It’s the third and final week of our road trip all around the glorious nation of France. So far we have visited the vineyards of Cognac, the restaurants of Lyon as well as the lavender fields of Provence. This week we head for the mountains as well as the capital itself, Paris. The capital needs no introduction as I am here to show you the little wonders on route, so for the sake of intrigue we will bypass Paris in this list. Instead we will be looking at the must-see location en route in this week of racing through the Alps, the Jura and the Vosges.
Grande ChartreuseEmbed from Getty Images
A hub of activity and innovation through history, the Grande Chartreuse Monastery has welcomed a whole host of festivities. Located in the stunning Chartreuse mountains that we will visit on stage 16, the monastery which is not accessible to visitors or vehicles has a history stapled in spirit making. Although it plays host to the head monastery of the Carthusian religious order, the monastery first produced its Chartreuse spirit in the 17th century with the recipe being codified in the 18th century. The authentic 130-ingredient drink has been spread around the world and holds a special place within Alpine apéritif culture.
The refuge was threatened by the hardline 1901 turn of secularism in French legislation, forcing many of the monks to flee to Northern Italy. The monastery has now re-assumed its place within the Carthusian order following the restoration of the French Republic following the Second World War and the sales from its liquor goes right back into the church as well as its affiliated charities.
Le MoucherotteEmbed from Getty Images
By now I think that we are all aware of race leader Primož Roglič’s past as a professional ski jumper. Rather aptly, we will be passing by the site of the ski jumping program at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics on stage 16 of the race. The ski jump sits on top of the nasty Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte climb which will define the 16th stage of racing.
During the 1968 Games, it seated 50,000 spectators for the large hill ski jumping events. Nowadays it is abandoned and overgrown. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting site to explore as it is not protected, offering an exploration opportunity for anyone daring enough to visit the site. For any geocacher, be aware that this venue is actually a site of a cache (it is located in the judge tower). Let’s hope that Roglič makes a visit before heading down the valley for the next day’s stage.
Lac de RoselandEmbed from Getty Images
Sitting well over 1000m above sea level, the Lac de Roseland will be an oasis for the riders tackling the 18th stage to La-Roche-Sur-Foron. The lake is on the iconic climb to the Cormet de Roseland, a climb that we could not reach on the 20th stage of last year’s race due to adverse weather conditions. Characterised by its glistening blue surface, this reservoir is a great watering spot for anyone taking on the Cormet de Roseland or the nearby climbs of Beaufort and Pré which all come up to the lakeside. If you don’t suffer from vertigo, there’s a dramatic dam which produces 600 GW per year to power the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
The Three ValleysEmbed from Getty Images
The largest linked ski area in the world, ‘The Three Valleys’, will be the amphitheatre for stage 17’s brutal finish on top of the Col de la Loze. The area was visited for the first time in a long while last year when the race visited the Henri Desgrange (the highest point in the race) summit finish at Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in this ski area. This year we are back, but instead, we visit the middle valley of Méribel.
The archetype of the glitzy skiing lifestyle of glam ski lodges, apres ski and snow-capped mountains of the Alps, The Three Valleys is a must-go for any avid skier.
Cheese In All Its GloryEmbed from Getty Images
It would be rude to not mention cheese whilst we visit the east of the country. This part of the nation has a rich history in cheese making but on stage 18 we will make a flying visit to the home of Beaufort cheese, a common feature in cheese fondue up in the Savoy Alps (a region that also claims to be the home of tartiflette, a cheese-based bake).
Beaufort will not be the only cheese that will make a big feature. The more widely available Comté cheese is produced all across the Jura mountains and the Franche-Comté region. Comté in fact is the most produced regional cheese in France. Many Comté farmers can tell the difference between regions of production purely from the smell of the Comté cheese, claiming that the Jura environment harbours a unique aroma.
Both have been protected in French law under the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée title which preserves the authenticity of localised culinary delights.
A mix of everything quintessential about the Jura mountains, the breathtaking village of Château-Chalon is a little gem. Perched on the rock, La Maison de la Haute Seille occupies the front of most of the postcards of this village, a multistorey house that overlooks, as well as storing, the vineyards of grapes surrounding the town.
The unique vin jaune bears a yellow colour, a very different colour to that of nearby Burgandy. It is served in the traditional clavelin bottle which holds a capacity of 62 cl, differing from the usual 75 cl. Local legend dictates that this is the amount left of a litre of wine after ageing in cask for six years andIt’s celebrated at the Percée du Vin Jaune in early February, notably with a parade by Vin Jaune ambassadors. If you’re looking for at time of the year to visit and tate the wine for yourself, the Percée du Vin Jaune in early February is the time to come as the latest produce is released, attracting a parade of Vin Jaune aficionados and sommeliers.
Although the Tour de France has not gone to plan for Groupama-FDJ’s Comtois frontman Thibaut Pinot, he will make a passing visit through his home town of Mélisey on stage 20 of this year’s race, just 9 kilometres into the time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles. There are no points for guessing that the Pinot entourage will be out in force when he rolls through this town, maybe granting the darling of French cycling with an opportunity to meet and greet his most loyal supporters.
Interestingly, the Pinot name carries a lot of respect in Mélisey. Thibaut’s father, Régis Pinot, has been mayor of this village since 2008, even being re-elected in the spring of this year. On top of this, the old textile factory in the town bore the name of the rider as well, Textile Pinot et Thiault. The hero’s welcome awaits him.