On the Trail of le Tour de France: 5 Sights to See on the Route
The world’s premier cycling event, the Tour de France, visits some of the most iconic places and landmark locations in France. Like any good advert, the race shows off the best the country has to offer you. The annual bike race runs for three weeks finishing in Paris every year, but if you think watching almost 200 bicycles career through lush countryside or along the cobbled streets of the Champs Elysées isn’t your idea of fun, maybe sampling some of France’s finest attractions along the route is. France is a fantastic destination filled with welcoming Hosts who can transform your travels into a cambio experience you won’t forget.
Along with our handy guide to the host cities of the UEFA European Championships (also held in France), we’ve provided you with some ideas for a French GoCambio trip. Marvel at the wonderful sights and scenery this historic race soaks in!
Located about a mile off the Normandy coast, Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune somehow still home to about 50 people. A mainstay in the history of the race, Mont Saint-Michel more recently was the finish point of Stage 11 in 2013 and home of the Grand Départ (first stage of the Tour de France) in 2016. This remarkable medieval city is preserved beautifully and was previously only accessible at low-tide, but a massive capital investment saw preservation works and a bridge installed, traversing the bay to the mainland. Interestingly, the original site was founded way back in 600 AD by an Irishman of all nationalities! When you visit the town, make sure to visit the gothic style abbey it’s built around. Defined by vaulted ceilings and tall, sharp features that symbolise pointing towards heaven, you will see tower of the abbey miles before you arrive at the beginning of the bridge. You can’t miss all the restaurants, shops and museums inside the walls either during your foray to one of France’s most unique tourist sites, attracting over a million tourists a year.
Situated at the upper end of the Ardèche gorge, Pont d’Arc is a natural limestone bridge that hangs 54m over the river below. The bicycle race roars through the Ardèche region practically every year, passing this landmark in situ. The formation of the bridge is almost as fascinating as the sight itself; the valley you can see now was once an underground river system. After millions of years of erosion, eventually most of the cave imploded and the gorge was formed. Pont d’Arc was the one piece of rock that fortunately didn’t collapse with the rest of the subterranean water system and this majestic natural attraction was born. What would be a better way of spending a hot summer’s day than renting a kayak on site and going under Pont d’Arc with your Host? Be sure to add it to your ‘must see’ list this year.
OK, so this isn’t exactly on the Tour route, but many editions of the bicycle race bypass Poitiers en route to or from Limoges. As the name suggests, this futuristic theme park is an astonishing mix of architecture and the most incredible attractions. A two-time visitor to the park, I can testify it provides a credible alternative to Disneyland Paris if you want to avoid the circus-like crowds the mega theme park has to deal with. This theme park has rides like ‘Dances with Robots,’ where you sit in a harnessed seat on a 23 ft. robotic arm (taken from the car industry) that spins and dances to music; “Arthur, the 4D Experience” uses cutting edge 3D graphics and motion simulation to involve you even more; and my personal favourite “Dynamic Vienne,” seats you in a hydraulic chair in front of a 3,230 ft2 screen. The technology is incredible, from the on-screen hero sticking his head out of a moving train to getting sneezed at – this attraction uses bursts of wind and a splash of water to fully immerse you. And yes, you read that correctly; a 3,230 ft2 screen.
The most famous walled city in France, Carcassonne, has undergone extensive renovations in its long lifetime. Formerly a place of strategic and military importance between the Pyrénées and the Massif Central, it has been in the control of many rulers and empires throughout the years. Step through a portal in time with your Host and walk around the picturesque town practicing conversational language with them, or just try comprehend the sights you’re both viewing. Surrounded by a double-wall with 53 watchtowers in tow, prepare to be mesmerised by magnificent Carcassonne. Renovations that were carried out in the mid-19th century by Parisian architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc were heavily criticized during his lifetime for its neo-gothic style. Neo – meaning revival and gothic being the same style as Mont Saint-Michel, he rebuilt the castle how he imagined it should have been built – not how it originally was. Nowadays, considered a work of genius, go visit the UNESCO World-Heritage Site old town during your next cambio.
What trail of the Tour would be complete without a trip to the Ventoux? Famed for the exploits of courageous cyclists, the mountain has seen crowds of over half a million people ascend to watch cyclists bear blood, sweat and, in one instance, a rider’s life in an attempt to get to the summit. The unforgiving 21.8 kilometre ascent via Bédoin is infamous for its difficulty. French philosopher Roland Barthes said of the mountain: “The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made.” He wasn’t wrong and for any cycling enthusiast, this beast is a must-visit.
The Best Views
The Tour de France is one of the most gruelling sporting events in the world. Amidst all the suffering and pain the cyclists go through, these man-made or natural wonders are to be enjoyed by us, the spectators. If you’re planning a trip to the race, be sure to research the route in advance and choose the best place to watch all the bicycles hurtle by. In my opinion, the best place to go would be up the side of a mountain, where you would get a better view of the cyclists going past at a slower speed – not like the 40km/h plus the peloton whizzes by on flat terrain. Why not get the full experience and make a day of it on Bastille Day, July 14? Every year, enormous crowds come out and support the race with French riders making an extra effort to go for glory on the public holiday.
The finish line is always a good place to soak up the ambience of the Tour with all the teams and media outlets scurrying around for the day, but, wherever you go to watch it with your Host, arrive about four hours in advance. A caravan comprising of hundreds of cars passes along the route beforehand, giving out goodies to people who have made the journey and set up to support this great feat of sporting achievement.
So why wait? Invite a Guest who can help you practice your French and start planning your trip to next year’s’ Tour de France together! Armed with conversational phrases or specialist language, a fun idea would be to make a connection with your Guest or Host and plan to meet at next summer’s edition of the race. Bon chance!
About the Author:
Jerome is an intern copywriter at GoCambio. The UL Journalism student has previous experience working as a freelance journalist, in The Sunday Times and co-hosted a radio show in college. He has just arrived back from 5 months studying in Utrecht, Netherlands, as his friends and family will be sure to tell you. Always wears a watch. Never on time.