The first time in I lived in France, I spent quite a bit of time in Le Mans. Given the fact that I am not necessarily a car racing enthusiast (Le Mans has hosted the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race since 1923), this fact came as a surprise to many of my friends back home.
The reason I traveled from Rennes to Le Mans each month was that the grandmother of my good friends lived there. “Mamie” was the French grandmother par excellence, always ready to offer a word of advice and tempt you with delectable dishes, “une petite quelque chose” (“just a little something”) that she had whipped up that morning. I was just as enchanted by the city of Le Mans as I was by my “adopted” French Mamie’s home. Both are places brimming with history, warmth, and a wonderfully comforting sense of le quotidien (daily life).
Le Mans is known for its lovely old town (Cité Plantagenêt, also called Vieux Mans). As you stroll down the cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered houses, you’ll find the stress of modern life slip away. Vieux Mans was the setting for the film Cyrano de Bergerac (starring Gérard Depardieu in 1989). Be sure to stop by the Cathédrale St.-Julien, a striking combination of Roman and Gothic architecture dedicated to St. Julian du Mans, the city’s first bishop.
History buffs will enjoy seeing the remnants of the quadrangular Roman wall in Vieux Mans (over 1300 meters) and the Roman bath ruins (Crypte Archéologique des Thermes Romains) near the Sarthe river.
Car lovers will get a kick out of the Musée Automobile. Founded in 1961, the museum provides a comprehensive history of automobile racing and European cars. If cars aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other quality museums in Le Mans to hold your attention. I recommend Le Musée Vert (natural history museum), La Maison de l’Eau (a museum dealing with water, Le Musée de Tessé (which houses a vast collection of paintings and Egyptian artifacts), and Le Musée de la Reine Bérengère (an ethnological arts museum).
Though not nearly as good as eating a homemade meal at Mamie’s table (and no, I won’t give you the address of the best chef in town), there are several restaurants in Le Mans that serve up quality fare.
Le Bistro du Mans has a charming vintage interior and a traditional French brasserie menu boasting a wide selection and reasonable prices.
12 rue Hippolyte-Lecornué
De la Cuisine au Grenier…en passant par le Jardin is a charming salon de thé/boutique combination (with a very long name!) offering an eclectic menu of light fare and a beautifully curated selection goodies for yourself or your home.
12, Rue Saint Martin
Written By Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com