Go the extra mile to see more of Le Mans

Le Mans Country Club offers a great stay
Le Mans Country Club offers a great stay
The yacht being towed to Gosport. Credit: GAFIRS

Rescuers tow 44ft yacht to Gosport after fire and engine failure

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Think about Le Mans and you think about the 24-hour race and legions of motorsport fans descending on the French town each June.

But the city, in the Loire region, has much more to offer.

The city itself has historic links with Britain, being the birthplace of Henry II, father of Richard the Lionheart, who as a Plantagenet ruled both England and the northern part of France in the 1100s.

Unlike many French cities, razed during the Second World War, the ancient heart of Le Mans remains.

Visitors can walk through the cobbled streets, made uneven after 1,000 years, to the Gothic Cathedral de Sainte Julien with its famous flying buttresses.

Not only does it house a piece of the True Cross and a section of St Julien’s shroud, the cathedral also has the window of the Ascension – the oldest stained glass window still in place within a religious building.

Visitors can spend hours walking around the cathedral, counting the 47 musician angels painted on the vaulted ceiling in the Virgin’s chapel, its tapestries, and the work of medieval goldsmiths still on display today.

Though it’s easy to lose yourself within the twisting medieval passageways while gazing on leaning timber houses and shops, Le Mans also has Roman connections, as the city is ringed with Roman walls and fortifications.

All this history is used as a canvas for a city-wide celebration each summer, Le Nuit de Chimeras, which is a fantasy light show featuring actors singing about Le Mans’ Plantagenet past.

Tables outside restaurants within hearing distance of the spectacle fill up fast as the French and tourists vie to see and hear as much as possible.

Definitely one of the highlights was seeing the whole of the Plantagenet dynasty enjoying a banquet while eating a meal outside one of the city’s restaurants.

Food and drink are among the specialities of the Loire region, from the delicious Saumur red wine of the area to the Rillette shredded pork pate and the popular Port Salut cheese.

The city of Le Mans has a host of excellent bars, cafes and restaurants in its more modern part, where there is also some excellent shopping to be had.

One of the best places to discover the delights of 
local food and drink is in the restaurant attached to the Chateau de la Ragotterie, the Best Western Le Mans Country Club (pictured) .

The hotel has been frequented by Hollywood 
actress Eva Longoria, and as well as excellent food and drink it offers a fantastic night’s sleep and plenty of grounds to explore.

But there will never be a shortage of things to see and do in the wider area around Le Mans.

One of the popular pastimes is to kayak down the Sarthe river, slowly meandering as it twists and turns through the countryside.

Of course a visit to Le Mans wouldn’t be complete without calling into the motor museum which butts on to the 24-Hour circuit.

It is possible to drive around the circuit in your own car, but for the less brave the museum is a must-see tour through the history of the race.

Le Mans and the wider area has something for all the family to enjoy, whatever their passions and hobbies.

Organise your trip:

The best thing to do is to see tourisme-en-sarthe.com to plan your activities

Getting there:

It’s easiest by ferry, and by far the quickest journey door-to-door is from Portsmouth to Caen, via Brittany Ferries. See brittanyferries.com .

Where to stay:

The four-star Chateau de la Ragotterie, run by Best Western as the Le Mans Country Club, is a must, not least because it is the best place we found to enjoy a sumptuous meal. It is just outside Le Mans, in the countryside of Yvre-l’Eveque. See lemans countryclub.com