Le Mans is known the world over for its two major car races – the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Le Mans Classic – but the city centre is also well worth exploring. The old town (encircled by a remarkably preserved Roman wall) reflects the different periods of its construction from the 11th through to the 15th century, and in this beautifully restored area you find Pays de la Loire’s largest concentration of half-timbered houses, plus the St-Julien cathedral, a Romanesque and Gothic masterpiece. Beside the cathedral stands the ancient ‘Menhir’, a standing stone thought of as the ‘belly button’ of Le Mans, and visitors are encouraged to rub the stone when they visit. A stop at the Carré Plantagenêt museum is a good way to learn more about the city and the wider region; the building itself is a marvel of contemporary architecture that boldly incorporates an old print works into its design. The tiny but exquisite Musée de la Reine Bérengère is also worth seeing.
As for Le Mans’ 24-Hour race, it began in 1923 and has been drawing huge crowds annually ever since. Le Mans Classic, paying homage to vintage racing cars, is held every two years. You can visit Le Mans’ 24-Hour museum devoted to the legendary race, which showcases its most glorious moments and the lives of the professionals and volunteers who make it happen. The visit is great for families; ‘Leon’ the museum mascot introduces special kids’ events and allows children to discover the history of the race in an interactive way.
Son et lumière in Le Mans
A kaleidoscope of colour and images illuminate the walls and buildings in Le Mans for the summertime Nuit des Chimères. As night falls every evening from June to September, the city becomes the backdrop to a sound and light show of spectacular proportions, with gargoyles and fantasy figures guiding you from one stunning scene and location to another.