As everyone knows, the Tour de France is a grueling cycling race that transverses the entire country of France (and, this year, a little slice of the Italian Alps as well). With the route (and sometimes the rules) changing each year, it can be a wonderful opportunity to visit little-known areas of France that otherwise would never show up on a visitor’s radar.
A lot of people plan vacations to France around seeing as much of the Tour as possible, choosing their itinerary to catch the (sometimes, literal) high points of the route. But if you happen to find yourself in France in July and want to catch the action without hijacking your whole vacation, then we’re going to tell you the best places to watch the 2011 Tour de France.
The Best Places to Watch the 2011 Tour de France
Stage 6, July 7: Dinan – Lisieux
Lisieux is a great place to watch the Tour de France if you’re in Paris on vacation. It’s about an hour and 40 minutes outside of Paris, so you can zip out, watch the finish in Lisieux and zip back. Or you can make a whole day of it, making sure to visit the stunning Basilica of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and bang around town for a bit as well.
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Stage 12, July 14: Cugnaux – Luz-Ardiden
July 14, Bastille Day, is France’s biggest national holiday. So, what does that mean for you? Well, you can celebrate it one of two ways. First, you can get to Toulouse, a large, wonderful city close to starting point Cugnaux, on July 13. Head out to Cugnaux on the morning of the 14th, see the cyclists push off, and then head back to Toulouse and party it up for the rest of the day and night. They have great celebrations.
Or, you can base yourself out of Luz-Ardiden, a small mountain town that gives you another glimpse of rural France. From there you can head out to the winding roads to watch the cyclists, or hang out in town and wait at the finish line, where there is always a ton of fun – and then watch the fireworks celebration at night. Either way, you’ll have a blast.
Stage 15, July 17: Limoux – Montpellier
Again, I’m recommending a finish – this time, in Montpellier. By that I mean that you can either hang out in town and watch the festivities after the stage has finished, or you can follow the route back a bit to watch them along the way.
Because Montpellier is easy to get to via the super-fast TGV from Paris, it makes a great overnight trip. But I’d recommend a couple days, so you can head out to the beach at Palavas-les-Flots or even just see the sights in this vibrant, historic town that’s also got some amazing restaurants and excellent, affordable shopping.
Stage 21, July 24: Créteil – Paris
Also, Créteil is close enough to the city that you can just hop on the Paris Métro Line 8: to Créteil L’Échat, Créteil Université or Créteil Préfecture, follow the crowds and watch both the start and the finish in the same day!