Le Mans is the former capital of the province of Maine, and is too often eclipsed by the annual worldwide famous 24 h race, held on the outskirts of the city.
There are, however, beautiful reminders of the past and a gloriously restored old city, which was used as a backdrop for several movies. The cathedral Saint-Julien, at its heart, is a wonder and should not be missed.
The city is very easily accessible from Paris, it has much to offer and deserves more than only a short trip to its circuit when the motors roar. The “Cité Plantagenêt” may be one of the best-kept secrets in France.
Where to stay?
Hotel Charleston (20 Rue Gastelier, 72000 Le Mans, France; +33 2 43 24 87 46) is located in Le Mans City Centre, only 150 yards from both the Congress Palace and the train station. It offers a stylish seating area on the patio and guest rooms are decorated in a vintage style.
Each room at Hotel Le Charleston has a flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi access. All rooms have an en suite bathroom fitted with a bath or shower.
A breakfast buffet is available daily in the dining room. Guests can also choose to have breakfast served to their room or on the patio.
Where to eat?
La Brochette Du Boucher (12, Place Saint-Pierre | 72000 Le Mans; 02 43 14 25 74) is situated in the beautiful Old Town part of Le Mans near to the Cathedral and opposite the Mayor’s Office. The steaks are recommended and its essential you book, especially if you want to eat alfresco.
What to see?
The Cathedral looks intoxicating splashed with early morning sunshine. The old quarter is a delight, overlooked by the Cathedral, sat proudly atop the high ground with its impressive Y-shaped two-tiered flying buttresses. Like most human faces, the Cathedral of St Julien’s façade has some flaws, but ultimately it’s easy on the eyes. It avoids monotony and embraces visitors with welcoming arms. Overlooking the charming Place-St-Michel the south porch has a lovely 12 century doorway, flanked by some ornate religious iconography of St Peter and St Paul. King Henry II was baptised here and Berengaria, the estranged wife of Richard the Lionheart, is buried here. It is truly an awesome place, the countless stained glass windows are so vibrantly decorated, especially when the sun is strong, breathing life into the images.
The medieval Labyrinthine streets are a wonderful mix of intricate renaissance architecture and classical facades. A constant reassuring cacophony of noise emanates from the cluster of chic artisan street cafes, cut by stepped alleys. It’s reminiscent of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter stories. The highlight is the 3rd & 4th century Gallo-Roman walls, supposedly the best preserved in Europe, having stood for 1,700 years. The richly decorative brickwork is so simple and naturally beautiful. The ramparts encircle the medieval Old Town, cocooning the array of lovely timber frames houses decorated in evocative blue, green and lavender hues.
SETRAM bicycle rental (49 avenue du General De Gaulle, 72000 Le Mans) is a public bike share program and is a great option for all those who wish to discover or rediscover the bicycle as a mode of urban travel. Once you have rented a bike, it is yours and you can take it everywhere, go to class, go to work, go shopping, play sports or walk around town. At the lowest cost, you have the choice between the classic bike or folding bike or the electric bike .
To rent a bike, you need :
To provide you with an identity document, a deposit check and possibly a proof of residence on Le Mans Métropole.
Price: 3 euros for a day hire with no subscription.
We travelled on the Eurostar, the minimum price of a train ticket from London St-Pancras to Le Mans is €48. To buy train tickets from London St-Pancras to Le Mans for the lowest price possible, we recommend that you book your tickets as early as possible. Tickets go on sale usually 3 months in advance, yet in some rare cases this can be up to 6 months. For more precise information on when you can book your tickets or whether there are any promotional sales, click here.
The TGV stops in Le Mans, and many TGV West-bounded trains leaving from Paris stop in Le Mans.
From Gare Montparnasse in Paris, there are trains every hour or so, and the 210-km trip takes 55 min.