2016 Tour de France Holiday Itinerary

Seeing the Tour de France is just as exhausting as riding the Tour. Yes, for those of you who travel the entire Tour from beginning to end, kudos! There’s so much to see and do throughout France that any trip to the country for three weeks would be exhausting. But the Tour is special. It’s constantly moving. It requires patience among the throngs that follow. More so, it requires that choices be made daily. Ah, unending compromise. But not to worry. Explore le Tour is here to help. In an earlier post, I discussed how to approach a trip to the Tour. For some of you, it’s all about the cycling. For others, the Tour is a worthwhile side trip. For yet others, there is a perfect balance to be had. That is how I approach Tour traveling in this detailed itinerary. I have researched each 2016 Tour de France stage and lay out my itinerary recommendations. For me, I have assembled the perfect balance among sites, crowds, and Tour experiences. So let’s jump right in

First thing first – a car is absolutely necessary. If you bring a bike that’s great but let’s be honest – you can’t rely on a bike AND see the Tour too. Since the Tour will spend its first few days in the department of the Manche, we’ll choose the charming seaside town of Granville as our home base for a few nights. With over three weeks on the road though one of my primary goals would be to move around as little as necessary. This not only helps to truly experience a single place but saves some sanity that will sure come with checking in and out of hotels on a regular basis.

In total, our trip (at minimum) is 24 days and 25 nights. We will see 16 (of 21) Tour stages, and stay in 10 different accommodations. Without further delay, let’s start our adventure.

Format:

– Date: Event/Stage – Primary Place for the day (type of TDF stage viewing)

  • (Note: “*” indicates day viewing TDF)

– *Thursday, June 30: Team Presentations – Sainte-Mère-Église and Utah Beach

One of the hallmarks of any Grand Depart is the team presentation. It’s perhaps the only standard “event” that a Tour spectator will be a part of during the Tour’s three-week journey so it’s important to at least witness the spectacle of a tangible crowd seeing their favorite team and riders all in one place. Start your day at the team presentations and stay as long as you like. Then walk the town before heading to the Musée du Débarquement at Utah Beach, 15 kilometers away. The museum is open until 7:00 pm in the summer so there will be plenty of time. (Night in Granville)

– Friday, July 1: Pre-Race Rest-day – Saint-Lo

Between the Team Presentations on Thursday and the Tour start on Saturday, Friday in the Manche presents an opportunity to have your own little rest day. I’m betting that most other Tour spectators will use the day to experience Mont Saint Michel so let’s use this opportunity to get away from the crowds and set out on hoof. We’ll head inland to Saint-Lo where we’ll rent a horse and guide to set out on one of the many nearby trails. I have detailed the perfect day in my earlier post, The Studs of Saint-Lo. Grab a picnic lunch, some local calvados, leave your worries behind and enjoy the Amorican Massif countryside. (Night in Granville)

– *Saturday, July 2: Stage 2 – Mont Saint-Michel (start)

I know, I know – the stage beginning is perhaps the most invaluable part of a stage race. True … and false. Sure, there won’t be much cycling to see, but how can you pass up an opportunity to experience THE start to the entire Tour at such an iconic and historic site as Mont Saint Michel. There will be much activity at the team buses so don’t think it’s going to be a worthless ghost town. But still, once the stage starts, all eyes will be on the sprint to Utah Beach. Use this to your advantage and see the incomparable Mont. The tide will come in early, receding mid-day and then again at 6:20 pm although access should remain viable regardless. Other than watching theTtour start, spend the day at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Night in Granville)

– *Sunday, July 3: Stage 2 – Granville (mid-stage)

With a home base in Granville, this is a day to stay local and experience life along the Cotentin coast. The race will be another grouped peloton the entire stage, at least until the finish into Cherbourg. Stay in Granville and walk the ramparts, see the Christian Dior Museum, one of the other museums in town, and see the old Casino. Once the peloton passes, hop in the car and move on from the Manche. We’ll be driving two hours south to the small town of Craon for the night’s stay at the Chateau de Craon. We’ve “discovered” the residence turned B&B earlier in the year and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to stay in a regal chateau. (Night in Craon)

– *Monday, July 4: Stage 3 – Angers (finish)

Staying in Craon offers unrivaled late 18th century accommodations in a classic chateau and less than an hour to the stage finish in Angers. Enjoy the morning at the Chateau with breakfast and a stroll or run through the gardens, then make your way to wonderful Angers. This too will be a sprint finish so get as close to the line as possible. With the rest of your day, see Angers, the heart of the Loire, and its museums. I recommend the Chateau D’Angers, a National Monument of France. More than just a castle, this is a major museum of the city that as we’ve discovered before, houses the amazing Tapisserie de l’Apocalypse. As the Chateau closes at 6:30 pm, your accommodations that evening will be in the nearby town of Saumur. (Night in Saumur)

– *Tuesday, July 5: Stage 4 – Saumur (start)

If it seems that we’re not seeing much racing, don’t worry. It just so happens that the first few stages of the 2016 Tour offer excellent cultural opportunities closer to the starts. Stage 5 is no different and neither is the Chateau de Saumur. It is a must see. After all, we are in the Loire Valley, a place synonymous with castles. Putting ourselves in a position at the start of Stage 4, we are primed to see the Chateau early, followed by the Stage start and then onto a vineyard or two before hopping in the car for a five hour drive to Salers in the heart of the Massif Central. (Night in Salers)

– *Wednesday, July 6: Stage 5 – Salers and Puy Mary (mid-stage mountain)

Leapfrogging 400 kilometers south once again puts us ahead of the Tour and situated perfectly in the diverse and largely unknown Massif Central. Here we’ll enjoy the surrounds of the historic town of Salers. Known for its cheese, aperitifs, and volcanic architecture, this is the perfect headquarters to see Stage 5. From Salers, it’s 21 kilometers to the top of the 2016 Tour de France’s first categorized climb, the Pas de Peyrol and Puy Mary. Get an early start because this is a day solely meant to see and experience a mountain climb. Bike or drive as far as you can, but the goal here should be the submit of Puy Mary, the Pas de Peyrol. Don’t worry about getting there too early because there’s beautiful hiking from the top filled with breathtaking vistas. Having been on the mountain all day, we’ll stay another night in Salers. (Night in Salers)

– *Thursday July 7: Stage 6: Montauban (finish) and the Pyrenees

Stage 6 promises to be another fast stage. The goal this day will be to get deep into the Pyrenees to set-up for the Tourmalet on Stage 8. With a total of 5.5 hours from Salers to the Tourmalet, July 7 is a wildcard day. See how you feel. We’ve explored some great things to see along the Stage 6 and Stage 7 routes that would be fun points of interest to see along the way. Or take in more of Salers before heading out or stop by Montauban for the sprint finish. Either way, make sure to get into the Pyrenees before dark and check-in. Some great places to check for availability are the hotel atop the Pic du Midi de Bigorre or Les Tipis Indiens and other camp grounds in the picturesque Cirque de Gavarnie. A bike in the high mountains would make it somewhat easier so if you bring one, plan to use it extensively over the next several days. If not, plan to rent a state of the art road bike at nearby Saint-Savin’s Velo Peloton Pyrenees or other bike shops in the area. For 50 euros/day, you’ll feel like riding the mountains like a pro. (Night in Cirque de Gavarnie)

– Friday July 8: Stage 7: Hiking in the Pyrenees

Saturday’s Stage 8 will be spent all day on the incomparable and historic Col de Tourmalet so let’s spend Friday exploring the natural beauty of the Pyrenees National Park. There are lots of trails available near the Tourmalet, not only in the Cirque de Gavarnie area but also on the northern side of the Col. Under the auspicious view of the Pic du Midi, try the nearly 15 kilometer round-trip trek to Lac Bleu. (Night in Cirque de Gavarnie)

– *Saturday July 9: Stage 8 – Col de Tourmalet (mid-stage mountain)

The Col de Tourmalet will be packed for Stage 8. That much is certain. Lucky for us we’re staying close to the climb so we’ll be able to get in and out with relative ease. The Tourmalet is synonymous with the Tour. It is the highest pass in the Pyrenees and was first included in 1910. So many dreams were made and broken on the climb. It’s a piece of history that one must take in on a trip to the Tour. Imagine cyclists like Eugene Christophe making the ascent before the road was paved. In this way, the Tourmalet climb and spectator interaction is history incarnate. (Night in Cirque de Gavarnie)

– Sunday July 10: Stage 9 – Foix (to Carcassonne)

With Stage 9 starting in nearby Spain, we’ll use this day to leave the Pyrenees behind and head to the varied Languedoc. Along the way, we’ll be stopping in the Pyrenean foothills in Foix and Grotte de Niaux. Make your reservations for the cave early because access is limited to this once-in-a lifetime experience. That night, we’ve rented a boat from the Canal du Midi port of Homps in the Minervois region which will be our base for the next four nights. (Night in Canal du Midi west of Homps)

– Monday July 11: Rest Day – Canal du Midi

Today is your first full day on the relaxing and historic Canal du Midi. It’s about four hours cruising from Homps to Carcassonne so the day is filled with sunbathing, wine tasting, and simply relaxing. Keep your eyes open for an ideal place to stop on the way back to catch the peloton as they cross over and ride along the Canal on Stage 12. For now, there’s plenty of time to take it easy. Make sure to stop along the way to gather fresh vegetables, meat, and of course wine for the night’s dinner. Eating outside on the boat’s deck is a slice of heaven. What a romantic way to spend your Tour de France. Did you ever expect to be having THIS experience on your Tour de France holiday? I suspect not … and that’s the point. You’re welcome. (Night in Canal du Midi east of Carcassonne)

– Tuesday July 12: Stage 10 – Carcassonne

With our mid-way point on our mini-cruise, we’ll be as far as Carcassonne. The Canal du Midi is less than two kilometers from the UNESCO World Heritage Cite de Carcassonne. Leave the boat behind and venture over to this amazingly preserved castle city. It will blow your mind. When done, check out some of “new” Carcassonne or turn your boat around and head back. (Night in Canal du Midi near Carcassonne)

– *Wednesday July 13: Stage 11 – Canal du Midi (mid-stage)

Motor back towards Homps where we’ll continue barging the canal. Use this opportunity to enjoy more sunbathing, relaxation, and seeing the Languedoc countryside. Time your return carefully. The Tour crisscrosses the Canal numerous times, all the way to Béziers, which is much further than you’ll be going. Nevertheless, this marvel of the modern world offers a unique way to see the Tour. Find a good place to pull over around La Redorte, or in Homps itself, to see the peloton pedal by from the luxury of your deck. (Night in Canal du Midi near La Redorte)

– *Thursday July 14: Stage 12 – Nîmes (mid-stage)

After returning the boat early, it’s time to hit the road. Tonight’s stay will be in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (along the Stage 13 ITT route). Lucky for us, the three hour drive takes us through Nîmes two hours into the trip. This is where we’ll stay for the day to see the peloton pass by along Stage 12. Nîmes is a historic Roman city with lots to see. Make sure to check-out the Roman arena and Temple of Diana adjacent to the modern Norman Foster standard Maison Carree. (Night in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc)

– *Friday July 15: Stage 13 (ITT) –Gorges de l’Ardeche (mid-stage)

Once again, we’ll see the Tour on Stage 13 mid-stage. It’s an individual time trial, however, so there’s no bad place to see the riders parade by one by one. This ITT takes place in a unique environment along the rim of the Gorges de l’Ardeche. Naturally, the Gorges also offer plenty of hairy turns, which will slow each rider down for us to catch a good glimpse and cheer them on. My pick along the route would be near the Pont d’Arc. With spectacular views and a strategic turn in the course, how can you go wrong? This definitely will be a Tour experience not to forget. Bring your camera for sure. After the stage ends, head to the finish to see the new museum, the Caverne Pont d’Arc, dedicated to the local prehistoric cave paintings near your perch earlier in the day at Chauvet Cave. Once the day is done, head straight for Lyon, two and a half hours north. (Night in Lyon)

– *Saturday July 16: Stage 14 – Lyon (mid-stage)

I hope you’re hungry because today we eat our way through Lyon. This gastronomic city is filled with spectacular lights and smells. Seriously, take a walking tour while waiting for the peloton to pass through while sampling some wonderful dishes is a perfect way to pass the time. At night, treat yourself to a high-end dinner at one of the city’s many Michelin-star restaurants or quintessential bouchons. (Night in Lyon)

– *Sunday July 17: Stage 15 – Le Grand Colombier (mid-stage mountain)

From Lyon, it’s only an hour and a half to Culoz and le Grand Colombier so it’s into the mountains where we’ll be for the rest of the Tour until Paris. Unfortunately, this means that we’ll miss the historically charming Swiss capital of Bern. I’ll be just as happy to explore the French Alps. Like the Tourmalet, expect that the Grand Colombier will be packed. It’s not a mountain finish, but they basically do it twice (although the difference between the top of the Colombier and the Lacets du Grand Colombier is over 8 kilometers (~5 miles) so it’s not realistic to do both). After you get off the Colombier, drive two hours, from the Jura Mountains into the heart of the Alps and into Megève. (Night in Megève)

– Monday July 18: Stage 16 – Chamonix

We’ll be skipping Stage 16 and using this day as one of two to explore the French Alps. Today, head to the resort town of Chamonix. It’s less than an hour from Megève and it’s a wonderful place to feel the majesty of the Alps. Stroll along its charming streets, browse its shops, and try the sweets. The highlight of the day will be ascending the Aiguille du Midi for spectacular views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Valley. Depending on your time, ability, and desire, you can hike up part of the way or take the teleferique to the precipitous observation station at the tip top. You’ll be amazed how cold it is although in July it is manageable in summer attire. Care to step into Italy? Take the Vallée Blanche Cable Car that spans five kilometers to Pointe Helbroner. (Night in Megève)

– Tuesday July 19: Rest Day – Megève

Use this “rest day” to see Megève and the surrounding countryside. Relatively speaking, the modern town of Megève really “developed” in the early 20th century as an upscale ski resort. Nevertheless, it has a colorful charm and history that dates back to Roman times. There are guided tours of its historic village center, numerous 17th century chapels, plenty of art galleries, and excellent hiking. There’s definitely enough to do. If you are up for a little more of an adventure, ride your bike down the mountain to Sallanches (or rent one) and try your luck at the time trial course. (Night in Megève)

– *Wednesday July 20: Stage 17 – Lac d’Emosson (mountain finish)

If there’s a day that could make or break the Tour, my money is on Stage 17 and the mountain finish at Lac d’Emosson. From Megève, it’s just over an hour and the crowds will waiting. Nothing else is planned that day, so get there early and make it as far as you can up the mountain. From bottom to top, the climb is just over 11 kilometers (7 miles). Along the way, the tiny village of Finhaut awaits before arriving at the dam. Here, the views are to die for and the finish will be memorable, if only for the surreal backdrop. (Night in Megève)

– *Thursday July 21: Stage 18 (ITT) – Megève (finish)

There won’t be much traveling today as we are staying in Megève and putting ourselves in a position to watch the riders finish their nearly thirteen kilometer individual time trial, nearly all up-hill. Once the day’s activities have concluded, enjoy more of Megève or take a hike in the surrounding hills if you havn’t done so already. Why not hike to the Roman milestone at the Col de Jaillet? (Night in Megève)

– *Friday July 22: Stage 19 – Col de Forclaz de Montmin (mid-stage mountain)

Another glorious day in the Alps. Stage 19 goes right through Megève, but today we are headed to a mid-stage mountain, the Col de Forclaz de Montmin. As the first categorized climb on the day, history will not be made here. And that’s ok. It provides a good opportunity to see the Tour up close and personal without the crowds but overlooking Lac d’Annecy. Just as important, is nearby Annecy and Talloires. If you can, stop for lunch at the picturesque Auberge du Pere Bise in Talloires for wonderful food on the lake. After the Tour, drive the twenty kilometers to the medieval town of Annecy. Filled with little canals and picturesque pedestrian bridges, your senses, not to mention camera, will be working overtime. It’s hard to avoid the touristy restaurants, but I’ve found that those on the Rue de I’ile were not so cliché. I have my heart set on fondue in this Alpine setting. (Night in Megève)

– Saturday July 23: Stage 20 – Drive Megève to Paris

With Sunday finishing on the grand boulevard of the Champs Elysees, we have to use this as a travel day. From Megève, it’s a good 6 hour trip to the city of light. With that said, you don’t have to rush. Either stick around for the Stage 20 depart in Megève or leave earlier and plan to see a site or two along the way. The choice is yours. Me? I’d scram and be sure to sip on some Burgundy on the way, getting to Paris with enough time to walk the city streets as it gets dusk. (Night in Paris)

– *Sunday July 24: Stage 21 – Paris’ Champs Elysees

Today is the day. The final stage of the Tour de France and you are in Paris! Your journey is coming to a close. Believe it or not, but I have found that Paris will not be as crowded as you may have expected. Sure, it will be crowded, BUT Paris is always crowded in the summer. The Tour doesn’t seem to generate the same mind-blowing frantic crowd as other sporting events, at least from my experience. Perhaps because it is spread out across so many kilometers? Maybe because transportation makes it manageable for many foreigners to come and go instead of staying the night? Whatever the reason, I like it. During my trip, I have stayed at the Hotel Bonaparte in the Saint-Germain District, which stays quaint and yet is walk-able to everything. Get up early and go for a run. This is one of my favorite things to do on vacation anyway, but here, as long as you are early enough (maybe before 9:00) you will have the whole of the Champs Elysees to yourself! After that, you have lots of time to relax, take in Luxembourg Gardens and Saint-Sulpice before grabbing a picnic (a must on the Champs) and heading to the Tuileries to stake out your spot. Personally, I liked kitty-corner to Norwegian Corner. The turn, in combination with the slight hill out of the Louvre forces the peloton to slow down. The crowds will come so just enjoy the scene and revel in the spectacle of being on the Champs Elysees for the Tour de France. Bonjour! (Night in Paris)

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