his Carthaginian forces defeated the Roman army on numerous occasions, and the battle at Cannae in 216 BCE during the Second Punic War, was the most significant of these.  It’s regarded as one the bloodiest battles in Roman history—definitely something for those of us with an interest in ancient history.

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