The Tour de France is the pinnacle of everything French. From the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône to the war memorials of Normandy, the romance and intrigue of the French nation epitomises everything great about La Grande Boucle. As we prepare to embark on a 3-week-long road trip around what the French call la héxagone, I will take you through some of the must-see locations en route in the first week of racing.
Promenade des Anglais
Serving as the spine of Nice’s coastline, the Promenade des Anglais is one of the most iconic stretches of road within France. Known locally as La Prom, the road has been the go-to destination for holidaymakers since the 19th century as city-dwellers from Paris and beyond flocked to the coastal resort of Nice.
The name may suggest some link to les anglais, the English, but the name simply stems from the local Anglican Church who funded the original paving of the promenade in an attempt to put their place of worship on the map. It must have worked as the Promenade des Anglais and its iconic blue chairs are a staple of the city of Nice.
The Tour de France will honour this strip of tarmac by finishing there on two occasions on the first weekend of racing on both stages 1 and 2.
Lavender Fields of Provence
It is likely that we will see these purple-clad fields on stages 3 and 4 of this year’s race as they travel through the Verdon Natural Park. As one of the staples of this southern section of France, lavender is to be seen blanketing the fields in a spectacular manner.
On stage 3 we will pass by Digne-Les-Bains, a popular spa town that hosts a five-day-long festival in the name of lavender. In fact, the festival will begin on the day that the Tour de France rolls past. We certainly can’t deny that Provence doesn’t take their lavender seriously.
The Towns of Ardèche
The Ardèche of one of France’s most stunning regions. Although the tourist train usually passes by this central region, the region offers caves, vineyards and breath-taking scenery. Most of all, we get to feast on the Provençal style villages that perch themselves beautifully in the Ardèche. The Tour de France will pass by some of these towns and villages on stage 6 en route to Mont Aigoual. I suggest keeping an eager eye out for the town of Saint Montan on stage 5. The winding Roman alleyways and medieval castle of this town will undoubtedly provide us with a stunning backdrop for the Grande Boucle.
The capital of the Tarn département, Castres, will play host to the Tour de France on stage 7 of the race as the peloton heads towards Lavaur. It is both the birthplace of the renowned Socialist Party leader Jean Jaurès (a common namesake for many streets and squares in France) and the home of a Goya museum. Boasting both politics and art, this city is the perfect canvas, touting itself as the Paris of France. With wooden boats flowing down Castres’ Aigout River and the colourful houses hanging over the river, it’s clear to see where this comparison stems from.
Millau ViaductEmbed from Getty Images
Standing at over 300 metres, the Millau Viaduct is currently the world’s tallest bridge. The structure was designed by the noted architect Norman Foster at the turn of the millennium. Featuring on the race on multiple occasions before, this giant of the Tarn département is known to sometimes be covered in cloud, meaning that drivers are unable to see the valley they are passing. We will see this structure in all its awe on stage 7 as the race sets off from Millau.