It’s hard to believe that the 2018 Tour de France will be the fourth Tour covered by this site. Each year, I try to refine the methods and content to better serve you, the fans. Inevitably, this starts as soon as the previous Tour ends in late July. But who’s kidding. The real fun begins with the grand unveiling of the route like anticipated clockwork every October. Year after year, my database of cultural sites expands exponentially. Routes are plotted and educated guesses are made. With each kilometer, my excitement grows as the Tour makes new friends and yet makes sure to visit some familiar faces. The 2018 route is no different.
All the pundits analyze the Tour from every possible angle. Predictably, they will be both geniuses and hacks. But one thing is for certain – the Tour manages to snake through fairytale landscapes, prehistoric monuments, towering chateaux, delectable cheeses, inspiring cathedrals, and rustic roundabouts. Like the sport analysts looking at the 2018 route, I spot the obvious highlights that are just as likely to impact the overall lead as one’s travel itinerary – Alpe d’Huez, Roubaix cobbles, the Tourmalet. For me, there are other highlights that are more noticeable.
- For the first time since 2013, the Tour is almost completely confined to France. Only a few kilometers extend into Spain on Stage 16.
- For the first time in over a decade, the Tour reaches into the most southwestern coastal frontier.
- The entire route almost completely avoids the major wine-growing appellations. The peloton hits a few minor varietals, but Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, and the Loire are conspicuously absent.
So without further ado, let’s dig in: 3,329 kilometers, 1 individual time trial, 1 team time trial, 3 summit finishes, 2 countries, 8 French Regions, and a whopping 31 Departments. With only a week to digest the course, here is Explore le Tour’s initial Top Ten reasons to get excited about the 2018 Tour de France route. The decisions were tough because of all the classic Tour locations that are a must-see for any Tour fan while new locations beg to be explored. So a balance must be struck but surely as we discover the route in more detail one stage at a time, the list is sure to change and you can make your own itinerary. Vive le Tour!
2017 Tour de France Preview Top 10
This is all about Paris. As the crow flies, Houilles is only fourteen kilometers from central Paris. And while Paris is an easy pick, it is always a good idea, as Audrey Hepburn would say. Walk the Seine, gawk at amazing art, watch the world go by from a café, or relax at an immaculate garden. Whatever your mood, Paris and its environs have something for everyone.
The Pyrénées must be represented here. While not as jagged and stunning as the Alps, the Pyrénées are visually and culturally magnificent. Stage 19 is a perfect portrayal of the mountains as most of the route overlaps with the iconic Route des Cols, including such giants of the sport like the Tourmalet, Aspin, and Aubisque. This will be a great stage to pick one of these climbs to watch the race, enjoy some hiking on the side, and experience the splendor of the Pyrénées.
Like the Pyrénées, Stage 9 offers a chance to experience both classic French landscapes and timeless elements of the sport. So much is made of the challenge this stage will present to the peloton and with fifteen sectors of cobbles, there will be plenty of opportunity to experience the pave for yourself. Whether the road bisects an old-growth forest like the Arenberg or is an old farm road with kilometers of visibility around, the pavement and scenery is indicative of this part of France and surrounding countries, something that should be experienced at least once.
At 218 kilometers, Stage 16 is a marathon from the heart of the Laguedoc-Rousillon Region to the high Pyrénées. The landscape will change dramatically from the hot and dry fortress of Carcassonne to the water-soaked thermal spa at Bagnères-de-Luchon. This is intriguing in its own right, but it is the short sixteen kilometer interlude into Spain that has me excited. The peloton crosses the border and drops down into the Val d’Arran and the town of Bossost before quickly heading up the Col du Portillon and back into France for the finish. It’s an opportunity to change cultures and languages for a split second. And who knows, by next July, this might be the first Grand Tour to venture into the new country of Catalonia.
There are Gothic cathedrals an then there are Gothic cathedrals. Among the best of the best is Cathedrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens. Having been to Chartres, Amiens offers a new chance to view one of the archetypes of the Gothic style. The United Nations declared this 13th century work of art a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, one of seven along the 2018 Tour route.
The Tour de France started in the Vendée in 2011 and held the team presentations in the Roman Amphitheatre at Puy du Fou. Yet this is no ordinary Roman site. In fact, it’s not even real. Puy du Fou is a historical theme park that depicts France through different periods, from Romans to Vikings, Medieval times to the Rennaissance and French Revolution. Imagine a Renaissance Fair on steroids or Disneyland with sword fights, jousts, flying hawks, chateaux under siege, and gladiator fights to the death. This is not your grandma’s theme park and the kids will love it even if the concept appears cliché at first. Not exactly along the Stage 2 route of this year’s Tour, Puy du Fou is something that deserves a short detour.
Just like the need to be represented, the Alps are a sight to behold and because there’s such a difference in the scenery between France’s two monstrous mountain ranges, it’s worth exploring both. With three full days in the Alps, it’s hard to pick just one, especially when one includes the famed switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez. While Huez might be better known, in the Alps I like to discover new places. The unique summit finish at La Rosière-Espace San Bernardo fits the bill perfectly. This international ski resort straddles the border and is the only one of its kind in the northern Alps. Surely, it’s a distinctive place to ski between two countries, but in summer it similarly offers easier access through the Little Saint Bernard Pass and exceptional hiking.
Brest lies almost at the edge of the world. Or so it might seem. At the far westernmost portion of Bretagne but with an excellent protected harbor, Brest is a historically strategic military outpost. It continues to be the French Naval Academy and a place where tradition and the sea rule over an intriguingly Celtic heritage. While most people will be focused on the double climb of the Mûr de Bretagne at the end of the day, my focus is on the mysterious yet busy international port of Brest.
I have a fascination with the lower Basque country that spans the French and Spanish border near San Sebastian and Biarritz. It has been over a decade since the Tour de France has reached this far down in the Atlantic Basque country. The stage route itself is interesting for its twisting and turning meander through the countryside only 10 miles from the beach town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The countryside is filled with charming small towns, two of which are official Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. I can’t wait to discover all that this quiet corner of France has to offer, perhaps while surfing the waves and sampling tapas in Spain if time allows.
Perhaps it is apropos that the most anticipated route for the Tour de France is the Grand Depart. Surely the anticipation of the long-awaited start to the competition plays a part, but perhaps just as interesting is the coastal route and theme of the stage, beginning on Noirmoutier-en-l’Île. This isle remains important for its production of salt, an industry that goes back a millennia. From here, the peloton crosses the largely underwater Passage du Gois and then follows the Vendée coast over 100 kilometers before finally turning inland. It is this coast that promises spectacular ocean views with small-town beach vibes so often forgotten in France. From beginning to end, Stage 1 will be a visual feast and surely the highlight of the 2018 Tour from a route exploration perspective.