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Getting Around France During the Tour de France

You’ve planned the vacation of a lifetime to France, the trip you’ve dreamed about taking for years. But it’s only after your flights are booked and you start looking at hotel rooms that you realize you’ve scheduled your holiday right in the middle of one of the world’s biggest sporting events – the Tour de France.
Now what? Do you cancel your trip? Do you bite the bullet and pay the jacked-up rates on hotel rooms in the towns along the Tour route? Or do you take a crash-course in cycling to become an expert in a sport you couldn’t care less about?
You don’t have to do any of those things. In fact, plenty of people visit France in July each year without even knowing the race is going on or crossing paths with it once. France is a big country, and while that presents challenges for people who are trying to “see it all,” that becomes a good thing for anyone who’s trying to avoid the Tour de France in July!
Here are the things you’ll want to think about and do if you’ve got trip planned for July in France:

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  • Find the Route – The route for the Tour de France changes every year, so your first order of business is to find the route map and a list of the stages for the year you’re going to visit. This will help you figure out if the race is going to be anywhere near the cities you want to visit when you plan to be in them. If you’re lucky, it’ll always be a few steps ahead of or behind you! (Here’s the 2011 Tour de France route.)
  • Book Well in Advance – As you might imagine, the hostels and hotels in France that are anywhere near the Tour route get booked up as soon as the route is announced. In fact, most of the people who follow the Tour end up camping along the way (sometimes in actual campgrounds, but more often on the roadsides and in fields!), but there’s a huge contingent of the press and package tourists who aren’t about to carry a sleeping bag with them. So even if you’re not planning to go watch the Tour, if your planned itinerary has you staying in any town that’s close to the route you may find that the hotels are already full months ahead of time.
  • Find Out Which Roads are Closed – The Tour de France covers some serious ground during its three weeks, and it’s not all on weird back roads you’d never be driving on unless you were a local resident. There are some stages which either use part of a relatively major motorway as the race course or require the partial closure of major roads so that the race can cross them at busy intersections. By knowing the Tour route, you’ll have a pretty good idea of which roads are potentially going to be closed – but be sure to check with the local tourism offices if you’ve got more specific questions. It’s an exercise in frustration to sit in an hours-long traffic jam on your vacation, especially if you can avoid it! Oh, and keep in mind that even if the roads you’re going to be using aren’t closed, if they happen to be the best way to get from one stage to another they’re likely to be incredibly busy with spectators driving from one viewpoint to the next.
  • Change Itinerary if Necessary – If you’ve looked at your planned itinerary and the Tour de France route and discovered that there’s quite a bit of overlap (and you really don’t feel like adding a Tour stage to your “must-do” list in France), then your best bet is probably to change your itinerary. This should be relatively easy to do, unless you’re targeting a specific event that just happens to coincide with the Tour, and will probably save you lots of headaches in the end. As mentioned above, France is a big country. It’s completely possible to visit France in July and never even know there’s a big bike race going on.

original photo by Daniel Gasienica