Sunday 8 June 2008

Old Town, Le Mans, Pays de la Loire,

Renown for its turbo-charged 24-hour car race, Le Mans is also a hotbed of history. You can reach the elevated heart of the city by crossing the Sarthe river and climbing the steps over the extraordinary Roman city walls with their moasic-style brickwork. Up here is an atmospheric maze of cobbled medieval lanes lined by a mixture of four-storey timber-framed and Renaissance stone houses complete with wrought iron street lamps and balconies. Particularly handsome is the stately and solid cardinal's residence with its elegant and intricately-carved stone turrets. It faces Le Mans' ginormous Cathedrale St-Julien, which was built over several hundred years. The cavernous interior is remarkable for the series of ornate and sometimes beautiful chapels that buttress one end of this hulking cathedral. Despite its age and beauty, the old quarter of Le Mans is quiet and mostly free of tourist tat, opting instead for stylish restaurants and chic boutiques selling art and antiques. 8/10