If there is ever one continent in the world where you should plan a road trip in, it’s Europe. North America is great, but the history, cultures and road network in Europe is much more refined, making it easier and giving you a lot more options. France is the picturesque destination that many people around the world want to visit, because it is the one nation that epitomises Europe itself. It’s incredibly beautiful, has a long history of multiple kingdoms, the food is absolutely sublime and the countryside is beyond reproach. Le Mans is a city in the north-west of the country that is little known by foreigners. Yes, it’s where the famous race is held annually but it’s more than just a race track. This city is the capital for the province of Maine and despite only having a population of around 150,000 it has earned it’s right to be so. In the Middles Ages, Maine was one of the provinces that would be poised to be attacked by English soldiers after they landed in Normandy and swept through into the heart of the country. Therefore, you’ll find many small forts and old stone bridges, as well as cathedrals from that era, still standing.
The ride itself
First off you and your friends need a ride. Although the public transport in the city is good, with trams and buses ferrying the locals around, you really should attain total freedom and just get a euro car hire. Money experts have surmised that you would at least save up to 15% if you were to go with this company and not pay overly obscene prices with other companies. Thankfully, the cars you have as options aren’t just the runt of the litter, large manufacturers supply them with cars so you can get anything from a small Ford or a Mercedes saloon. Make sure that you have enough room for everyone to travel comfortably, as if you are going to road trip, don’t cram into a tiny car that can barely hold everyone. That’s a surefire way to have some grumpy passengers.
Holy historical architecture
France has had a large Catholic population for a long time, which is why it played such an important role in the Middle Ages. England had just rejected the Catholic religion and the Pope in Rome trusted that France would be the buffer and base of operations for any invasion to and fro. The Saint Julien Cathedral is on Avenue de Paderborn which is right in the heart of the city. You can drive in using the long dual carriageway of Rue des Maillets which is connected to the D313 highway on the east side of the city. The architecture is incredibly beautiful, and it’s mainly from the 14th-century. The gothic-style is teamed with the Roman-Catholic architecture i.e. Romanesque. The wide and tall tower merges into the nave where the majority of the prayer takes place. If you love to learn about history and how small parts of a larger nation were formed and maintained, visit Saint Julien Cathedral.
Speed demon haven
By the name of the city you can probably already tell what it’s most famous for. The Le Mans 24-hour race is held barely just outside the city at the La Sarthe track. There’s so much history in this part of France regarding racing but also, everything that comes along with it. The engineering of some of the top cars from the nation’s biggest manufacturers has all been tested here for handling, speed and reliability. The 24-hour Le Mans Museum is a speed demon haven. Although the track is further south, the museum is inside the city centre just a little south of the cathedral. Some of the cars featured here have a top speed of over 250 mph, which they were intended to keep achieving for 24-hours in the late 1980s.
Drive back into the city at the end of the night, to La Vieille Porte for some hearty rustic French cuisine. Situated in a stone building, this relaxing restaurant has some great dishes for someone who wants to end the day on a lighter note. You have the option of lean meat with heavy sauce, or you can have a roast chicken with a fresh salad. The bread is fantastic, served with butter or even liver pate.
Le Mans is more than a city that roars to life with thousands of horsepower every year for once a day. It’s got a history of upholding the faith, marvellous architecture that really paid attention to detail. It celebrates the role it has and continues to play in the French automotive industry.
Thanks to its size, it’s not too big or too small, ripe for a road trip with friends.