The Belle France Guide to Tour de France Sightseeing
We handpick the highlights of the route
With the Tour de France in full swing, we decided to help spectators make the most of their race experience by compiling a guide to scenic places en route. This summer's Tour started in the Netherlands and finishes up at Paris' Champs Elysees, taking riders through Brittany, Normandy, the Pyrenees, the Alps and more in the intervening stages. Here are our top sightseeing picks if you're following the cyclists on their journey.
Stage 6: Baie de Somme
This UNESCO World Heritage site is located on the Picardy coast and serves as the seasonal home to thousands of migratory birds. Crotoy, the only south-facing resort on the northern coast, is also situated here and proves popular throughout the summer.
Stage 8: Mont St Michel
One of nothern France's best known landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel has served many purposes before it became the tourist attraction of today. Dating back to the sixth century, it has been used both as a monastery and prison in previous years.
Stage 9: Carnac
Carnac holds the Franch equivalent of Stonehenge - a collection of ancient megaliths that were erected more than 6000 years ago. There are several theories about the purpose of the stones, ranging from religious significance to ancient curiosity about astronomy.
10-11: Pyrenees National Park
The stages of the Tour that pass through the Pyrenees are particularly demanding, but pass through captivating scenery. When the crowds have left, take the chance to explore: you may be lucky enough to see marmots or birds of prey.
Stage 12: Château de Montségur
Château de Montségur is something of a legendary ruin, the last of the Cathar strongholds rumoured to hold lost treasure. In 1244, a brutal ten-month siege of the castle led to the demise of the Cathar religion, and today its shell draws visitors from across the globe.
Stage 13: Canal du Midi
Linking Toulouse, capital of the Midi-Pyrénées to the town of Sète on the Mediterranean coast, the Canal du Midi is an impressive feat of 17th century engineering. Construction lasted 15 years, and the waterway became a key means of trading for over a century before serving today's tourists with a delightful setting for a boat cruise.
Stage 14: Cevennes National Park
This sparsely populated area of France provides dramatic scenery for the cyclists and spectators with its rugged landscapes dotted with disused abbeys. It has a wild, timeless feel that is best enjoyed on foot or by bike.
Stage 15: Valence old town
A spot of historical sightseeing is called for when the Tour passes through Valence. A wander through the medieval streets reveals a Roman cathedral and the fabulous Maison de Tetes, a 16th century house decorated with representations of time, fortune, medicine and more.
Stage 19: Aix-les-Baines
Once popular with the wealthy thanks to the healing properties of its waters, this spa town is a place for relaxation, its thermal baths promising revitalisation for weary tourists. Those who prefer something more active will find lots of water sports to enjoy on Lake Bourget.
Stage 21: Versailles
Paris has plenty to offer, but a trip to nearby Versailles is a lesson in royal ostentation. From the famous Hall of Mirrors and the King’s Grand Apartments to the beautiful and extensive gardens, every aspect of the palace elicits wonder. A word of caution though: queues get very long in the summer, so it’s best to arrive early.