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Lille wonder: a whistle-stop tour of a Franco-Belgian jewel

Take a quick Eurostar trip from London for a short break to a city with a medieval heart but a modern approach to life

Lille may not be the obvious city for a short break, despite the fact it’s highly convenient to reach via Eurostar. On the train, I flick through the current issue of Metropolitan, the Eurostar magazine, which skips past Lille to focus on the more obvious tourist locations of Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. However, when you alight here this city feels as if it’s transforming.

Get past the sight of Primark that greets you from the station and there’s a medieval heart, with curving, pedestrianised streets. There’s a Franco-Belgium feel, from the place names to a love of mussels and the craft-brewery scene. Lille houses France’s biggest university; there are 67,000 students floating around in term-time.

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Family skiing in the French Alps – fun on and off the slopes

The small resort of La Rosière has great beginners’ pistes, but for these kids it’s the non-ski activities – from ice hockey to dog sledding – that make their holiday

My six- and eight-year-old sons are watching an ice hockey match, their noses pressed to the Perspex. They gasp as the star player of the Tigres Blancs, Patrick “Pat” Adin, gets slammed into the barrier by an opponent: his face is squished a few millimetres from theirs. When he then wins back the puck and scores, they erupt with a fervour usually reserved for their football team.

All around us, French families and holidaying friends were cheering and chanting Pat’s name. What made this more unusual is that Pat is in his mid-60s, and we later saw him driving the ice resurfacer in the interval and selling refreshments at the end of the match. He also gave us a skating lesson at a group session here the day before.

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