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What to see in Le Mans: Nights of fantasy

Throughout July and August, when dusk creeps into the streets and squares of the fortified Plantagenet town of Le Mans, it brings with it a truly magical spectacle of light, colour and sound.

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The historic town of Le Mans in the French region of Pays de la Loire invites you on an extraordinary journey back in time, a journey to be savoured and enjoyed with all your senses. Stroll though the landscape of a waking dream as light and colour paint the ancient buildings and choirs of angels play celestial music from the cathedral facade. Medieval myths, tales of kings and queens, princes and princesses, battles and romances all come alive each evening from Tuesday through Saturday when the towns most important buildings are lit with special effects that project richly-coloured images from history and legend to the delight of the townsfolk and visitors alike.

The locals call it la nuit des chimeres – literally the night of the chimeras – named for the mythical beast whose name has become synonymous with fantasy and the unattainable. The mysteries of Le Mans await you, and your guides through the town's cobbled streets are creatures of fantasy, gargoyles and beasts from legend and heraldry.

The Roman wall – one of the best preserved in Europe – the Cathedral of Saint-Julian, and other landmark buildings are bathed in light giving the effect of multi-coloured stained glass images. Not only do the cathedral angels come to life and give a concert, but Queen Berengaria, the deserted wife of Richard the Lionheart, takes a turn around the courtyard of the museum that bears her name, while the whole dynasty of the Plantagenets enjoy a banquet in front of the Conservatory.

The almost perfect preservation of the historical centre of Le Mans has made it popular as a film location and it has appeared in blockbusters such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu, The Man in the Iron Mask with Leonardo DiCaprio, the 2007 film Moliere, and, of course, a host of film and TV series that feature the eponymous motor race.

The fine architectural monuments of Le Mans make it a marvellous destination at any time, but in the summer, these Nights of Fantasy put 1,600 years of architecture in a different light as the whole of the old town gives itself up to beauty and fantasy and the evenings are truly magical.

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