Tour de France 2014 travel guide

Where to watch the biking event of the year in each cycling nation – England, France and Belgium

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The Tour de France kicks off in Blighty this weekend. We Brits have become rather good at cycling (and won the past two tours), and in the next few days, two-wheel aficionados can flock to the sidelines of our fair streets in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the yellow jersey. The race will then, of course, travel through scenic France – offering the viewer at home (or abroad) staggering mountainous panoramas, historic towns and sunny countryside scenes. 

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Here’s how, when and where to catch a piece of the action…


The Grand Depart

Stage one: Leeds to Harrogate

Saturday July 5, 2014

Locations en route:

Leeds, Otley, Ilkley, Skipton, Kettlewell, Kidstones, Hawes, Muker, Reeth, West Tanfield, Masham, Ripon, Harewood, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Addingham, Grassington, Buckden, Aysgarth, Buttertubs Pass, Leyburn, Middleham, East Witton, North Stainley, Harrogate

Our top picks:

Aysgarth National Park, Yorkshire

Not only will you find information about Yorkshire’s rolling green hills at Aysgarth Falls National Park Centre, it will also house a big screen and viewing areas, plus food, toilets and parking for some of the expected 1,500 fans. No visit to Aysgarth would be complete without taking in the beauty of the nearby waterfalls, which are easily accessible.

Swinton Park, North Yorkshire

A four-mile route goes straight through 22,000 acre Swinton Estate in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s possible to stay at the grand castle on the estate, which has been owned by the Cunliffe-Lister family since the 1880s. Rooms in the hotel are doused in typically English décor, including antiques, portraits and fine furniture. To fuel the Tour de France buzz, the hotel is offering a special cycling package. Swinton Park guests can use the hotel’s bikes to cycle along the race route (though not at the same time as the Tour de France riders, of course), and experience other routes around estate during their stay. The package also includes breakfast and dinner, and, for a little extra, visitors can enjoy the spa’s ‘cyclist massage’. Those wanting to bring their own kit can also get a complimentary hose down after a ride (that’s the bike, not the rider). From £190 per person/night.

Leyburn Market Place, Yorkshire

The market town of Leyburn will be doing what Brits do famously – throwing a good old fayre. Although it may be a bit of a squeeze, around 10,000 people are expected to descend on little Leyburn. But even those under five foot will get a view of the action – there’s a big screen. Meanwhile, around the cycling event, there are plenty of other ways to make a weekend of it. Pop into the quintessentially English tearooms, indulge in some chocolate from the local chocolatier or grab a unique artifact from the local antique auctions.


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Harrogate, West Park Stray

Excitement is building at the pretty spa town of Harrogate, with its rich history dating back to the 18th century. The numerous parks and gardens there will be filled with visitors over the weekend, and the dedicated Fan Park is open now, so that folks can congregate and celebrate the largest cycling event the area has ever seen. 


Stage two: York to Sheffield

Sunday July 6, 2014

Locations en route:

York, Addingham, Haworth, Oxenhope, Ripponden, Holmfirth, Peak District National Park, High Bradfield, Sheffield, Knaresborough, Keighley, Hebden Bridge, Cragg Vale, Huddersfield, Holme Moss, Langsett, Blubberhouses

Our top picks:

York Racecourse, York

In the build-up to race day, cycling fanatics can enjoy large screens, tasty food stalls and camping on offer at the third biggest racecourse in Britain. If you happen to make it to York, don’t leave without seeing the view on the historic wall, once used to defend against invaders in ancient times. The Jorvik Viking Centre is also well worth a look, as is The Yorkshire Museum, where guests can explore the area’s mystical Roman past.


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Langsett, South Yorkshire

Sat on the edge of the scenic Peak District, walkers will love this little village spot, near a charming reservoir, with rambling paths aplenty. There’s also a beer festival on today (Friday), with a live music marquee, traditional fairground rides and gourmet food stalls. In addition, visitors can get their cycle on. Bikes are available for hire, and guided rides will be running throughout the event (including a cycle pub crawl). See here for more details.

Don Valley Bowl, Sheffield

Up to 40,000 supporters are expected at Don Valley Bowl this weekend, making it the biggest spectator hub in the event. At the venue, there will be live coverage on screen, entertainment and food stalls. In town, there will be a bicycle-powered printing press outside the Town Hall, where people can create a very special souvenir of the event – a Tour de France Sheffield commemorative poster. There will also be bicycle-decorating workshops and a cycle repair workshop over the weekend.


Stage three: Cambridge to London

Monday July 7, 2014

Locations en route:

Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Great Shelford, Stapleford, Hinxton, Saffron Walden, Rayne, Felsted, Chelmsford, Epping, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Royal Docks, Canary Wharf, Tower of London, Middle Temple Hall, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, The Round Church, King’s College Chapel, Botanic Garden, Little Shelford, Little Chesterford, Finchingfield, Braintree, Great Waltham, Chipping Ongar, Epping Forest, Stratford, The O2, St Katherine’s Docks, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Savoy Hotel, St James Park, The Mall

Our picks:

Parker’s Piece, Cambridge

The 25-acre square green common, near the centre of Cambridge, will host the start of the stage three route. The peloton will start pedalling at Gonville Place by Parker’s Piece and work their way through the city centre via Regent Street and Sidney Street. One of the most dramatic spots to stand in? By the Round Church, where the riders will make a sharp left turn and peddle down St John’s Street and Trinity Street to Senate House Hill. The picturesque King’s Parade is another worthy spot to take it all in; no doubt TV cameramen will have the same idea (so don’t forget to wave to your mum when the yellow jersey goes by). 


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Epping Forest, Essex

One of the prettiest spots in the whole of Essex, the route through Epping Forest will lead the peloton along winding roads, sharp turns and small elevations. There are a number of scenic foresty car parks to stop and watch the race from Epping New Road, through Buckhurst Hill and Woodford, but most of the crowds will congregate on Epping High Street, where the atmosphere will be lively. There are dozens of little country pubs, greens and woodland walks to enjoy around the main event. 

Olympic Park, Stratford

Visitors to the Olympic park, which is now free to visit, can peruse the cultivated gardens, go up Anish Kapoor’s famous red swirly sculpture or rent bikes and try out the epic cycling facilities on offer. There’s a velodrome (where Sir Chris Hoy and his team battled it out for gold in 2012), a speed cycling track, BMX park and mountain biking trails – need we say more? Well actually, yes, there’s also French-themed family cycle taking place in Newham on the Sunday. 


Stage four to 21 – France

As usual, viewers at home will get a feast for the eyes, as some of the most scenic parts of France (and this year Belgium) are captured on TV. The event starts in Le Touquet and finishes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. See below for our top places to visit during, and after the event.

Our picks:

Ypres

July 9, 2014

This is the starting point for the fifth stage of the event, and the first time Ypres has ever been featured on the Tour de France. Recently, the BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s historical novel The White Queen was shot in this historically beautiful city. St Martin’s Cathedral doubled for Westminster Abbey in the series. It’s where Edward IV would hide out during the War of the Roses. There’s a particularly interesting marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child here too, created by Michelangelo around 1504, and a strong cycling legacy. Olympic cycling champion André Noyelle was born here, as was the winner of the 1972 Paris-Tours – Noël Vantyghem.

Gérardmer

July 19, 2014

Cycling runs through the veins of town, set to host stage nine of the event. Many cycling events have been through here, including the Tour de l’Avenir (five times!) and there are more than 200km of marked cycling trails to be explored. In the winter, the place turns into a ski resort, and in the summer lakeside activities such as walking, fishing, boat trips and sailing are the order of the day. It’s also famous for clogs, Geromee cheese and horse-riding… bet you can’t indulge in all three at the same time?

Saint-Étienne

July 17, 2014

Recognisable for its league one football team and a ‘90s Brit-pop band who adopted the name, this cute town with whitewashed façades, pretty squares and green spaces will be the finishing point for stage 12 of the Tour de France. If you like what you see on telly, and fancy a trip; the Musée d’Art Moderne de St-Étienne Métropole is worth a look – it’s chock-a-block with modern and contemporary 20th century art. Meanwhile, climb the 860 metres to the Guizay viewing area and you will be rewarded by impressive views of the countryside and the town below.

Grenoble

July 19, 2014

This stage 14 city is not the prettiest. However, venture into the nearby scenery and you’ll see why the Paris-Nice race has stopped here a staggering 58 times. Expect heart-stopping views of the jagged mountains in the Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse and the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors. There is also plenty to do, as well as see. Perched 476 metres above the city on a rocky hilltop; the 19th century Fort de la Bastille is Grenoble’s most obvious attraction – at the top, on a clear day, it’s possible to see Mont Blanc in the distance. In addition, there’s the Palais de Justice and place St-André, plus a plethora of squares lined with restaurants and shops to rummage around.

Carcassonne

July 22, 2014

The fortified city of Carcassonne could be something out of a Harry Potter film. Host to stage 16 of the Tour de France, it offers a picture-perfect example of a medieval castle. Just before the cyclists roll through, there’s a giant fireworks display on Bastille Day, which attracts more than 500,000 people, who come to watch the castle being lit up in the night sky. Any time of year, visitors can enjoy the cycling opportunities in the area, including the pretty route along the Canal du Midi, towards either Toulouse or Agde. Shorter routes and day trips on a bike or a canal boat are also possible. There are plenty of cathedrals, grand chateaus and ancient ruins to spot on your journey. Meanwhile, active tourists can try golf, fishing, shooting sports, hiking and climbing just outside town.


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Paris

July 27, 2014

The finish line is, of course, the spectacular Champs-Elysees, which will be filled with thousands of spectators – this will be the city in which to fully experience the atmosphere of the race. Bars will be showing the final leg of the journey, and Paris will erupt into a carnival like atmosphere. Great places to watch the race include the Champs-Elysees (but get there early) and the city’s most famous gallery and former royal residence – the Louvre. One of the best ways to see the art nouveau, Renaissance, and Gothic architecture of the city is on two wheels. Hire a bike and see if you can make it round the 20 districts, stopping for coffee in some of the hundreds of side street cafés  en route.


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