2 years, 9 months ago
Best places to visit during Le Tour de France 2015
If there’s a cannier sporting event in the world than Le Tour de France, we’d like to know about it. Not only is France unavoidable for 4 weeks and 1 day with it’s name’s plastered all over the place and streamed and screened 24/7, it also gets to show off its prettiness perpetually in the guise of serious sportsmanship – humble-brag par excellence as they might say in La France if they weren’t too busy admiring their own cleverness.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not undermining the importance of cycling and the wonder of sponsorship freebies for hordes of adoring fans prepared to wait hours in the hot, hot sun for a mere glimpse of the Tour zipping past. Not a bit of it. We’re merely suggesting that, as far as product placement goes, France and Le Tour de France could buy and sell Hollywood and still have time for a delicious buttery croissant and a café crème.
Tradition normally allows another pretty place to get a bit of a look in at the start – last year it was Yorkshire, this year’s it’s Utrecht. Then it’s just France, France, France. And why not? It’s one of the world’s loveliest countries and if it can’t boast a bit for a few weeks every summer, where can?
Most of us catch some of the Tour highlights. If we happen to be in the right bit of France at the right time, we might see a lycra blur and scrabble up some gratis goodies from the caravan. And a stay in a Stage-Town immerses visitors in some pretty fine French partying. Try Tarbes in the Pyrénées this year. It’s gorgeously historic and just small enough to get completely caught up in the excitement.
But, even if you miss the whole thing, don’t know a yellow jersey from a spotty and can’t name a single rider past or present (apart from Lance Armstrong, obviously), the outright winner of every year’s Tour, is the route itself. Here are some of the places you might want to visit when the fuss has died down and everything’s back to just being beautiful for beautiful’s sake.
Apart from the cycling and the canals, don’t ever confuse Utrecht with Amsterdam. The site of this year’s Tour de France Grand Depart is happy to be itself. Plenty of summer love here goes to the wharf cellar bars and restaurants, lit up along the canals in the evening, they’re extraordinary. And if you’re planning on earning your beer, climb to the top of Dom Tower for the view and the exercise. This is another gorgeous, historic Dutch city that’s taken very good care of itself without going full museum, so expect lively and lovely in equal measure.
If you haven’t sorted out your beach for this summer, follow the stage 2 example of the Tour de France and head for Zeeland. It’s the south west coast of Holland near the Belgium border and has more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the country. And if you like big, flawless, crowd-free beaches and plenty of water and wind sports (kite surfers and paragliders love it here) plus dozens of delightful, lesser known Dutch towns and villages to explore, it’s perfect. Just don’t tell everyone. Zeeland isn’t on the standard Amsterdam and tulips holiday check lists – yet.
Vannes sits right on the Golfe de Morbihan, the famously lovely natural harbour on the west coast of Brittany. The islands and islets, stunning views and sheltered waters round about are irresistible for sailing types. And it’s also one of the prettiest medieval walled towns in France – a country with so many it could lose a few and not miss them. Summer festivals with a 15th Century theme is big here. And Vannes is just over an hour from Rennes and Nantes, so it’s a great holiday base for exploring other bits of beautiful Brittany too.
This charming town in the foothills of the Pyrénées is a bit overshadowed by its closeness to Lourdes. But it’s lovely in summer and far less hectic than its near neighbour – unless you’re a pilgrim, leave visiting Lourdes to winter. Climbing, walking, hiking and swimming in the Pyrénées are a 40 minute stunning mountain drive away. World Heritage Cirque de Gavernie for ridge walking and pony trekking is just over an hour. And Pic du Midi with its famous observatory and most accessible, above the clouds Pyrénée an view, is about the same.
Apart from the legendary Champs Elysées’ laps, the biggest Tour de France crowd pleaser is Alpe d’Huez. It’s not the highest climb or the hottest or the toughest, but even the thought of its 21 infamous bends can make a race fanatic tear up. 1000s of non-tour riders tackle this monster every summer as well as making inroads across dozens of other challenging Alpine routes. If you’re keen to see the tour or try some cycling here yourself, Grenoble is just over an hour away from Alpe d’Huez. This spectacular city is ringed by soaring, snow capped mountains and as active in summer as winter. It’s packed with museums and galleries, has a gorgeous mix of contemporary architecture and historic buildings and it’s also the most important scientific R&D centre in France, so there’s no shortage of fantastic restaurants, lively bars, entertainment and amazing shopping.
Thinking of catching the race in person? Watch out for the free stuff, pick somewhere with a party and don’t get in the way of the Peloton (it’s happened). And if you don’t make it, think about touring la France anyway – the country really is the main event whatever anyone says.