France // The north //


Accessed by metro (line 2 to Gare Jean Lebas) and just 15km northeast of Lille, right up against the Belgian border, Roubaix is a once-great Flemish textile city that fell into decline and is striving to rejuvenate itself. The city centre is not especially attractive and even the modest outlet shopping mall on its southern fringe is somehow dispiriting. Nevertheless, Roubaix is worth a visit to see its showpiece museum, La Piscine. Opened in 2001 and home to the magnificent Musee d’Art et d’Industrie, it is the improbable setting of one of France’s most beautiful swimming pools and bath complexes, originally built in the early 1930s for the poor of the city. Architect Paul Philippon’s contemporary conversion retains various aspects of the baths – part of the pool, the shower-cubicles, the changing rooms and the bathhouses – and uses each part to display a splendid collection of mostly nineteenth- and early twentieth-century sculpture and painting, plus haute couture clothing, textiles and photographs of the pool in its heyday.

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