Ultimate Guide to Le Mans: A Secret French Town

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Until I was contacted about the opportunity to visit Le Mans for three weeks and take part in the French summer school, I had admittedly never heard of the town before other than as the location of a famous car race. Being not exactly interested in sports, a part of me was thinking… wouldn’t it be better if this opportunity was in Paris or somewhere along the French riviera? I had assumed that there wouldn’t be much to see and I’d have to take day trips elsewhere in France to satisfy my cravings for beauty and excitement. How wrong I was, however. Le Mans is literally clad in quaint and picturesque spots; I was a kid in a candy shop there!

Getting About

During my stay I was accommodated in the Université de Maine’s Vaurouzé student lodging, which was about a 40 minute walk from the centre of town. However, luckily we were given a free month tram-pass by the university, meaning we could get in and out in about 15 minutes as the trams were generally quite regular. There are two lines on the tram and they take you to pretty much anywhere you’d need to go in the city, and if not there are also plenty of buses to ship you around instead.

Le Mans Main sights

La Cité Plantagenêt

Also known as Vieux Mans, La Cité Plantagenêt is the old town of Le Mans. It is the historic heart of the town and stole my heart as soon as I set eyes on it. The architecture dates back to the late middle ages and is the birthplace of Henry II, first Plantagenêt king of England, hence its name. It is truly a maze, made up of medieval timbered houses, cobbled streets and a plethora of vibrant colours. You could spend day after day exploring the narrow lanes and climbing the stepped alleyways, gazing at the intricate features of each window, door, lantern and flower. Overlooking the river, it is guarded by one of the oldest Gallo-Roman walls in France (see below) and also home to the spectacular Cathedral of St. Julien. To read about more Roman ruins in France, check out this article on the spectacular ruins in Lyon (my new home!).

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

Gallo-Roman wall

Cathedral de Saint Julien

Le Mans Catholic Cathedral is the quintessential French gothic building and is absolutely magnificent. It’s construction took 8 centuries to complete and you can really see why, its one of those that you stare at for ages thinking… how did they do that?! The stained glass dates back to the 12th century, making it the oldest in France and outside the church, near the Southwest entrance is a prehistoric menhir placed there in the 18th century. This is essentially a large rock, with a tiny thimble-sized hole in the front, which was said to grant women great fertility if they touched it… Sounds legit to me!

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

Cathedral de Saint-Julien

Les Jardins…

When I visited, I was blessed with absolutely stunning weather most of the time that I was there, which obviously called for many hours sunbathing. Luckily, Le Mans is home to a great number of beautiful gardens and parks so I could bronze myself (ahem, burn myself) surrounded by exquisite natural settings.

The Parc Théodore Monod was only 5 minutes away from campus and being more in the suburbs of the city, was a popular spot for families. It had lots of little fountains squirting water on hot days which were lovely but also attracted hoards of screaming children which was not quite so delightful!

Parc du Tessé is located in the grounds of the Musée du Tessé and was much less busy. It has lovely little flowerbeds and in the centre lies Sablier Géant, translating to giant hourglass, which is what it literally is. It’s quite a cool installation, with 40 tons of sand slowly sifting through 160 tiny holes. It takes six months for the sand to completely pass through and at the end of the six months, at each solstice it is returned to the top section (I have no idea how…).

My favourite however, is Jardin des Plantes, which is about a five minute walk from the centre of town yet once you’re there, you may as well be in the middle of the countryside. A beautiful lake, wooden bridges, alabaster statues and wild flowers make this garden an isolated little spot of heaven on a sunny day by yourself with a book.

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

Sablier Géant

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

Jardin des plantes (top left) and more La Cité Plantagenêt

Zoo de la Flèche

This isn’t exactly in Le Mans but it is a short car ride away. The university paid for our tickets and otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to visit as I’m not a great fan of zoos- some can be quite cruel to their animals in the treatment they receive and the way they are made to live. I can’t really comment on whether the animals of this zoo had a great quality of life because I’m not an expert on their natural habitats by any means but it was at least better than others that I’ve visited in the past as a kid. For one, the bears weren’t trapped in a ten foot square pit but actually had some space to roam and swim.

I mainly enjoyed the day for the photo opportunities because other than that, it was quite a busy and expensive place; crammed with queues and children crying everywhere. My favourite part was the sea lion show, the two performing sea lions were so intelligent I couldn’t fathom how they’d been trained to do so many specific tricks. However, it was also quite fun watching the bird show, when an American Eagle failed to land on its perch above the crowd properly and crashed into the back of all our heads causing hysterics all round (and some tears, it must be said).

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

Animals at the zoo including the eagle that attacked us!

Events

La Nuit des chimères

The French really like their light shows, and this is a really spectacular one in the centre of Le Mans, lasting for two months long in Summer. It starts as soon as it gets dark, when the old town is set alive by vibrant, moving artwork that projected onto historical monuments, accompanied by music and sometimes stories, which are told over the speakers. I was really lucky to be there whilst this event was going on because it was a truly magnificent spectacle, attracting large crowds and a lively atmosphere.

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

La Nuit des Chimères- my camera died way too early that day 🙁

Whilst I was in Le Mans for three weeks, I was also lucky enough to catch Le Mans fait son Cirque, which I wrote about in this post, and the fireworks marking Bastille Day– France’s most important national holiday, celebrating the French revolution. Le Mans Classique was also going on at the time, a car race and parade of vintage race cars paying homage to the 24hr Le Mans racetrack and its history. These were only the events going on in the short period I was there so I can imagine that a lot more goes on throughout the year!

Night life

The night life in Le Mans is really not much to write home about, unfortunately, but along with the group of students that I was living with, we definitely made it work and had a great time nonetheless. In Place de la Republique, the square in the centre of town, there’s a large collection of bars but we avoided these because they were so expensive, instead opting for the Irish pubs and bars on the roads leading off from here. These were much friendlier to our pockets and we ended up at one, Luna café way too many times during the trip, the bartenders knowing us all by name by the end. The football table and free song requests made this place great for a casual night drinking. Another favourite was Chicago Bar, situated in Le Man’s old town. The cocktails here were to die for and were also not too dear if you went during happy hour- 5-8pm every weekday. The bar was decorated in Cuban style, very cute and the outside terrace was beautiful, especially on those hot sunny evenings.

In terms of clubs, we went to 3 different ones: The Loft, Le Wiz and one of which I can’t remember the name -or anything that happened, woops… They were all identical in their absolutely extortionate drink prices, meaning it was cheaper to buy a whole bottle of vodka between the group than buy individual drinks. We discovered L’étoile des Saveurs karaoke bar on the penultimate night, which was disappointing because it was one of the best!

Le mans, guide, travel, france, europe

One of the Irish pubs on offer

I’m so glad that I was wrong about Le Mans, it truly was a vibrant and beautiful town and I enjoyed every day that I was there! Read my next post to hear about my day-trips to two different beautiful châteaux, one of which was the home to Da Vinci in the last years of his life.

For more underrated villages in France, check out Alison’s post on 6 can’t-miss villages in Provence, the perfect summer getaway after soaking in Le Man’s rich history.

Much love <3

 

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42 Comments

  • Reply
    thesweatergiraffe
    July 23, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    What a beautiful and picturesque place! Your photographs are wonderful. 🙂 I’m also doing an extended stay in France [about 10 months in Versailles, if all goes well!] I love your blog, and hope to read more of your adventures as time goes on!

    • Reply
      worldinsidemypocket
      July 24, 2016 at 2:01 am

      Thank you! Ah sounds awesome, I’m living in Lyon for a year from September hope your French adventures are lovely <3

  • Reply
    shaunbremner
    July 24, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    I didn’t realise Le Mans had so much to offer ! Looks like you had great weather too. ☀️

  • Reply
    Weekend Adventures
    July 25, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Wow!!! It looks beautiful! Thanks for letting me discover such an amazing place 🙂

  • Reply
    Viivi Severina
    July 26, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Hello! You seem like amazing person and I love your blog so I nominated you for Sunshine Blogger Award:) https://viiviseverina.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/sunshine-blogger-award/

  • Reply
    anna
    July 30, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    The cathedral looks amazing!!! What intricate architecture. Was it as grand inside as it is outside?

  • Reply
    London-Unattached.com
    July 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    I’m loving your photos – looks really pretty!

  • Reply
    Karla | karlaroundtheworld
    July 30, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    I can see the vibrance and all… super pretty and seems like there are a lot of things going on. I would definitely want to go

  • Reply
    Sunny Olbricht
    July 30, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    I love the gardens! And it looks like you’ve had a really lovely time as well! 🙂

  • Reply
    eostories
    July 30, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    I have to admit I have just heard about this place but it looks really cute. Small towns are the best sometimes. Would be interesting to check more about this organization and school.

  • Reply
    mrandmrsoops
    July 31, 2016 at 3:25 am

    A new place to discover for us! 🙂 detailed write up !

  • Reply
    Arzo Travels
    July 31, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I must say I have never heard of it either but the pictures are beautiful. Lucky you with the good weather (I think this is also so important and decides often if I perceive a place as beautiful or not, haha)

  • Reply
    Katie
    July 31, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Looks like a beautiful, quaint French town straight out of a storybook, I would love to walk along the cobblestone back alley streets you mention – sounds lovely!

  • Reply
    seasaltsecrets
    August 1, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    I’ve never heard about this little gem, but convinced I need to go back to France and visit now!

    • Reply
      worldinsidemypocket
      August 2, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Yes! Dying to do a roadtrip and explore all the little towns and villages in the Loire Valley

  • Reply
    Carly Moore (@girloutofbounds)
    August 2, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Whoa?!?! The architecture style of that Cathedral is amazing! I love checking out old walls too, and the town looks like it’s filled with so much charm. Love it!

  • Reply
    Two French Chateaux, One Secret Tunnel – worldinsidemypocket
    August 3, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    […] weeks into my stay at Le Mans and we were taken on a day trip to Amboise to see two of the different beautiful chateaux in the […]

  • Reply
    TheOneThatTravels
    August 16, 2016 at 9:49 am

    It looks like an amazing place…
    Thanks for sharing this photos…
    xx
    https://theonethattravels.wordpress.com/

  • Reply
    - Amboise: Two French Chateaux, One Secret Tunnel.
    October 19, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    […] weeks into my stay at Le Mans and we were taken on a day trip to Amboise to see two of the different beautiful chateaux in the […]

  • Reply
    Christina
    October 26, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    This looks like such a cute town! Love all of your photos and information about Le Mans 🙂 Definitely keeping for later!

  • Reply
    Nicole
    October 26, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    How gorgeous!! I love your photos!!

  • Reply
    Sassy
    October 26, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    This is such an awesome guide! And your photos are beautiful 🙂 Hope I get to visit someday!

  • Reply
    Delaine
    October 26, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    I haven’t heard of Le Mans as well, but it definitely looks like a place that I’d want to visit. I can never seem to get enough of those medieval towns & cobblestone roads. The Old Town at Le Mans looks so picturesque. I would have given the husband a hard time there by making him take pictures of me at every corner lol. The cathedral looks amazing too.

  • Reply
    MARINA PAUL SERRANDO
    October 26, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    I have traveled a lot around France, and I have never been in Le Mans (now I regret it! 🙂 I love the country, but most of all its food!
    The fact that every region has its own traditional dish or way to cook the same meal! Amazing!

    I will definitely come back and try to discover the west coast a bit more!

  • Reply
    carmyy
    October 26, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    I love your shots from the zoo! Especially the one of the bears roaming. It looks like they all had ample space to move around 🙂

  • Reply
    Amber
    October 26, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    I had no idea about Le Mans! How was the food in Vieux Mans? Were you able to experience any hotels in town?

  • Reply
    Brown Gal Trekker
    October 26, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    This place seems to have a great city vibe. Never heard of it but something I’ll keep in mind when in France.

  • Reply
    postcardsfromivi
    October 27, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Looks beautiful! The cathedral is amazing,would love to visit it. Lovely pictures!

  • Reply
    Melissa Douglas
    October 27, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Lovely photos! It looks so quaint and pretty!

  • Reply
    durhamslovelifetravel
    November 6, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Le Mans looks very charming, too bad about the night life, That is one thing my hubby always looks for 🙂 The Zoo photos do look pretty amazing as far as humane compared to the zoo I too my grandson to last week. I was so sad for the animals being caged up. The Cathedral de Saint-Julien is so exquisite, would love to get some photos of it.

  • Reply
    Juliette | Snorkels To Snow
    November 9, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    What a quaint place to visit! And that Cathedral – wow. What an incredible piece of architecture. The gardens, the zoo – seems definitely worth a visit!

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