Television coverage of this year’s Tour de France highlighted the superb sporting abilities of the cyclists… and showcased the beauty of the French scenery.
Here is a list of nine of the best places on the 2012 Tour de France route – destinations which are well-worth exploring by foot and by bike!
1. La Planche des Belles Filles
The name of this mountain ski station translates as ‘Board of the Pretty Girls’ and relates to the legend of young women who escaped the clutches of Swedish mercenaries by diving to their deaths into a lake. Another legend was created here when it hosted Stage 7 of this year’s Tour de France; the stage in which Bradley Wiggins took the lead en route to victory.
This city in northern France is France’s most important fishing port. It is a place which offers some superb fish-based cuisine and the journey from the sea to the restaurant table is a short one as the harbour is so close to the city centre.
This is famous for being the place where Joan of Arc was executed in 1431 but there is so much more to Rouen than just martyred saints. Travel around its winding cobbled streets and make a point of journeying to Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral (it has the tallest spire in France) or visit the Musee des Beaux Arts to see the largest non-Parisian collection of art by impressionists in the country.
Epernay’s stunning vineyards mean that it has a reputation as one of the champagne capitals of France. Ingeniously, the Epernay wines are stored in large cellars carved into the chalk rocks found throughout the region. Visit a rustic tasting room to sample the local produce; much of which is unavailable in the UK.
Metz has been designated as being the French Town of Art and History and certainly lives up to its status thanks to its fabulous architecture, cathedrals, museums and concert venues – its opera house is the oldest one in France. Metz is a fantastic place for historians to visit but it is also a very modern city – one which has acquired the nickname ‘Green City’ because of its abundance of green parks and the fact that its downtown, commercial area is one of the largest pedestrian areas in France. So, you see, Metz is a great place for cyclists and those who love walking!
Located between the Rhine and the Rhone, Belfort is a place which richly deserves to feature in the Tour de France as it is a popular place with cyclists all-year round. Take one of Belfort’s more mountainous cycling routes and you should be able to see the ice-capped Swiss mountains on a clear day.
May is a great time to visit Belfort as this is when you can find lots of musicians (and 60,000 music fans) in town for a free music festival featuring classical, jazz and experimental music. Rock fans might prefer Belfort’s Eurockeenes festival, held in July each year.
You can’t miss Chartres cathedral – it’s built on a hill which overlooks the fields surrounding this northern French commune.
Chartres has acquired a reputation as ‘the granary of France’ and is one of the most important market towns in the region. The inhabitants of Chartres boast a diverse set of skills – the area has a thriving brewing, flour-milling, iron-founding, leather making and perfume manufacturing industry.
Visitors to Rambouillet should make a bee-line for the Chateau de Rambouillet; a place which has been called home by French leaders such as Napoleon I and Louis XVI.
Louis chose to live in the castle because of its proximity to the game-rich forests. It is now the official summer residence of the French President.
9. Paris Champs-Elysees
Paris Champs-Elysees is the most famous street in France and probably the most famous street in Europe. It’s even more famous than Coronation Street!
It is only just over one-mile long but there are a lot of landmarks and places of note on its route, including luxury goods shops, the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe.
Over the years, it has become a place where tourists, political leaders and, of course, cyclists have dreamed of journeying to!