Tour de France 2019: 7 places to venture off the cycle route

On 6 July, the 106th year of the world’s biggest cycling race starts from Brussels. From the third stage, the riders and support of the Tour stick to the roads of France and their beautiful landscapes until 28 July, when they arrive on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. From Champagne to the Alps through Alsace, the Pyrenees, Occitanie and Provence, the 3,400km of the 2019 route promise great drama and suspense. They also act as a base for mini getaways. Why not take advantage of the Tour de France to explore France and its regional treasures?

From Epernay to Reims, Champagne

You never know who’ll win the third stage as it climb the slopes before the final sprint into Epernay. But the capital of Champagne, in its setting of vines, will certainly reserve its best bubbles for the winner. The atmosphere should be equally sparkling the following day in Reims. To introduce the secrets behind making the famous beverage, a cellar visit is a must. On their family estate in Boursault, Charlotte and Hervé Le Gallais organise exciting wine tours. In Reims, the oldest champagne house of Ruinart, displays its precious barrels 38 metres below ground.

A jump between the Vosges and Alsace

To link Saint-Dié des Vosges to Colmar in Alsace, the Tour riders need to overcome the formidable ascent to Haut-Kœnigsbourg, a fabulous fortress offering a unique view of the plain of Alsace, the Vosges and – on a clear day – the Alps and Mont Blanc. The next day, all efforts will be concentrated on the Ballon d’Alsace, with little time to admire the ‘ligne bleue’ of the Vosges… unlike you! Especially if you don hiking shoes to traverse the Grand Ballon or walk along the Front des Vosges. Nature, fresh air and good food, along with some beautiful restaurants, are all here for the taking. Admit it: life could be worse…

Albi, at the heart of Occitanie

On 16 July, the Tour de France procession stops for a well-deserved rest in Albi before heading to Toulouse and the Pyrenees. This is an opportunity to explore the splendid so-called pink city, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its fortified brick cathedral. Here you’re at the heart of Occitanie, in the department of Tarn, where the living is easy. Best local place to visit? The Chateau de Salettes, set in the magnificent Gaillac vineyards less than 30km from Albi, former home of the Toulouse-Lautrec family.

A storm in the Pyrenees

In the Pyrenees, the peloton approaches the high mountains. On the roadside, the atmosphere reaches peaks of excitement. Between Toulouse and Foix via Pau, Tarbes and Barèges, supporters will have to really encourage the racers as they tackle no less than nine mountain passes, including the famous Tourmalet at 2,115m. Want to make a detour and find calm in the pastures? ROC (‘Refuge Out of the City’) is a well-kept secret in the heart of the Ossau Valley, 30km from Pau. If you want to go further, head east to Mount Canigou. Your reward for the ascent – on foot or by bike – is the view of the Mediterranean from 2,784m. Wow!

In Nîmes, an arena from antiquity

The Tour de France spends nine days in Occitanie in 2019. Nîmes, the ancient and beautiful capital of Gard, is particularly in the spotlight as the host of a rest day and, subsequently, a mammoth circuit of 177km. Take a cultural break to explore the treasures of the city, including the brand new Museé de la Romanité (Museum of Antiquity), designed by architect Elisabeth de Portzamparc, facing the Gallo-Roman arena.

Pedalling from the Pont du Gard, Provence

The most visited ancient monument in France, a colossus of almost 50,000 tonnes with graceful arches: this is the Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deserving of the privilege to kick off the next stage of the race on 24 July. Here’s hoping that its awe-inspiring beauty will spur the riders on to Gap, in Hautes-Alpes, across a long stage of 206km.

A breath of fresh air in the Alps

The peloton will have to pick up momentum as it approaches the Alpine part of the course, the apotheosis of the Tour before the arrival on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. In the Alps, six climbs will exceed the 2,000-metre mark, including the Col de l’Iseran, the highest French road pass and the highlight of the 2019 race. Altitude making you dizzy? A few days before the finish, keep an eye on the overall classification but make stops to meet the local Alpine craftsmen. They work passionately with leather, wood, stone and pottery.