The city of Le Mans lies approximately 125 miles to the west of Paris and about 100 miles south of the Normandy coast, which makes it a very easy destination to visit for international race fans. Around a quarter of Le Mans visitors actually come from the UK to the circuit each June and the vast majority of those will choose a car to travel to Le Mans. Travelling by car has two major benefits. The first is social & economic. If you are coming in your own vehicle you can fill it with your friends & they can contribute to the cost of travel. Everyone wins! The second is practical. If you are camping at Le Mans, then you will want to be as self-sufficient as possible, and it is amazing what you can fit in a car when you need to.
When originating from the UK there is a choice of routes for travel to Le Mans. There is no right or wrong way to do this and much will depend on your priorities, such as cost, time and driving distance. The shortest and quickest way across the Channel is to head towards Calais. You can choose either the ferry from Dover or the Eurotunnel from Folkestone. The ferry takes 80 minutes and you get the chance to wander the ship, eat & drink or go shopping. The Eurotunnel takes 35 minutes but you stay in your car the whole time. Both are priced similarly and they both get you to Calais. The route from Calais is an easy drive & can be done on dual carriageways all the way. These are tolled roads that will cost just over €30.00 in total. If your Sat Nav suggests going via Paris, ignore it and look at a map. The simplest route is going to be via driving via Rouen. Expect the driving time from Calais to be around 4½ hours plus any stops that you make.
You can directly compare this with the longer sea crossings out of Portsmouth. You can choose routes to Caen, Le Havre, Cherbourg and St. Malo, but all are operated by Brittany Ferries. In our experience the service is generally good on these ships, which is a good thing as you are generally looking at more than 6 hours on board. You can choose overnight sailings on some of the routes which are popular but remember that any cabins you book will increase your costs. Price is usually the deciding factor when comparing these routes to Calais as they are generally at least 4 times the price of the Calais routes. So why would you choose them? Well if you live near the south coast, then Portsmouth could be your nearest port anyway, but most people will look at the drive times on the French side as the deciding factor. From Caen to travel to Le Mans, the drive time is going to be in the region of 2½ hours to Le Mans, depending on which route you choose and the tolls will be half the price if you choose to use the tolled motorways.
For those living in the North of England or beyond a good option to look at is the route from Hull to Zeebrugge. This is an overnight ferry run by P&O Ferries. Initially this may look like an odd choice for travel to Le Mans, but under closer inspection it often saves time and money. Zeebrugge is just over the border in to Belgium but remains within an hour’s drive of Calais. So not much driving difference from the Calais routes. The big bonus is that by sailing down you have avoided some of the more notorious British roads and driving on the continent is a lot easier with less traffic than the M6, M1 and M25 or M23. As it is an overnight ferry, this may not work for everyone, and cabins will need to be booked, but if you live within a 2 hours’ drive of Hull, then I would be taking this route quite seriously.
Every year. Travel Destinations looks after increasing numbers of people from outside the UK that wish to travel to Le Mans. Le Mans is a truly international event, with significant numbers travelling from the USA, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, South America and elsewhere around Europe. Although many of these people do hire a car and then drive, most will choose to travel by train. Those travelling from the UK can choose the Eurostar train service (not Eurotunnel, they are separate things) that starts at London St. Pancras and finishes in Paris. If you are heading directly to Le Mans, then consider changing at Lille as you can then catch the train straight to Le Mans from there (and it is easier than traversing Paris). If you are arriving in Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport you can also catch this train direct to Le Mans. Alternatively, if you are combining a visit to Le Mans with a visit to Paris, then the fast train (TGV) goes direct to Le Mans from Paris Montparnasse station. Once at the Le Mans station, then the tram to the circuit is right outside the station, with the end of the line at Antares in the centre of the circuit, so that couldn’t be simpler.
Top tips for travelling to Le Mans:
• Think about drive times on both sides of the Channel before booking your crossings
• Maximise the number of people in your vehicle to keep the costs down.
• Think about the economy of your vehicle. Maybe the more expensive crossings will work out cheaper in the long run. Or consider going by train.
Travel Destinations are the largest UK Tour Operator to Le Mans. Travel Destinations are an officially appointed ticket agency for Le Mans and are a fully bonded ABTA and ATOL tour operator.
Visit www.lemansrace.com for more details or call +44 (0)1707 329988.
Written by Richard Webb