A walk through the Tour de France

The 95th Tour de France starts July 5. This year the tour will begin in Brittany where the tour has started six times before. Choosing the route, which alters every year, begins three years in advance and must take several factors into account:

  • International regulations: Rules stipulate that the course not exceed 3,500 kilometers spread over 21 days with two days of compulsory rest. Also, the individual stages can only exceed 225 kilometers twice.
  • Balance: The first week should include several flat stages before the riders take on the high mountain stages in the Alps and Pyrenees and two days need to be reserved for time trials.
  • Equity: The race should pass through as many the regions of France as is possible. So far, the only area that has never hosted the Tour is the island of Corsica.

Here’s a look at the towns on the this year’s tour.

Brest to Plumelec
Situated on a Roman site along the River Penfield, the Germans turned this port city into a submarine base during World War II. The city was under siege for six weeks after the Allied Landing and all but three of its buildings were destroyed before the Germans gave up. Compensation payments from the West German government helped rebuild the town, which is now a major port with two harbors: one for naval shipping and the second for commercial shipping. Brest is home to Océanopolis, a marine park.

Auray to Saint-Brieuc
St Goustan by day.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Tc7

Auray is best known for the medieval harbor of Saint-Goustan, a stretch of 15th and 16th Century buildings along the River Loch. Auray was the site of a 1364 battle of the Hundred Years War between Jean de Montfort and Charles de Blois.

Saint-Brieuc is named after St. Briocus, a Welsh monk, who established an oratory there in the 6th century. It is situated between the ravines of the Gouët River and its tributary the Gouëdic, near Saint-Brieuc Bay on the English Channel. A major fishing center, the city is the capital of the Côtes-d’Armor region of Brittany.

Saint-Malo to Nantes

Another city named after a Welsh monk, this one called Mac Low who came to the area in the 6th Century. France’s largest marina is known as the Corsair City after the French privateers who wreaked havoc on British shipping during the 18th Century. Jacques Cartier, who discovered Canada, lived in and sailed from Saint-Malo.

Nantes, the sixth-largest city in France, is situated at the junction of the Loire, Erdre and Sèvre rivers. During the 18th Century, Nantes was France’s busiest port thanks to its role in the slave trade. Nantes, which has been occupied since Roman times, was named France’s greenest city in 2003.

Cholet to Châteauroux

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stéfan
Cholet, on the right bank of the River Moine Pays de Loire district, is famous for its Japanese gardens– the largest in Europe, which were established between 1899-1913.

The region is also infamous for its association with Bluebeard, whose castle Chateau Tiffauges is located here. Gilles de Rais was a 15th Century nobleman who fought with Joan of Arc; he also kidnapped, tortured and murdered hundreds of young boys. The château ruins cover seven acres within defensive walls.

Chataeuroux is the birthplace of actor Gérard Depardieu. The city takes its name from a castle built in the 10th Century by Raoul, prince of Déols.

Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy
Super Besse 26-07-2004
Creative Commons License photo credit: Panoramas

Fifty kilometers from Chataeuroux is Aigurande, the next stop on the tour. Aigurande has a population of fewer than 2,000. The town’s historic buildings and cobblestone streets are very well preserved.

Super-Besse, a ski resort located between 1.350 and 1,850 meters altitude in the Sancy mountains,
boasts 45 kilometers of ski slopes.

Brioude to Aurillac

Brioude, located on the banks of the Allier river is renowned for its 12th Century Romanesque church, the Basilica of St. Julien. The church contains the tomb of St. Julien and has been a sacred spot since the 4th Century.

Aurillac, the umbrella capital of France, is the provincial capital of the Cantal. The town lies on the west side of the Monts du Cantal range.

Figeac to Toulouse

The town center of Figeac doesn’t look much different from the way it did in the 13th Century. Figeac has been a settled community since the 9th Century when it was a way station for pilgrims. Later in the Middle Ages it became an important trading center. Figeac is also the birthplace of Jean-François Champollion, the man who deciphered the Rosetta Stone.

Known as La Ville Rose for the color of the bricks on its ancient facades, Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city. The city, which has been occupied for 2,000 years, was an important outpost of the Roman Empire and later served as capitol of the Visigoths. Toulouse was central to the development of the troubadours, the medieval poet-musicians who are credited with inventing modern European literature and giving us the concepts of chivalry and courtly love.

While the cyclists won’t have much time to look around, visitors to the city should really take the time to see some of Toulouse’s important monuments.

  • Basilique St-Sernin: Charlemagne himself donated relics to this Romanesque church, considered to be the biggest in the western world.
  • Le Cloitre des Jacobims: Founded in the XIIIth and XIVth centuries, this complex of brick buildings is a fine example of Languedoc Gothic art.
  • Saint-Etienne Cathedral: A mishmash of architectural styles spanning the 500 plus years it took to build
  • The Capitole: A neoclassical masterpiece of pink brick with pink marble columns.

Toulouse to Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Bagnères-de-Bigorre, located near the Spanish border in the Haute-Pyrénées, is home to a hot spring where the wealthy have gone to take the waters since Roman times. The area lost some of its luster after World War II, but a luxury spa that opened in 2003 continues the tradition of pampering that the town is known for.

Situated within the Pyrenees national park, Bagnères-de-Bigorre is a great place for sports and outdoor activities. There’s excellent skiing nearby in the winter. White water sports, hiking trails and golf courses are available for the rest of the year.

Pau to Hautacam

Located less than an hour’s drive from the Spanish border, Pau has hosted the tour 61 times before this year. The City of a Thousand Palm Trees is famous for its Boulevard des Pyrénées, a grand avenue through the center of town with buildings on one side and a spectacular view of the Pyrénées on the other. In the 19th Century, Pau became a magnet for British tourists who were responsible for the creating continental Europe’s first golf course in the area in 1860.

Hautacam is a ski resort near the thermal spa of Argeles Gazost.

Lannemezan to Foix

Best known for its three-towered castle, which sits on a crag overlooking the medieval town, Foix has been occupied since Roman times. The village also contains the 2th Century Church of St. Volusien and a number of hal-timbered 16th Century buildings. Lannemezan is a small market town nestled on a plateau in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Lavelanet to Narbonne


Creative Commons License photo credit: Joel Mann

Situated in Cathar country at the foot of Montsegur castle, Lavelanet stands alongside the Touyre river, where the three valleys meet. It’s a small village whose primary industry is cloth making.

Narbonne was built by the Romans as a trading post along the newly constructed Via Dolmitia, making it the first Roman city outside of Italy. Narbo, as the Roman called it, grew to become the capital of the Roman province of Narbonensis and one of the most important cities in Gaul.

The St. Just and St. Pasteur Cathedral, known also as the Narbonne Cathedral, is one of the city’s most interesting sites. Although the first stone was laid in 1272, the building remains unfinished–partly because town fathers refused to tear down part of the town’s wall to finish the project.

Narbonne was a center of Jewish learning in the 11th and 12 centuries, principally for is contribution to the study of Kaballah. Jews had been living in Narbonne since the 5th Century.

Nîmes to Digne-les-Bains
Arena de Nimes
Creative Commons License photo credit: Fr Antunes

The focal point of the city is its 1st-Century Roman arena, known as Les Arènes. One of the world’s best-preserved Roman arenas, Les Arènes can seat 20,000. These days spectators head to the arena for the bullfights. Nîmes is the biggest European bullfighting scene outside Spain.

Nimes is also home to the Jardin de la Fontaine, France’s first public garden, which was created in 1750.

Digne-les-Bains is the capital of the lavender trade in Provence. The town’s eight hot springs have been drawing visitors since Roman times; they were mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. The waters are supposed to be good for respiratory problems.

Embrun to Prato Nevoso

Embrun sits on a cliff overlooking the Durance River. A popular spot for outdoor sports enthusiasts, the town’s nickname is “Little Nice of the Alps.” The Italian ski resort of Prato Nevoso will be appearing on the tour for the first time this year, though it has served as a stage for the Giro d’Italia, the second most important stage race in the world.

Cuneo to Jausiers

Cuneo, in Italy’s Piedmont, is located at the foot of the Maritime Alps on the Stura di Demonte river.

The smallest town to hold a Tour de France stage finish, Jausiers in the Ubaye Valley is famous as the birthplace of the Arnaud brothers who founded the town of Arnaudville in Louisiana and later emigrated to Mexico. The brothers became rich in the Americas and their success attracted friends and family from the valley to join them. Many of the emigrants returned to valley and built lavish homes here that became known as the Mexican villas.

L’Alpe-d’Huez

A ski resort, L’Alpe-d’Huez has hosted a stage of the tour 25 times since 1952. It’s the home of tour’s most famous climb, an ascent featuring 21 hairpin turns that’s also known as the Dutch Mountain because a rider from the Netherlands won eight of the stage’s first 14 finishes.

Bourg-d’Oisans to Saint-Étienne

A vast plain surrounded by sharp cliffs, Bourg-d’Oisans is the main entrance to the wild nature preserve of Ecrins National Park. A cycling mecca, the town sits at the base of the road to Alpe d’Huez,. Tourists wishing to tackle the mountain can ride to the top where the tourist office offers a certificate of official completion.

A center for the arms industry in the 16th Century, Saint-Étienne is a coal mining center and the one-time capitol of the French bicycle industry. The Church of Saint-Pierre of Firminy, the last project of modernist architect Le Corbusier is located nearby. The church was completed in 2006, 41 years after his death.

Roanne to Montluço

Roanne is famous worldwide thanks to its star chefs, the Troisgros family whose restaurant Troisgros earned three Michelin stars. Roanne is also a major mechanical engineering center, where the Leclerc tank was made.

A walk through Montluçon is like a walk back through time. The chateau of the Dukes of Bourbon towers over the medieval city which consists of steep, narrow, streets, 15th and 16th century buildings and numerous fountains. Yet that’s only part of this city’s story. The other side of town houses the city’s rubber and metal processing industries and its mechanical and electrical components factories, which make Montluçon the Auvergne’s second largest industrial center.

Cérilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond

Cerilly is notable for its castle and it 11th Century Romanesque church, which is dedicated to Saint Martin. The church is famous for its bell-tower and a 17th century entombment.

Saint-Amand-Montrond comprises three medieval cities: Saint Armand le Chastel, Montrond and Saint Armand sous Montrond. Gold and printing are the city’s major industries.

Étampes to Paris

A satellite of Paris, Étampes came into existence in the 7th century. It’s known as “Little Venice” because of the many rivers that flow through it. The town has 26 buildings of historic importance including the Tour Guinette, a ruined keep built by Louis VI in the 12th century; Notre-Dame du Fort, which dates from the 11th and 12th centuries; and the 16th Century St Martin with its leaning tower.

Tour de France - Rue de Rivoli
Creative Commons License photo credit: phillipo

Paris needs no introduction. Here, the riders enter the Champs-Élysées riding up the Rue de Rivoli, on to the Place de La Concorde and then take a right onto the Champs-Élysées. Riders head up toward the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, round the Tuilerries and the Louvre across the Place de La Concorde back onto the Champs-Élysées.

The tour moved its finish to Paris’ Champs Elysees in 1975 and it has finished there every year since.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Brother G

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