The 2016 Tour de France kicked off on October 20. By now, we all know the talking points: 3,519 kilometers, 2 individual time trials, 4 summit finishes, and Ventoux on Bastille Day. What this ultimately means for those not riding the Tour is that we will see four countries, 11 Regions, and 18 Departments. While more of an appetizer for the cyclists, the Tour presentation begins Explore le Tour and fellow travelers’ salivation at the remarkable route sights, sounds, and tastes that will be experienced for a majority of the month of July. Some will see these in person while others will experience them via a high-definition front-row seat at home. Regardless, the spectacle and views promise to be magnifique. With nearly a week to look at the course, here’s Explore le Tour’s initial top eight sights of the 2016 Tour de France. Let’s see if it holds up as the Tour progresses.
8. Stage 5: Limoges to Le Lioran
From east to west, Le Lioran is smack dead in the middle of France. It’s also a major ski resort in the Massif Central. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it. Likely not because this region is often overlooked for the more established and higher Pyrenees and Alps. That’s exactly why I am excited for the Tour to be visiting this part of France. I want to see how it compares to its more famous siblings. What does it look like? What is the local culture? As Graham Robb realizes in his book The Discovery of France, some of these inland areas were not even fully discovered until the twentieth century. It also doesn’t hurt that Georges Pompidou is a favorite local son. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
7. Stage 12: Montpellier to Mont Ventoux
Surely Mont Ventoux is a pivotal and strategic stage for this year’s maillot jaune. But what I like about the Giant of Provence is just that … the journey through this spectacular Region of France. This stage offers a complete view of what Provence is all about. Starting at the Mediterranean, the peloton heads inland, passing incomparable Roman ruins like the Pont du Gard, Arles, and Nimes. Avignon offers the classic medieval city experience, and then there’s the wine – my favorite being the small appellation Chatenuef du Pape. Provence always seems to offer it all. July will be sweltering, but I’ll suffer.
6. Stage 19: Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc
This stage is all about Mont Blanc. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe and forms the border with Italy. Until you’ve been, especially in summer, the experience is incomprehensible. Best viewed from Aiguille du Midi at an elevation of 3,842 meters (12,605 ft), the temperatures even in summer are near freezing. Even the cable car trip itself, the highest vertical cable car ascent in the world, is an experience in itself. This stage will surely offer spectacular views of Mont Blanc and its many sides, both French and Italian. I could go for a warm espresso and biscotti just thinking of it.
5. Stage 16: Moirans-en-Montagne to Berne
Any time the Tour de France makes a detour into another country, it’s a special occurrence. While not being the highlight abroad experience of the 2016 Tour, the foray into Switzerland and the country’s capital makes it into the top 5. From the French Alps, the peloton and cameras will split Lake Geneva and Lake Neuchâtel as they delve deep into Switzerland. The river Aare snakes in and around the Old City, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Together, the natural and built world makes for a picturesque tribute to this lasting medieval development. Today, Berne is known for its excellent quality of life and complementary architecture. I can’t wait to learn more.
4. Stage 21: Chantilly to Paris
As always, the last stage of the Tour de France is the shortest true stage at 113 kilometers. And while the emphasis is always placed on the finish on the Champs-Élysées for good reason, the start to the stage has offered a tempting alternative to the madness of the finish line in past years. This year will be no different for Chantilly. There’s Chantilly lace, Chantilly cream, and of course Chateau de Chantilly. It is a name synonymous with opulence and the chateau is at the center of this rationale. It is, of course, a world famous day-trip from Paris that perhaps rivals Versailles for idyllic scenery thanks to the style, gardens, and water features. The views from the sky as the helicopter flies overhead will be the best way to views this national treasure so make sure to watch Stage 21 from the beginning regardless of who is wearing the Yellow Jersey.
3. Stage 9: Vielha Val d'Aran to Andorre Arcalis
Stage 9 is the only Stage to be fully outside France and there is no better place to experience so many varying cultures as in the slopes of the Pyrenees mountains. The principality of Andorra is a landlocked mountain microstate and sixth smallest nation in Europe. Culturally, it shares pieces from France and Spain, which means discovering this country and the route to get there will be a true eye-opening experience.
2. Stage 11: Carcassonne to Montpellier
Carcassonne is a dream. It is THE complete fortified city even more so than our next pick. In the south of France, Carcassonne is in fact a living city of 47,000 residents, part of which is contained within the UNESCO World Heritage Site Cité de Carcassonne. The Cité, or original inhabitation an beginning of the fortification goes back to the Romans. Over time the defenses were built-up and by the end of the 13th century, the Cité had its iconic style of the middle ages. In the end, the Cité featured double surround walls and fifty-two towers around 3 kilometers. The fortress was re-built in the late 1800s, but it’s magic remains original.
1. Stage 1: Mont Saint Michel to Utah Beach
Mont Saint Michel is a living Disneyland. Ok, with a permanent population of 50, maybe it’s not so living, but it sure is original. Mont Saint Michel is special. The way it ascends to the heavens. The way the tides victoriously rush in only to dramatically retreat. The Mount is in a state of perpetual motion. But there it stands century after century for more than a millennia, withstanding sieges and giving definition to an entire county, Region, Department, and locale more than even the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triumph, resulting in this monument being named as France’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Today it welcomes 3 million visitors each year. Seek out the off-season, but compared to Disneyland’s 16 million annual attendance, Mont Saint Michel is a diamond in the rough and a well-deserved Grand Depart host.