Paris may have gone cycle-mad this summer with Velib', but they are Jean-ny come lately compared with Strasbourg - officially France's first city of cycling.
After all that lolling about in comfort on the train anticipating a bit of stork-spotting and flammekueche-chomping (well-known top activities in Strasbourg), what better way to explore the city than from its 480km cycle network – and it’s flat! Plan your trip before you leave with the comprehensive help of www.velolocation.net - a bike-rental service managed by Vélo-Emploi and supported by Strasbourg city council. As their motto says, "Good bicycles for true jobs".
A visit to the sumptuous Etablissement de Bains, built to exacting German standards between 1904 & 1911, is a must.
Enjoy a Turkish bath, sauna, thermal bath or a swim in opulent surroundings unlike anything available in Britain all for a very reasonable entrance fee.
A perfect and affordable pick-up, particularly revitalising during the winter months.
As well as seeing the usual sights, you must visit the Orangerie, a park or more accurately, pleasure garden just north east of the city centre.
There are beautiful gardens, stately buildings,a small zoo, an aviary,a boating lake, an unusual outdoor planetarium and a stylish cafe and restaurant.
A lovely place to spend an afternoon away from the busy city centre.
For your wine cheese and food shopping, take a bag on wheels, and stop off at Eurolille on the way back to Lille Europe station.
Find all you need at the vast Carrefour - then top up with bread and pastries at Paul, before nipping out of the side-exit from Eurolille for the short walk to Eurostar.
My tip is to visit the annual 'Braderie de Lille' - the biggest flea market in Europe, with stalls on over 100kms of pavements.
It is held over the first weekend in September in the centre of Lille. From Antiques to Junk, from Books to Pictures it is all there. The walk from Lille Europe to the market is short, some 500 yards so access is easy.
I discovered it by accident. Leaving the old station (Lille Flandres), after an ovenight trip from Italy, I headed for a café and stumbled across a small part of the market. I was hooked!
In the middle of the Christmas Market in Lille amongst the wooden huts selling mulled wine and crafts is a harmless looking Ferris wheel - make sure you don't miss having a go for a great birds eye view of the city especially at night and the chance to be scared witless.
The back of each car seemed so low I spent the entire time feeling like I was about to fall out!
Afterwards head for one of the cafes in the same square for a medicinal hot chocolate.
The swimming pool museum in Roubaix is less than 30 minutes from Lille centre by tram (Roubaix) or metro (Euroteleport).
The marvellous Museum of Arts and Industry relocated to this renovated 1920's swimming pool in 2001.
There is a huge Art deco rising sun window dominating the scene and the paintings, sculptures, textiles and (glorious) ceramics, showing the creativity behind Roubaix's heyday, are imaginitively displayed around the pool, shower cubicles and surronding areas.
In Brussels you must visit Cirio’s Bar in the Rue De La Bourse.
Founded by Italian magnate Francesco Cirio in 1903 it remains much as it was a hundred years ago - dark wooded panels, marble and shining brass.
Be sure to try the house speciality of a “Half and Half” - equal measures of champagne and white wine filled to the brim by bustling ultra efficient waiters.
Say hello to the cat “Minou” (French for “Kitty”) and lastly don’t forget to visit the magnificent turn-of-the-century toilets!
Check out the fabulous Restaurant Vincent in Rue des Dominicains, where you walk through the kitchen to be seated.
No hidden secrets, the best steaks and the finest moules. Try the steak tartare, if you dare, prepared at your table with the freshest ingredients - and with amazing flair.
My tip is to visit the bar La Mort Subite on rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7.
This bar has a superb selection of beers, which are reasonably priced, and is frequented by locals rather than being a typical tourist trap.
The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and it's an ideal place to meet up with friends for a good natter.
If that isn't enough, last time I went there an opera singer started to sing, with the whole bar joining in. Beer, opera and conversation - perfect!
After relaxing on your short, swift ride to Brussels, stay close to the sweeping Avenue Louisa, just a tram or metro ride from the Eurostar Terminus and a short walk from the busy heart of Brussels.
The area has many attractive shops and boutiques - they really know how to dress and window dress! Tucked off the side streets of the Elsene quarter are lively markets, galleries and tree lined squares for coffee and finding unique gifts.
At the far end of Avenue Louisa are grand villas and gardens, lush parks and gardens of Terkamerenbos.
Take your first drink - a coffee or a trappsit beer at the magnificent art nouveau Le Cirio just around the corner from the Bourse metro ( 4 stops from the Gare du Midi).
Have your last drink at Au Laboureur close to the Gare du Midi.
And in between use the CAMRA Good Beer Guide to Belgium by Tim Webb to find your way round Brussels.
Visiting Magritte's house gives you a little insight into a surrealist mind.
A tram-ride from central Brussels, the suburban house is packed with glimpses of the banal, everyday things that inspired Magritte’s extraordinary, warped images: the fireplace (empty without its emerging steam train); the pipe (that is in fact not a pipe); the lamp post (that actually works like any other). The domestic details of this historic house are probably no different from a thousand others in Brussels.
But in the context of wonderful Magritte originals and the fascinating story of his life (displayed upstairs), they take on a new significance.
For football fans, a trip to see Anderlecht play at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.
It's like a small, tight ground where you get really close to the action and the home fans generate a great atmosphere.
And be sure to enjoy a pre (and post) match pint of Hoegaarden in one of the many bars around the ground.
You must go to A La Mort Subite on rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères.
The name comes from a game they used to play called 421. Back in the day, employees of a local bank would while away their lunch hours playing 421 – and the loser, of course, was “sudden death” itself.
The room is enormous yet somehow each table provides intimacy (away from those crowds). As in a relaxed community of little tables holding hands.
Order a plate of cheese, salami and pickles and slosh back a fruity beer. Perfect when Brussels turns dark. The light in there is almost golden.
My favourite café in Brussels is called 'L'Ultime Atome' 14 Rue St-Boniface, it serves the best tart tatin I have tasted.
After you’ve eaten it there’s then a great opportunity for a post-prandial walk around the more interesting bits of Ixelles.
Discover an oasis of calm. Go to the Beguinage, a beautiful small green and shaded space flanked by distinctive white buildings and crossed with paths. Sisters of the religious St. Benedict order have taken the place of the former beguines of the former cloistered community. Its atmosphere is wonderfully serene.
The Begijnhof is just off Wijngaardplein and has a shop, church and small museum. There are signs asking people to be silent (though not always obeyed).
Restaurant In den Wittenkop run by a truly enthusiastic couple. Not an encyclopaedic range of beers but great advice and what they do have is worth trying.
Work up through the Rocheforts over some great food. Talk whisky after dinner and weave a merry way home. For chocs go to Pralinette, you can watch them being made in the back of the shop. Get the orange peel in chocolate!
Lovely big rooms in Hotel De Tuilereën, super spa facilities and winner of best breakfast in Benelux! Nice people, nice place. Oh, it’s got canals and museums as well.
Send your feedback or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org