Marnie de Vanssay, owner of the beautiful& , gives a wonderful insight into The Plantagenêt City: The Carcassonne of the North, soon to become UNESCO Heritage Site and the surrounding Perche Sarthois Region.
Le Mans may be known for S&S (Sport and Speed) but it ought really to be known for C&C (Culture and Cuisine) and R & R (Rest and Relaxation)
Besides the famed 24 Hours Le Mans race track, the medieval city of Le Mans has yet to be discovered by others than the film makers of such hits as "the Man in the Iron Mask" with Leonardo di Caprio or “The Three Muskateers”. Most historical movies are actually filmed in Le Mans, and it is not infrequently that we run into the filming set in action!
The medieval city of Le Mans was renamed "Plantagenet City" in 2002, as it is the birthplace of Henri II King of England. Richard the Lionhearted's widow lived in Le Mans, where she founded the Cistercian Abbey de L'Epau, equally remarkably restored.
The Plantagenêt City is surrounded by the longest Gallo-roman walls still standing in France, which provides ar remarkable backdrop for the creative light show taking place all over the medieval town in the summer months at nightfall.
The Cathedral St Julien houses the oldest and most magnificient stainglass window of the ascension, dating back to 1160, as well as the XIVth century pure gothic frescoed ceiling of the choir of angels. This cathedral was built upon a former Celtic worship site, and the large obelisk to the Goddess of fertility still stands, leaning against the cathedral wall.
During the summer months, five days a week, a magical sound and light show takes place throughout the old city, from Tuesday till Saturday night included. It begins around 10pm, at sunset, a perfect timing to allow for a gourmet dinner at one of the numerous little restaurants throughout the old city. My favorite one is the “Nez Rouge”, but one must pre reserve, as they have only a few tables. It is located in a lovely XVIth century house. Alternatively, more sophisticated, the “Maison d’Elise” is located right next to the St Julien cathedral.
Many other delicious restaurants can be found, (we are in France after all!) not just in the Plantagenet City, but all through the Perche Sarthois region, at still affordable prices.
The “Poesies Palatines”, near Ecommoy, offer a four course lunch in a romantic setting at under 35 euros pp! A few miles from this restaurant, the romantic garden of "Le Petit Bordeaux" has 4300 different species of trees, plants and flowers, for the pleasure of the most beautiful of walks.
And the “Relais d’Antan”, in the picturesque village of Lavardin, is owned by the chef who earned two Michelin stars for “Le Petit Luc” before he fell in love with one of our local girls and moved near Montoire, 10 years ago. A fabulous menu is still available for under 45 euros. And the “Most English Garden in France” at the Château de Sasnières is just a few miles away, perfect.
Every day of the week, one of the towns in the region has it’s own farmer’s market, the best being Wednesday’s and Sunday’s at the foot of the St Julien cathedral in Le Mans, and Saturday’s in the village square of Montoire. There you will find one of the best Maitre Fromagers of France, Meunier.
But do take a break from gastronomic sightseeing for some cultural highlights : visit the many XIIth to XVth century Romanesque chapels with still well preserved period frescoes, to be discovered in each of the villages surrounding Montoire. The St Gilles chapel in Montoire itself is the oldest, dating back to the XIth century. The time of William the Conqueror…
The local white wine, Jasnières, has been reviewed by gastronomic critique Curnonsky "Three times a century, the best white wine in the world"! and the cellars of the producer Lelais, in Poncé/Ruillé, built into the limestone hillside, offer a perfect place for a tasting.
Renaissance Manor houses, romanesque churches and buccolic scenery abound throughout the region surrounding Le Mans. Here you experience France as it used to be, off the beaten track, still undiscovered, but for how long...as once the UNESCO Heritage Site classification has become official, “maddening crowds” will descend on this still protected region of Western France like locusts.
The stunningor are the perfect places to stay if you're planning a visit to Le Mans.
Alternatively you canthroughout France.
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