You’ll probably know of Le Mans in the Sarthe department, Pays de la Loire. It’s famous for its race track that runs through the town and hosts the 24 hour Le Mans race. You might even have seen it, Steve McQueen immortalised Le Mans on film in the 1970s.
What you might not know is that this Plantagenet City, an official “City of Art and History” with Roman roots and remains is actually a truly charming place to visit with lots to see and do.
5 things you shouldn’t miss in Le Mans
Take a slow walk in Le Mans – don’t race!
This is a town with a unique architectural heritage (it’s a candidate for UNESCO heritage listing) and the best way to see it is on foot.
The famous Cathedral of Le Mans is on the edge of the old town and a great start for a walk into the historic district with its half-timbered houses, Renaissance mansions, cobbled streets, Roman walls and towers and fabulous boutiques. Most people are astounded to find that there is such a beautiful old town here – it’s well worth stopping off for.
In July and August, there’s a glorious free light show in the town as the Night of the Chimeras illuminates the streets and monuments.
Wine and Dine
There are plenty of restaurants in the old town as well as the newer part of Le Mans. If you love cakes, don’t whatever you do, miss the shop and café of Japanese master chef Takayanagi (12 rue du Tertre; www.takayanagi.fr). His take on classic French cakes with a Japanese twist, has made him a legend in this town. You can also enjoy a delish sushi lunch here (followed by a cake of course). Take a wine tasting at la Cave de Pedro in a 15th century building (6 Rue Saint-Honoré - book in advance for English language visit). Take home a sweet souvenir from La Sablésienne (2 rue de la Perle; www.sableseienne.com) where they’ve been making biscuits for more than 100 years, though some of the recipes date back more around 350 years (delicious!).
Wine and dine at Auberge de la Bagatelle, 1 Michelin star, and food that’s simply divine (489 Avenue Bollée; www.augergedebagatelle.fr)
Locals love: La Ciboulette (14 rue Vielle-Porte; www.laciboulettelemans.com) for its warm welcome, lovely menu and great ambiance. Or Brasserie des Jacobins (7 Place des Jacobins; www.brasseriedesjacobins.com) which is a big, bright restaurant and very popular.
Hop on the tram to experience the countryside on the doorstep
The tram service in Le Mans is excellent (buy tickets at the tram stops). Hop on in the centre of the city and just a few minutes later you’re in the idyllic countryside of Sarthe. Head to Épau and enjoy dining out at the Domaine de L’Épau, a fabulous restaurant set in a 600-acre area of preserved nature. They specialise in local food with some very interesting and healthy smoothies on offer. Then nip next door to the beautiful Abbaye Royal de L’Épau, the last resting place of Queen Berenger, wife of Richard the Lionheart. Make sure you’ve got room for a cake from the café here, Sylvie who makes them, is an absolute cake maker master. They also do a nice lunch or snacks here. Wander the beautiful grounds, admire the centuries old architecture where Cistercian monks lived in the 13th century and the gorgeous grounds with their outdoor artworks and pretty potager.
Go to the market
You’ll find a market in Le Mans every day except Monday. One of the best is the Sunday morning market by the Cathedral in Place du Jet d’Eau. Seasonal, local produce and fish fresh from the sea in neighbouring Charente-Maritime and Brittany. Don’t miss the “mushroom man” when you’re there, you can’t miss his stall, the most incredible mushrooms you’ve ever seen, and utterly delicious. Afterwards head to the bustling traditional Café du Jet d’Eau and watch the action at the market whilst you enjoy a delicious lunch (the oysters here are really popular), it’s also good for a coffee or glass of wine.
Museum of Le Mans
Credit: Alan McGowan
You can’t go to the world capital of motor sports and not stop off at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum where you won’t fail to be impressed by the cars in the permanent collection. Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche, Ford, Audi and more – all the great names are represented. They also have excellent temporary exhibitions each year. Take a walk in the tracks of history while you’re there, the famous race route runs just outside the museum…
We have lots of fabulous holiday homes in and around Le Mans and the Pays de la Loire – do take a look and contact us if you don’t find what you’re looking for – we love to help you make your holiday dreams come true…