There isn’t much to see just yet. The five, low rise, glass-walled pavilions are barely visible at the top of a small incline. Workmen are adding the finishing touches – barriers in the car park, signs, even sand blasting the row of terraced houses opposite.
They’ve got a week to make it all perfect. On 12 December, French president François Hollande will open the latest outpost of the Louvre art museum, in Lens, a former mining town in northern France (pop 36,000). It’s perfectly sited for people living in the south east of England.
The €200m, 28,000 sq feet exhibition space, designed by Japanese minimalist architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, will house masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt. The exhibition ends with Delacroix’s 1830 Liberty Leading the People, a symbol of the French Revolution.
500,000 visitors a year are expected but anything less than a smash hit will be a disappointment. No word yet on opening hours or ticket prices though the Paris Louvre is free for under 18s and €11-15 otherwise.
The museum is already well signposted. Follow signs to Lens Ouest (west), 25 miles by dual carriageway south west of Lille.
It’s just under 65 miles from Calais, the vast majority on the wonderful – smooth, superfast – A26 (€7.20 toll each way) but quicker to Dunkirk – 59 miles – via Lille on the A25 (which is not tolled).
Louvre Lens shares car parking with Stade Bollaert, used in the 1998 World Cup. The area was previously best known for the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A 250 acre memorial, opened by King Edward VIII before his abdication in 1936, is five miles further south.