The birthplace of the Plantagenet dynasty, the City of Art and History of Le Mans, the former capital of Maine, has retained a prestigious built heritage from its eventful past. Proof of this is provided by its historical quarter, the Plantagenet city, a harmonious ensemble of nine hectares and a listed protected area, defended by an imposing Roman wall from the end of the 3rd century. The Cathedral of St. Julian, half-Romanesque and half-Gothic; the former palace of the Counts of Maine, where Henry II Plantagenet was born; the paved side streets lined with countless timber-framed houses and Renaissance mansions make it an ideal set for swashbuckling films! Old Le Mans, with its fabulous décor, was in fact used as a set for many historical films, like Cyrano de Bergerac and Le Bossu. It is also an ideal setting for lovers of old buildings, who can travel along its picturesque streets admiring the superb façades to their hearts' content. Houses of particular interest include Queen Berengeria's House, the Two Friends' House and Adam and Eve's House, all three adorned with sculpted details...
The Cathedral of St. Julian, built between the 11th and 15th centuries, is 134 metres long with a surface area of 5,000 m², making it one of the biggest cathedrals in France! Its exceptional Gothic chevet, 12th-century south door, impressive Romanesque nave and 13th-century Gothic chancel make it a splendid example of medieval religious architecture. Cast your eyes upwards and gaze at the magnificent Romanesque windows, including the famous stained glass window of the Ascension, from the early 12th century, as well as the remarkable fresco of the heavenly concert by 47 musician angels, from the late 14th century, painted on the vaults of the Chapel of the Virgin!
Not far from the cathedral, the Museum of Queen Berengeria, based in three beautiful old houses, contains collections of regional art, ethnography and local history.
Also worth a look is the Tessé Museum, located in the old 19th-century bishop's palace and remarkable for its masterpiece, the Plantagenet enamel – an enamelled copper plate from the 12th century - its Egyptian antiques, and its collections of French, Italian, Flemish and Dutch paintings ranging from the 15th to the 20th century.
To relax after your visits, head to the Horticultural Garden, a wonderful park of five hectares created under the Second Empire, consisting of a French-style garden with a rose garden, and an English-style garden with a water feature and hundred-year-old trees.
In July and August, at nightfall, don't miss the Night of the Chimeras (Nuit des Chimères), a magnificent visual and sound show that celebrates the heritage of Old Le Mans!
Other events include the Europa Jazz Festival, in the spring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a prestigious long-distance car race in June, and the literary salon, the 25th Hour of the Book, in October, to name but a few.
Le Mans is the prefecture town of the department of Sarthe, in Pays de la Loire region. It is located about 185 km south-west of Paris.
At the foot of the Paris basin, east of the Armorican massif in the west, Le Mans which today has more than 148,000 inhabitants was inhabited since the Neolithic.
The city grew with the Roman occupation and the construction of aqueducts and then a fortified enclosure. Its color will be worth its nickname to the locality, "the red city".
Le Mans then became a stronghold of the Franc Empire, capital of the county then the Duchy of Maine. Subjected to the repeated assaults of the Bretons and then the Vikings, it was finally conquered by the Normans. However, it was at the beginning of the twelfth century that the rise of the city took a turn. Count Geoffroy Le Bel or Plantagenet married in 1128 Mathilde of England. Their son Henry II was born in Le Mans in 1154 and became king of England and initiated what became the Empire Plantagenet (England, Ireland, Scotland and the western frontage of France between Normandy, Anjou, Poitou and Aquitaine). In fact, the city of Le Mans inherits the nickname of Cité Plantagenêt.
The city was not linked to the kingdom of France until 1448 after the Hundred Years War and continued its economic development (silk, tannery) and cultural development.
In the 19th century, the first insurance company (now MMA) was created in Le Mans, and with the Bollée family, the city was the cradle of the automotive industry. No wonder that the first grand prix automobile in history was organized in 1906, which in 1923 became the famous "24 Hours of Le Mans". The event allowed the city to acquire a worldwide reputation. With an exceptional historical heritage, which has allowed many directors to film films in natural scenery (such as the Cyrano by Jean-Paul Rappeneau), this is a must-see tourist attraction, also appreciated for its Cultural vitality and its preserved green spaces.
The architectural heritage of the city, labeled City of Art and History, is one of the richest of the Hexagon.
Among the must-see, the fortifications (Roman and later). To discover thanks to a route marked out with explanatory panels. Information on +33 (0) 2 43 47 40 41.
However, it is the historic heart of Le Mans and the city Plantagenêt (baptized in memory of the former sovereign) which constitutes the jewel of the city. The former royal palace (today the town hall), which still has only Roman walls and windows, and the church of La Couture, former abbey of the Saint-Pierre de la Couture abbey, of the Gothic style Plantagenêt, Which served as a model for many churches in Maine and Anjou. The shroud of Saint-Bertrand (ninth century) and rich furniture are preserved, including three sculptures by Germain Pilon (dated 1570) and five paintings by Parocel (18th century). The building is considered the cradle of the art of stained glass.
To see again, Notre-Dame du Pré, built in the 5th century, church of the ancient abbey Saint-Julien, rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries. An example of Romanesque style surrounded by a medieval garden with medicinal plants. We will not forget the Maison-Dieu de Coëffort (Hôtel-Dieu), built in the 12th century, massive from the outside, but with exceptional interior design, with three parallel ships separated by columns supporting vaults high of 13 Meters.
Numerous half-timbered houses dating back to some of the 14th century, Renaissance-style mansions housing some of the poets of the Pléiade (Du Bellay, Ronsard) and dwellings and public buildings dating back to the age (17th and 18th centuries) still dot the city center and the city Plantagenêt. The cathedral, built between the 11th and the 15th centuries, is not to be missed. One of the most remarkable stained-glass windows in the Middle Ages is a large Gothic-style fresco (14th century), on the vaults of the Chapel of the Virgin, "les Anges musiciens".
To obtain brochures in order to discover all these riches or to take part in guided tours, please call +33 2 43 28 17 22.
Another way of understanding the city's past and its treasures, its many museums.
The Carré Plantagenêt, a museum of archeology and history, has a collection of 1,200 objects evoking the history of Le Mans from the origins to the 15th century. Open every day except Mondays. Guided tour on the last Saturday of the month, at 3pm, upon registration. Admission: 5 euros. A pass at 10 euros allows access to all municipal museums. Information on +33 2 43 47 46 45.
The museum of Tessé presents collections of fine arts (paintings, sculptures and objets d'art). Admission: 5 euros. Information on +33 2 43 47 38 51.
The Musée de la Reine-Bérengère presents ethnological collections from the city of Le Mans and the Maine region. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 12.30pm and from 2pm to 6pm; In the afternoon only, from 1 October to 31 May. Entrance: 1,50 and 3 euros. Information on +33 2 43 47 38 51.
The Musée Vert, a museum of natural history, offers exhibitions and animations on the theme of nature and science. It retains more than 300,000 specimens. Entrance 1,50 and 3 euros. Open Monday to Friday from 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 6pm, Sunday from 2pm to 6pm. Information on +33 2 43 47 39 94.
In a completely different way, the Museum of the 24 Hours of Le Mans tells the story of the automobile at Le Mans and that of the famous event. Open every day. The museum houses more than 120 vehicles. Tour can include tour. Price: 8 and 10,50 euros (tour of the circuit included). Information on +33 (0) 2 43 72 72 24.
Adjacent to the Arche de la Nature, a verdant park with walks, playful and educational facilities on several hundred hectares outside the city, the Maison de l ' Water is well located in the city itself. We visit the aquariums and an old water factory. Opening from 1 March to the end of the Toussaint holiday. Entrance: 2 and 3 euros. Information on +33 2 43 50 38 45 or +33 2 43 47 40 33.
Finally, the Instrumental Billing Heritage Center has a collection of 3,000 musical instruments of all kinds. Visit by appointment on +33 2 43 43 81 05.
To get away from it all, many parks and gardens are accessible. One can mention the Jardin des Plantes, the Quinconce des Jacobins, the Tessé garden or the Forage Park... A special mention for the park of Gué-de-Maulny (16 hectares along the river with picnic areas and facilities For the sports enthusiast, two swimming pools are open all year round: the aquatics center of Les Atlantides, with play facilities and sports facilities Wellness (3.60 and 5.60 euros, tel: +33 2 43 50 05 31) and the swimming pool of the Ardriers (price: 2,70 and 4,20 euros, tel: +33 2 43 39 99 20).
Finally, countless hiking trails have been designed throughout the city and its agglomeration, combining the discovery of the heritage or the natural environment. Brochures and information on +33 2 43 28 17 22.
In addition to the famous 24 hours of Le Mans which traditionally take place on the weekend of the 24th week of the year (in June), with tests during the previous days, numerous events mark the year.
From January to March, Le Mans Pop Festival welcomes the safe values of the French stage while maintaining a program around amateur practices. Information on +33 (0) 2 43 47 49 84.
The Crossroads of Thought, in March, bring together researchers, journalists, observers for debates and meetings. Information on +33 2 43 47 38 60.
In March, again, Les Photographiques is a festival that offers numerous exhibitions and meetings with artists. Contact on +33 2 43 78 92 20.
In April, the Europa Jazz Festival is a showcase for contemporary European jazz and also allows you to discover new talents. Program and reservation on +33 2 43 23 78 99.
In May, Puls'Art is an international event of contemporary art and program throughout the city exhibitions and meetings.
In June, Le Mans makes its Circus brings together professional artists and locals so that the city becomes a huge track... Information on +33 2 43 47 49 28.
On Thursdays and Fridays in July and August, in the neighborhoods, Les Soirs d'Été offers street theater, circus show, music and song.
In July and August, the Nuits des Chimères propose night-time courses in the city center and shows on the emblematic sites of the city (walls, cathedrals...).
The 25th Hour of the Book, in mid-October, is a book fair that brings together authors, illustrators, publishers and associations.
In November, finally, the Bebop festival offers concerts of confirmed artists or young talents representing different contemporary musical genres.
For gourmets and gourmets, the many specialties of Le Mans and its region can be discovered every day of the week in one of the city's 25 markets.