Architectural Icons: An Art Deco Tour of Northern France

HHaving been heavily bombed during the First World War, the North is a region that really embraced the urge to rebuild and be reborn during the subsequent annees follows (the “roaring years”, France’s answer to the Roaring Twenties).

Today, Art Deco still evokes the glamor and optimism of the 1920s, in the midst of two catastrophic wars, a time when, for a brief period at least, life felt good.

Four unmissable monuments

La Piscine, Roubaix

What’s that? Do you have a soft spot for stunningly beautiful buildings with a socialist heart that have been renovated into art galleries? Well, that’s a glorious niche, but you’ve come to the right place!

La Piscine is in Roubaix, an hour and a half drive south of Calais. Along with its adjoining restaurant, garden, and toilets, it was built to improve hygiene and health when workers flooded the textile factories that sprang up here in the 1920s. they bought tickets for them to swim or bathe here regularly. You had 30 minutes to shower and they provided you with soap, shampoo and clean hot water.

The architecture was inspired by a monastery: the baths are the cells of the monks; the garden is the cloister (made of red brick instead of marble, so that it would not intimidate the poor); and the pool is the chapel.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the light in the pool area is heavenly: the stained glass windows at each end are heavenly and the Art Deco details like balustrades, pool tiles and mosaics are perfectly proportioned.

The Roger Salengro swimming pool, Bruay-La-Buissiere

Perfect for those who easily succumb to tour guide death, this is an Art Deco pool where you can swim, dive, and admire the architecture all at once.

You’ll find La Piscine Roger Salengro on the outskirts of a sleepy northern town, a 50-minute drive west of Lille. Once inside, you feel like you’re on the deck of an ocean liner in the 1920s, surrounded by neat rows of changing rooms and smart towers. The gleaming painted concrete and navy blue painted rails shimmer against the clear blue sky and watery waves; For swimmers, the water is heated during the winter and entry is just €4 (£3.40).

(Raquel Ifans)

Villa Cavrois, Roubaix

It may not be Art Deco, but Villa Cavrois is a modernist masterpiece that was built at the same time as nearby gems from that period. Designed by Robert Mallet Stevens, it was built around 1932 as a private home, occupied as a barracks during World War II, left in ruins in the 1980s, and lived in as a squat until 2001, when the French government bought it and he renewed it. . You can now visit it for just €9.50 (£8) or €15.50 (£13) for a joint ticket that also allows entry to La Piscine Roubaix.

Visit us to see its gloriously designed exterior and interior. Beauty aside, you won’t believe how sophisticated it is: at 90 years old, it has functionality we still aspire to in our mod-con. houses. All the wires are hidden (swoon) and the whole house speaker system is like an interwar Alexa. There’s a walk-in shower with side jets (from the 1930s) and high-tech lighting.

Le Touquet Paris Plage

Although the seaside resort of Le Touquet Paris-Plage was founded by a Parisian, it was a Brit named Whitley who gave this corner of northern France the identity it has today. John Robinson Whitley bought land here in 1902 and introduced tennis, golf and horse racing as part of his vision of a sporting paradise. But it was when he opened the first casino in town that he really played the ace in his pack. Casinos didn’t exist in Britain until the end of World War II, and the lure of gambling proved irresistible to the smart across the Channel.

Le Westminster is the only remaining grand hotel from Le Touquet’s Roaring Twenties heyday, with a history steeped in royalty, celebrities, sports stars, politicians and actors. Now part of the Barriere luxury hotel and casino chain, it recently underwent a major interior facelift, with plush rugs in a broken-glass design, zigzag glass, high-gloss lacquered cabinets in teal and orange burnt, Mondrian-style painting. and gold and silver geometric wallpapers.

(Jean-Luc Paille)

The “Post Office” is a converted church, complete with Art Deco capitals embedded in the concrete façade, a bay window, and a clock. Inside, it’s a glorious mix of bright turquoise, blue and cream tiles and intricate iron work.

Originally a casino, the Palais de Congres is a stunner, with a whiter-than-white mezzanine ballroom, gaming rooms and bars, though these days it’s used more for business conferences than baccarat. It was the place to be seen in the past, with people parading just about anything out of the front, including cars, women, dogs, and even the strange plane that had landed on the beach at low tide and been swept into town.

From there, take a stroll down the Avenue de Golf to see an amazing collection of houses. It’s where the English used to buy plots among the pines to build grand villas and hold garden parties.

In the glory years, Le Touquet also had a huge outdoor swimming pool on the beach. The tiered seats held 2,500 people, with an endless program of diving contests and fashion shows. They say that Edith Piaf learned to swim in the pool, and she did not regret it, but all that remains now is the trampoline tower, now part of the Aqualud water park (currently closed for renovations).

Colorful changing rooms on Le Touquet beach

(Raquel Ifans)

Five delights to drive

Bethune Fits in well for a lunch after your dip in the Bruay pool. Pick up a trail booklet at the tourist office for a feast of rounded windows, clipped corners, zig-zag embellishments, iron spirals, geometric glass art and floral motifs. Don’t miss the main square with its crazy mix of Art Deco and regionalist architecture.

lilac It features a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Art Deco bell tower, as well as the facade of the former oyster restaurant, l’Huitriere, and the interior of the iconic Patisserie Meert.

Visit the impressive Vimi war memorial in Givenchy in Gohelle. It’s a massive white twin-towered structure that lists the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers killed on the Western Front there.

Lens The train station is shaped like a train, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll wonder why all the stations in the world don’t have it.

The eccentric neighborhood Dunkirk It’s a final treat before heading to Calais for the Eurotunnel. The 35 houses, many in pastel colors, which were designed by modernist architect Francois Reynaert, date from 1929 and seem to compete with one another for eccentricity and quirkiness.

travel essentials

Rachel drove to Roubaix from the Channel Tunnel. Appart’City Euralille is a good base for an overnight stay on the way to some of the sights, after which you can drive to Le Touquet and stay at the perfectly located Hotel Bristol.

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