Daniel Pountney

Lights, FANTASTIC

Daniel Pountney
Lights, FANTASTIC

WITH its rich motor racing heritage the words “go, go, go” are perhaps best associated with Le Mans.

But the message the beautiful French city is now trying to push is more like “stop, stop, stop”.
It’s located on the Sarthe River in the region of the Pays De La Loire.
Tourists seem to whizz past it on their way to Bordeaux, Perpignan and the rest of the south.
Maybe it’s overlooked because of its association with the racetrack – people think if the race isn’t on there’s nothing to see.
Actually, unlike Monaco, the course doesn’t run anywhere near the centre.
It sits outside of the limits leaving the Plantagenet City free from engine noise.

The centre is divided in to two parts, old and new, but from November everything will be linked by the gleaming new tramline.
The new town is a great place to shop with high street names and unique little stores, including the premises of award-winning chocolatier Jacques Bellanger, surrounding a vast town square.

Le Mans old town is a life-size film set.
The movie Cyrano de Bergerac and numerous others were filmed on its cobbled streets.
The Plantagenet City is surrounded by a Roman wall built in 280AD which still has its original stone decoration.
The skyline is dominated by the spectacular flying buttresses of St Julien Cathedral.
It was built in the 11th century and inside is simply enormous with ancient stained-glass windows and gothic art on the ceilings.
July and August is the best time to see Le Mans because every night for 90 minutes spectacular light displays are projected on to the Roman walls.
The cathedral is illuminated too and the angels painted on the walls inside appear on the brickwork playing a light concert on their historic instruments.
All of the La Nuit des Chimères shows are free and crowds of people huddle together to watch.
The atmosphere is quiet and relaxed making it a wonderful way to walk off dinner, whether it be shark and kangaroo steak at Le Plongeoir or traditional cassoulet at Le Flambadou.

 

Outside of the city centre is very peaceful and the Arche de la Nature is really worth a visit for anyone with children.
The 40-hectare nature reserve is just ten minutes from central Le Mans and no cars are allowed.
It’s an aquarium, nature trail, organic garden and working farm on one site – and again, it’s all free. 

It’s this side of Le Mans that the city council wants tourists to see and it shouldn’t be hard to sell, especially during the light festival.
Anyone who travels south through France would be a fool not to stop off for two days.load of stuff, yeahA load of stuff, yeah