I made a flying visit to see my daughter in Le Mans this weekend for her birthday. All I really knew about Le Mans was the 24 hour car race – which my elder brother competed in, his car broke down both times – and that rillettes come from there. At least I presume as they’re called Rillettes du Mans, they do.
The main part of the city is nothing exceptional, it looks quite prosperous, but when the tramway was put in the urban planners also got to work in the way they seem to be so keen on these days, clearing squares, taking out fountains and trees and making huge minimalist open spaces. They’re OK in the summer when the restaurants have all their tables out (providing you don’t mind the lack of shade) but can be horribly lifeless in the winter.
Up on the hill though, there’s an absolute gem, it’s La Cité Plantagenet, the medieval city of Le Mans. There are towns in the Gironde, Bazas and St Macaire for instance, which have parts that are like going back 500 years in a time warp, but medieval Le Mans is an entire town. And one that is seemingly practically unchanged from the days when half-timbered houses was the latest in architectural fashion:
The cobbled streets didn’t suit everyone, we saw a bride gamely staggering along holding her train up and trying to keep her balance in enormously high heels. When we met her again about 10 minutes later she was carrying her shoes.
There are little alleyways to explore with some sometimes surprising things waving at you from the windows;
Lots of the street lights have their shades painted with fantastical creatures;I think it must be something to do with a light show performed through the Cité during the summer and in December which sounds wonderful. I’m already thinking of reasons why I need to visit my daughter then. Some of the street lights also have projectors attached which shine images of dragons and beasties on walls and the cobbles.. It makes taking a post prandial walk after dinner great fun as you turn each corner to find something new.
For me, the highlight of Le Mans is the cathedral. It’s enormous and has wonderful stained glass, the Ascension window which dates from the late 11th century/early 12th is one of the oldest stained glass windows still in its original setting and is curiously modern in some ways. It also has the Virgin’s Chapel and the musician angels which is one of the most enchanting chapels I’ve ever seen.
The vaulted roof of the chapel is decorated with a celestial concert of 47 musician angels, it’s thought they were painted by Jean de Bruges and I’d defy anyone not to be charmed by them.