Every year since 1903, elite cyclists have gathered to participate in what’s known as the Tour de France. The Tour is one of the longest-running and most famous cycling races. It takes place in multiple stages for almost the entire month of July. The course takes the athletes to almost every corner of France and, in recent years, the race has visited Belgium, England, and even Spain.
The race course changes from year to year, and the 2018 edition of the Tour is no different. While many of the towns athletes will visit during the race are returning favorites, others are brand new to the course. Of course, part of the fun of watching the Tour is seeing all of the amazing landscapes and cute towns the French countryside has to offer!
Catch the Tour on TV, and you’ll likely be inspired to start planning a trip to the Languedoc or the Occitan. These 20 towns feature on the 2018 Tour course, but their attractions go far beyond being a stop on the race. Their charms and attractions are available all year round, so don’t worry if you missed the Tour. There’s plenty to see and do for travelers of all stripes, from cycling enthusiasts to cultural tourists.
20 Head To The Alps In Annecy
The Tour de France always includes at least some riding through the gorgeous Alps. The mountains often present some of the largest challenges of the race, and this is where you can catch most of the real drama. Annecy is sometimes called the Pearl of the French Alps or the Venice of the Alps. It’s about 35 kilometers from Geneva, Switzerland, at the tip of Lake Annecy.
The city is home to around 125,000 people in its urban area. It’s a tourist paradise in both summer and winter, with a film festival and museums for the summer, and skiing in the winter.
19 The Race Started Out On Noirmoutier Island
The 2018 edition of the Tour de France kicked off in the Vendée department, located in northwestern France. The Grand Départ was actually on Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile, a picturesque island in the North Atlantic. The race then headed for Fontenay-le-Comte, nearly 200 kilometers away.
Noirmoutier is home to a castle, the parish church, and several other monuments and landmarks. The island’s history dates back to the late 7th century, with a monastic order that had to defend themselves against Viking attacks.
Today, Noirmoutier is noted for having the world’s most expensive potatoes! Only 100 tons of La Bonnotte potatoes are harvested annually.
18 Pay A Visit To French Basque Country
The 2018 Tour de France course was notable for taking athletes slightly into Spain for the first time in the history of the event. While the course stayed mostly on the French side of the border, it did take the athletes deep into the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains and French Basque country.
Espelette is a picture-perfect example of Basque country. The streets are lined with Basque houses, most of them painted red and white. Espelette is famous for the Piment d’Espelette, dried red peppers that are essential to Basque cooking.
Visit during the last weekend of October and take part in the annual pepper festival!
17 Mouilleron-Saint-Germain Is Idyllic Northwestern France
If you’re hoping to escape the busyness of metropolises and city centers like Paris, consider heading out to a small town like Mouilleron-Saint-Germain. This idyllic town is home to fewer than 2,000 people in the Vendée department. The town certainly has its charms.
For the Tour de France, the gently rolling roads through scenic countryside, dotted with historic windmills, made for a great backdrop as the athletes made their way from point to point. Tourists can find popular hikes along Mill Hill. You can also visit a historic fountain and laundry or the historic houses of some of France’s leaders of the 20th century.
16 This Southwestern Town Had A Famous Pig Festival
If you traveled to Trie-sur-Baise, you might have been going in early August to check out the famous annual pig festival, La Purcailhade. Sadly, the festival hasn’t been hosted since 2011, but summer is still a great time to check out this small town in southwestern France. Trie-sur-Baise started as a royal fortified town, named after a lord of Toulouse. It’s home to the Carmes monastery, which was founded in 1365.
Every year, the town hosts an antiques festival at the end of July, and a local fair around the beginning of August. Night markets are also held in the summer months. In 2018, the Tour de France added another event to the busy summer calendar.
15 This Town In Brittany Is A Historian’s Daydream
A vacation to Brittany may not be high on your bucket list, but it should be after learning about Sarzeau. This town in northwestern France is located on the Rhuys peninsula, between the Gulf of Morbihan and the Atlantic Ocean. As such, it’s home to some scenic beaches.
Sarzeau has been inhabited since Neolithic times, and you can find prehistoric menhirs and dolmens. If you’d prefer something a little more modern, there’s also the 13th-century Chateau de Suscinio, which was fully restored in the late 20th century. Chateau de Kerlevenan has large gardens to explore, while other attractions include the Ile d’Arz and the Tour des Anglais, or English Tower.
14 Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle Is Another Basque Gem
Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is another town in southwestern France worth visiting. It’s a village in the Basque province of Labourd. The village is home to around 5,000 people, scattered across several neighborhoods.
The settlement is located along the banks of the Nivelle River. If you’re interested in Basque culture and language, May is an excellent time to visit. Thousands of people turn out for the Herri Urrats festival, which has been held annually since the 1980s. T
he ocean isn’t far off either, so a seaside holiday may be in order. A theme park, an eco-museum, and the Eglise Saint Pierre round out the attractions.
13 Laruns Is A Pyrenees Dream
The Alps get most of the attention in France, but the Pyrenees, which traverse Spain and southern France, are worth more than a passing glance. The Pyrenees offer up hiking in the summer, along with climbing, cycling, and camping. In the winter, look to the Pyrenees as an alternative to the Alps.
The village of Laruns was one of the top spots to watch Stage 19 of the 2018 Tour de France. Take in the Pic du Midi d’Ossau and the rest of the Ossau Valley. If you’re continuing on your way to Spain, take the mountain pass Col du Pourtalet, 30 kilometers south.
12 This Northern Cathedral Town Is Worth The Visit
Stage 8 of the Tour wrapped up in Amiens, a historic town in northern France. Amiens is perhaps most noted for its cathedral, which is an excellent example of the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages. Amiens is also home to an attractive quay.
During the Tour, the athletes had to travel over 22 kilometers of cobbled roads between Arras and Roubaix. Amiens itself also has historic cobblestone streets, which add to its charm.
If you’re visiting in December, take a trip to the largest Christmas market in France. No matter the time of the year, make sure to sample the local cuisine, including macarons d’Amiens and flamiche aux poireaux.
11 This Town Is On The Tip Of Brittany’s Peninsula
The city of Brest was once a military base. Today, it’s still a busy port, which makes it a little less scenic than other Breton locations on this list. It’s easy to travel to from the UK, so if you’re based in across the channel or are visiting, add this Breton holiday to your itinerary.
Attractions include Oceanopolis, which has 10,000 marine animals, the Musee National de la Marine, the Tour Tanguy, and the Chateau de Brest. If you’re up for a beach holiday, try Blancs Sablons or one of the other beaches along Brittany’s dramatic coastline. If you’re interested in history, take a trip to Carnac, the oldest inhabited settlement in all of Europe.
10 Check Out This Parisian Suburb
Paris is obviously one of the main attractions when you travel to France. The capital city is the most popular tourist destination for travelers. The Tour de France almost always ends at the city’s Champs-Elysees. Before the athletes arrive, however, they’ll travel through Houilles.
Houilles is a community of about 30,000 people in the Ile-de-France area. It’s actually a suburb in northwestern Paris. Houilles is about 14 kilometers from the center of Paris, making it an excellent place for tourists hoping to see the sights of Paris. Travel to downtown and major landmarks, then come back to Houilles at the end of the day.
9 Chartres Is A Famed Cathedral Town
Chartres is home to around 40,000 inhabitants. Its location, not far from Paris, make it an easy day trip to squeeze in to even the busiest itinerary.
Chartres has long been an important city in France, and it’s home to one of the largest 13th century cathedrals, Cathedrale Notre-Dame. The building is a unique mix of the Gothic and Romanesque styles.
A visit to the old quarter showcases more medieval architecture and steep, narrow streets lined with cobblestones. Pretty stone footbridges crisscross the Eure river as it flows through the city. Pay a visit to one of the many museums, such as the Agriculture Museum or the Fine Arts Museum.
8 This Addition To The 2018 Course Has Great Views
One of the staples of the Tour de France is riding through the scenic, yet challenging, Alpine landscapes of southeastern France. This year, one of the 6 mountain stages took athletes from Albertville through Beaufort, Cormet Roselend, and Bourg-Saint-Maurice, before finally reaching La Rosiere peak.
La Rosiere is a popular ski resort. If you love winter sports, you’ll find a great spot in La Rosiere. If hiking is more your style, try the Pralognan or other routes through nearby Vanoise National Park. Take in the Redoute Ruinee, an old border fort, and beautiful views of Les Arcs across the valleys.
7 This Town Is Renowned For Its Textiles
About 50 kilometers south of Nantes, you’ll find the city center of Cholet. Today, Cholet is home to about 55,000 people, but it’s been inhabited since prehistoric times. Megalithic monuments are relatively common, but the town also boasts an old castle, modern public buildings, and churches.
Cholet’s major industry is textile productions, and the linen is world-class. You can visit the textile museum, or look around for vestiges of the town’s military history. Cholet is a great spot for cyclists looking to test their time trial skills, as proven by the fact the Tour has chosen it as a time trial location in 2008 and again in 2018.
6 Quimper Is Picture-Perfect Brittany
A visit to Quimper will satisfy any traveler’s longing for more Breton culture. The 2018 Tour de France stopped off in the city after a hilly, 205-kilometer long ride on July 11. There’s still lots to see in Quimper even though the Tour has already been and gone. The town itself is composed of rows of pastel-hued, half-timbered houses. The Gothic cathedral is another major draw, juxtaposing with the modern simplicity of the houses. Stroll through the old town, enjoy crepes at a creperie, or take a stroll down to the river bank for lunch. Be sure to take home some faience, tin-glazed pottery that’s a specialty in the region.
5 Arras Is A Hotspot For History
Almost any town in France has a long history, and a race like the Tour can’t help but highlight them. is another historical hotspot on the 2018 course. Located in northeastern France, Arras is home to many WWI memorials. The Battle of the Somme and Vimy Ridge memorials aren’t far from here either.
The city itself is famed for its Flemish Baroque architecture, which speaks to the town’s history and heritage. The Grand Place and Heroes Square make prime spots for photography. The Saint-Vaast Abbey, the Cathedral of Arras, and the Vauban Citadel are also worth a visit.
4 Visit A Royal Resting Place In Dreux
You may not have heard of Dreux, a city of around 30,000 people located in Centre-Val de Loire in northern France.
The city was the site of the ancient capital of the Durocassess Celtic tribe, but, despite speculation, the name has nothing to do with the Druids. It was, however, the home of the Counts of Dreux during the Middle Ages. In the 1830s, the chapel was expanded and embellished.
Now known as the Chapelle royale de Dreux, it’s served as a resting place for members of the royal Orleans family since the 1800s. There are several churches and chapels to visit, in addition to an art museum and a castle.
3 Valence Is The Door To Southern France
Welcome to Valence, a scenic Alpine city of around 65,000 people, located just south of Lyon. It’s easily accessible from both Paris and Marseille, and it’s sometimes called the “door to southern France.”
The city is located on the banks of the Rhone River, which forms its scenic backdrop. There are many historical monuments here, including the 13th-century Chateau de Crussol, located on an outcrop. There’s also a cathedral and the Parc Jouvet at the heart of the city. For a more educational experience, check out the Valence Museum. Celebrate spring with the Valence spring festival, or visit during the Winter Extravaganza for some stunning fireworks shows.
2 This Town Might Be The Sportiest French City Of All
This southern French city is part of the Occitan, and the original settlement dates back to around 200 BC. Mende is located between Clermont and Montpellier. Mont Mimat forms the backdrop for its sights. Every other September, you can check out the local brews festival.
Mende has been twice named as the sportiest city in France by a French newspaper. The number of cycling races that pass through Mende certainly make it seem that way. In addition to the Tour de France, the Tour de l’Avenir, the Grand Prix du Midi Libre, the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Tour du Gevaudan also pass through the city.
1 Carcassone Is A Foodie Dream
Carcassone is a town in the Languedoc area of southern France. Although it’s famed for its medieval fortress, which is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site, food-lovers from around the world will find other attractions in this scenic city. There are 3 Michelin-starred restaurants here. Be sure to pair with a vineyard tour to sample some of the best Languedoc wines.
You can visit the castle or take in the view from the Basilica of Saint Nazaire, which represents both the Roman and Gothic architecture styles of the Middle Ages. The Church of St. Vincent and the Carcassonne Cathedral round out the sights.
References: NBCSports.com, TheCultureTrip.com, Mail.co.uk, IrishExaminer.com, L’Equipe.fr