As we enter the last week of the Tour de France, GoEuro.com – the coach, train and flight comparison site for travel across Europe – has put together a travel guide taking visitors through 18 must-see stops across the country. The route follows the Tour from Cambrai in the north to Alpe d’Huez in the south, without the need to get on a bike.
France is the number 1 tourist destination in the world and the 6th favourite among Australian travellers. Yet most visitors here only experience its capital, Paris. You can see more of this spectacular country by following the world’s third most-watched sporting event, the Tour de France, allowing you to explore well off the beaten track and discover a true French experience.
For the full list please visit: http://www.goeuro.com/
Covering 890.5km from the Belgian boarder to the Atlantic Coast, the Northern leg of Tour de France crosses 6 fascinating regions.
Searing to Cambrai
Journey time: 1 hour and 52 minutes by train from Paris Gare du Nord
Cambrai is known for its numerous UNESCO historical monuments as well as producing its own traditional sweets: les bêtises de Cambrai (roughly translated as ‘nonsense of Cambrai’).
Do not miss: Hidden underground and created in the 16th century as part of the city’s defenses are a series of tunnels that extend 18 metres underground. Guided tours offer an insight into a 7km section of the defense system which was used right up until the 19th century.
Journey time: 1 hour and 55 minutes by car from Searing
Arras to Amiens
Race distance: 190km over lowlands
Arras is known for the Grand Place square where the cobblestone pavements are surrounded by beautiful Flemish-Spanish Baroque style buildings which were almost destroyed in World War I. A must see in Amiens is the Notre-Dame d’Amiens, one of the largest Cathedrals in France and a UNESCO site since 1981.
Do not miss: Based in Péronne, the centre of the Somme Battlefields, Terres de Mémoire offers World War I battlefield tours run by a Great War enthusiast, Sylvestre Bresson.
Journey time: Travel between Gare d’Arras and Gare d’Amiens is 44 minutes by train.
Abbeville to Le Havre
Race distance: 192km over lowlands
This journey along the cliffs of Etretat on the Normandy coast offers one of the most beautiful viewpoints throughout the Tour de France. Visits to the Perret, a living museum built in the 1950s and the hanging gardens of Le Havre are a must, as well as a detour to the nearby capital of Upper Normandy, Rouen.
Do not miss: What better way to view the cliffs than directly from the sea? Fécamp offers intimate “Au Gré des Vents” boat tours which allow visitors a unique perspective of the coastline. The guides are extremely knowledgeable of the area and offer stories and facts relating to the cliffs whilst you enjoy an onboard seafood platter.
Journey time: By train the journey between Gare d’Abbeville and Gare du Havre is 3 hours and 14 minutes.
Livarot to Fougères
Race distance: 191km over lowland
This 191km stage represents classic French cuisine at its finest, being the birthplace to camembert and other culinary delights. Take the opportunity to visit the authentic Graindorge cheese dairy, in operation since 1910, to sample Livarot, the local cheese. No visitor will fail to be impressed by the nearby Château de Fougères (the Castle of Ferns) and its 13 towers.
Do not miss: As a symbol of France, camembert cheese is an integral part of the country’s gastronomic heritage. La Maison du Camembert (The House of Camembert) details the story of the most emblematic of French cheeses through numerous exhibitions and displays. Here you can book yourself into a camembert tasting session and take home one of the cheeses with your own image imprinted onto the wrapper. Complete your visit with a stay in a beautiful AirBnB chateau.
Journey time: Travel between Livarot and Fougeres is 2 hours 15 minutes by car.
Rennes to Mûr-de-Bretagne
Race distance: 182km over hilly terrain
Famed for its historical centre and its delicious savoury crepes, Rennes is a destination to pause and take your time to explore the streets and admire the fronts of the unusual buildings. Pay a visit to the museum of the Beaux-Arts and the Museum of Brittany, whilst finishing your day with a walk through the Thabor park. Once you’ve worked up an appetite try Kouign Amann, a pastry that can only be found in Rennes, before heading to the next town Mûr-de-Bretagne where you can treat yourself to a dessert from their chocolate factory. En route to Mûr-de-Bretagne, make a stop in Moncontour, one of the best preserved fortified cities from the middle ages and officially listed as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”.
Do not miss: For an unusual evening spend a night sleeping on a Breton barge. Dating back to 1931, this fully furnished accommodation close to old Rennes offers an extraordinary stay in the heart of the city. For further information and to book a stay on a barge, please visit AirBnB.
Journey time: The train takes 1 hour 55 minutes from Rennes to Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Vannes to Plumelec
Race distance: Just 28km as part of the team time trial
The town of Vannes, situated behind fortifications in the heart of Morbihan, offers a rich history spanning several centuries. Hop on a boat and experience the charm of the nearby islands Ile aux Moines and Ile d’Arz. A few kilometres further you can explore the largely untouched and wild Belle Ile, Houat, Hoëdic or Groix islands. Finish this leg of the Tour de France by visiting Plumelec before heading south.
Do not miss: The peninsula of Conleau, located just a few minutes away from the centre of Vanne, is the perfect place to recharge and unwind. It is home to an artificial beach with part of the sea closed off to create a swimming pool. Regional and freshly caught oysters are available for an authentic Conleau experience.
Journey time: A short 30 minute bus journey between Vannes and Plumelec.
Crossing the south of France from west to east, the second leg of the tour promises new and exciting attractions. The cyclists begin in the Pyrenees, passing through Provence and continuing to the Alps. Visitors will pass through six regions offering exploration of beautiful and varied scenery.
Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin
Race distance: 167km over mountains
The southern leg of the Tour de France begins in the Hautes-Pyrenees, a region between the ocean and mountains where natural beauty is in abundance. The city of Tarbes is known for its beautiful parks and gardens, and the nearby village of Navarrenz has been listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France. Lastly, stop by La Pierre Saint-Martin to see the cave of La Verna, offering a unique and breath-taking experience.
Do not miss: In the heart of Tarbes, the Massey Garden is a haven of peace. Inside you’ll find remarkably dense flora and fauna, perfectly maintained and visually stunning. You can also see the park’s marble columns, erected throughout the park, the material used to build them having been taken from the Pyrenees. Chill out under the branches of trees that have stood in this area for over a century.
Journey time: Travel between Gare de Tarbes and Arette takes 30 minutes by train followed by 30 minutes by bus.
Pau to Vallée de Saint-Savin
Race distance: 188km over mountains
When exploring Pau stroll along the Boulevard des Pyrénées, offering spectacular views of the mountain range. Those who love hiking should visit the valley of Saint-Savin. As part of the Midi-Pyrénées it reaches a peak of 1,500 metres and offers panoramic views.
Do not miss: For a unique evening in Pau, the same city where the cyclists bed down for a night, treat yourself to a stay at an Le Belvédère apartment. Located in a former hotel built in the 19th Century on Boulevard des Pyrenees, the AirBnB apartment offers stunning 360° views of the surrounding area. For further information and to book this accommodation, please click here.
Journey time: From Gare de Pau to Gare de Cauterets the journey takes 1 hour and 33 minutes by train.
Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille
Race distance: 195km over mountains
The 12th stage of the Tour de France offers several sites of exceptional natural beauty. The region is scattered with caves and grottos containing evidence of habitation during the prehistoric era. Less than 20km from Lannemezan is the cave of Gargas, where unusual cavemen handprints have been discovered on the interior walls. Continue in the direction of Plateau de Beille and you’ll come across the grotto of Niaux, complete with prehistoric cave drawings and one of the only examples of its kind still open to the public.
Do not miss: For a fantastic night in the Pyrenees spend an evening sleeping in a yurt. Decorated in a Mongolian style, yurts offer a unique opportunity to be surrounded by nature. For further information and to book this accommodation check out this AirBnB listing.
Journey time: Between Gare de Lannemezan and Plateau de Beille the train journey takes a scenic route lasting over 3 hours and 10 minutes. Alternatively, a journey by taxi will only take 42 minutes.
Muret to Rodez
Race distance: 199km over lowlands
Rodez offers a Gothic cathedral alongside new contemporary buildings which attract architectural fans from far and wide. The region is the birthplace of famous French personalities, including chefs, which is unsurprising considering the area is well-known for its fine cuisine. Roquefort cheese is made here and the local food markets are famous across France. As well as famous food connections the region is abundant with sports activities. Visitors can enjoy 1,000km of horse riding routes, 2,000km of hiking tracks, 105 mountain bike tracks and many other outdoor activities including kayaking, sailing and canoeing.
Do not miss: This stretch should not be overlooked by foodies who can taste local products on the Dégus’tour guided food tour every Friday, or sample the cooked meats from Aveyron.
Journey time: The journey Gare de Muret and Gare de Rodez takes 2 hours and 58 minutes by train
Rodez to Mende
Race distance: 179km over hills
Since 1981 Mende has been designated as a city of art which is evident in its many beautiful historic buildings and structures. These include the Gothic Notre Dame Bridge, numerous public fountains – two of which are classified as historical monuments – and the historic Cathedral of Saint-Privat, whose dramatic towers are visible from across the city. Although Mende is technically a city, it retains a high level of accessibility with the unspoiled countryside surrounding it.
Do not miss: A few kilometres away from Mende, in the Grand Site des Gorges du Tarn et des Causses, there is an amazing nature reserve that is well worth a visit for views of Gorges du Tarn.
Journey time: The journey between Rodez and Mende takes 1 hour and 50 minutes by car.
Mende to Valence
Race distance: 183km over lowland
The final ascent of Mende, in Isère will lead you to Valence, in Drôme. Between the regions of Vercors and Provence, this city offers a large number of remains from medieval times and from the Renaissance. Check out the Maison des Têtes (House of Heads), a hotel with a sculpted façade in a flamboyant gothic style that once hosted Napoleon as a guest. Back on the tour track, stop off at the village of Jaujac, known for its five castles and fortified houses.
Do not miss: In Jaujac, take some time to admire the most beautiful volcanic rock columns in Europe. The basalt Coulées of Jaujac are as unusual as they are fascinating, with an impressive shape similar to that of organ pipes. The village was built on an ancient lava flow, caused by the last active volcano of the Vivarais, the “Coupe of Jaujac”.
Journey time: Takes 4 hours and 24 minutes by train to travel between Gare de Mende to Gare de Valence-Ville.
Bourg-de-Péage to Gap
Race distance: 201km over lowland
Bourg-de-Péage is famous for inventing and producing the Mossant hat and the Pogne sweet bun. Since the factory closed, hats are no longer in production, but – to the delight of many visitors – the buns are still produced in adequate supply! To burn off those extra calories take a stroll in the nearby Bois de Naix, a beautiful woodland and the second largest urban park in the region. The final stop of this stage is Gap, a city located at the beginning of the Alps. Offering its own beautiful open space, the Domaine de Charance parkland is filled with flora and fauna across 220 hectares. After a day of strolling unwind with a glass of Mollard, the local wine made from regional white grapes.
Do not miss: The Castle of Montmaure, located 6km from Veynes. Each summer the castle opens its doors, offering a rich programme of concerts, exhibitions, entertainment and night visits. Classified as a historical monument since 1988, the structure has witnessed religious wars as well as the French Revolution and was also a key place of the resistance during World War II.
Journey time: The train takes 2 hours and 37 minutes between Gare de Bourg de Peage and Gare de Gap.
Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup
Race distance: 161km over the mountains
Dignes-les-Bains is a city that is symbolic of Provence; the lingering scents of lavender and honey along with the specialty regional truffles, oils and garlic entice and delight visitors. An archeological crypt shows discoveries from 30 years of excavations in the town, including town walls dating back to the first century.
Do not miss: The Lake of Allos, the biggest natural high-altitude lake of Europe, stands at over 2,200 metres high.
Journey time: By bus it will take 1 hour and 32 minutes across a scenic route between Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup. Alternatively, jump in a car for the 13 minute journey.
Gap to Saint-jean-de-Maurienne
Race distance: 187km over mountains
In the Savoie village of Gap various cheeses, including Tomme de Savoie, Reblochon, Beaufort and Bleu Termignon are produced. The unique tastes of each variety are said to be a product of the higher altitudes the cheeses are made in. A historic monument not to be missed is St-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral, containing a convent and a crypt which can be viewed via guided tours. For outdoor activities head to one of the nearby swimming lakes such as Lac Bleu or Plage de Villargondran.
Do not miss: Located in the mountains, the 220 hectares of the Domaine de Charance of Gap offer an exceptional view over the city and its surroundings. You will also find special routes and hiking tracks in order to better explore the biodiversity of the Hautes-Aples.
Journey time: A 4 hour 53 minute journey by train between Gare de Gap and Gare de St-Jean de Maurienne – l’Arvan.
Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire
Race distance: 138km over mountains
This Alpine stage of the tour takes place in the heart of Savoie. Hike through the beautiful open countryside to Lac Titou where visitors enjoy fishing for trout. The nearby mountain peak of the Arves, on the border between Savoie and Hautes-Alpes, attracts daredevil climbers wanting to conquer the three needles at the top. For those who would prefer something a little more grounded, the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption and Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Salette are beautiful places of worship set in the countryside.
Do not miss: Discover the local products in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne via the Visite Guidée Gourmande guided food tour offered by the city. With the help of a local guide you will learn about typical Savoy delicacies including local wine and, of course, the famous Beaufort cheese, among others.
Journey time: It takes just 30 minutes to travel by bus between Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire.
Modane to Alpe d’huez
Race distance: 110km over mountains
Modane is a border town which, since the creation of the Frejus Tunnel, offers easy access to and from Italy. However even before the creation of this throughway, the commune – with its bright coloured houses and iron balconies – already had more than a touch of quaint Italian style. At the nearby Alpe d’Huez you can visit the archeological site of Brandes, the highest medieval village in Europe. Having been the site of a silver mine between 12th – 14th Centuries, the whole village is now classified as a historical monument.
Do not miss: Climb the Pic Blanc Mountain in the Alpe d’Huez. At 3,330 metres, Pic Blanc offers an exceptional panorama of the surrounding area. Additionally, enjoy a breakfast in the hotel at its foothills whilst admiring a spectacular sunrise over the mountains.
Journey time: It will take 1 hour 50 minutes by train and 1 hour by bus between Gare de Modane and Alpe d’huez.
Sèvres to Paris
Race distance: 138km of lowland
Sèvres, which gave its name to the famous Sevres porcelain, is the starting point of this last stage of the tour. On the way to Paris visit the Cité de la céramique in Sèvres, which produces and sells beautiful ceramics. Also, stop by Fort d’Issy, an ecological commune with a focus on new technologies and renewable energy.
Do not miss: There is a three-mile garden on top of a former railway, the Viaduc des Arts, which offers amazing views of Paris. Nestled in the arches below, you can find the Promenade Plantée, a great place for an early morning jog or shopping at the artisan galleries.
Journey time: Just 30 minutes by city transport separates Sèvres and Paris.
For a detailed guide, please visit www.goeuro.com/tourdefrance