Previously only seen as a cursory stop on the Eurostar's route to Paris, Lille has oft been overlooked as a city-break destination. Yet since becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2004, the capital of the Hauts-de-France region has been keen to show off it's charm. With cobbled streets flanked by red-brick houses and squares filled with cute cafés, Lille's quaint, village-feel combines Flemish charm with French allure.
Created by the Trigano family, Mama Shelter is slowly beginning to monopolise boutique, budget hotels across the world with hotels in 11 cities and six countries. Only an hour and 20 minutes from King's Cross, Lille makes for an ideal weekend trip. Around an unassuming corner just a five-minute walk from Lille Europe station, Mama Lille is a towering silver structure teetering atop iron stilts, and oddly reminiscent of a biblical ark (albeit perhaps a rather futuristic one).
Clashing colours and prints make up the hotel's interiors, with quirky carpets, graffiti by local artists adorn ceilings, and retro arcade games and table football (with all-female, multi-racial players) are dotted throughout the hotel. With the city set to become the World Design Capital in 2020, Mama Shelter's eccentric decor and unconventional design is a promising start.
Rooms at Mama Lille aim to provide comfort while retaining the hotel's whimsical character. Boldly patterned carpets are paired with minimal, concrete ceilings, perfectly directing attention towards the room's centrepiece: a double bed topped with crisp white sheets. Rather strikingly, bedside lamps are without shades, instead donning Mexican wrestling masks - another witty addition from Starck. White-tiled bathrooms have a pop of pale pink, a soothing break from the brazen decor in the rest of the hotel.
What's for breakfast?
Buffet breakfasts offer a selection of cold and hot options, from yoghurt and fresh fruit to bacon and eggs. Don't miss Mama's brunch, from 12-4pm on Sundays during which a vast selection of sweet and savoury food is constantly topped up.
How about lunch and dinner?
Next to the lobby, slide into cosy booths in the hotel's retro-themed restaurant. Each hotel outpost adapts to local cuisine, sourcing ingredients from local markets and farms, to create a menu of 'mama's' comfort food. Peruse the Lille-inspired menu to find typically Flemish dishes such as a steaming pot of mussels, waffles or steak frites and finish off with sweet pastries called merveilleux, made up of two meringues covered with whipped cream and rolled in chocolate shavings.
Is there a bar?
Just outside the restaurant you'll find a partially covered terrace filled with comfy seating covered in colourful cushions and pergolas. Catch some rays during summer months or snuggle up with a blanket - if it gets too chilly retreat inside to compete against other guests at the super-sized foosball table. If there's a group of you, book the rooftop lounge to sip on cocktails in cute wicker chairs while taking in views over the Lille skyline through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Bathrooms are kitted out with Mama Shelter's own toiletries, branded with witty one-liners such as soap bars impressed with "Mama likes to keep it pure" and "Mama loves you from head to toe". Products are free of parabens, perfume and colouring, and completely organic.
Things you should know
Mama Shelter prides itself on offering comfort without pomp. The hotel doesn't offer any services it deems unnecessary or excessive, so don't expect room or laundry services. It also endeavours to reduce waste, so rooms come only with showers instead of baths, and the room directory can be found on the television rather than in paper form.
Within a short walk you'll find…
Lille is very walkable, so wander through cobbled streets to stumble upon the city's spoils. Be sure to stop by Braderie de Lille, Europe's largest flea market dating back to the 12th century. Art lovers should stroll through the grounds of the Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne, d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut for modern art and sculptures.