The Unseen Sights

Tour de France

The Tour de France is one of the most famous annual sporting events in the world. Each year, Le Tour takes cyclists and viewers alike on a route through France, Holland, the UK or other neighbouring countries, passing famous sights, tourist destinations and more.

This year the route is mainly in France, with a brief foray into Spain and Switzerland, and passes through some amazing regions of the country, including some unsung, hidden gems. With this in mind, we thought we’d compile some of the best stages of Le Tour for you…

Saint-Marie-du-Mont

Perhaps most famous as the home of Utah beach, where American soldiers landed on D-Day, and immortalised in Saving Private Ryan. Saint-Marie-du-Mont is a commune in the north of France with a D-Day story around every corner, as well as locations which may be familiar to fan of Band of Brothers. The bell tower of the church was used as a vantage point by German soldiers.

Saint-Lô

The capital of the Manche region of lower Normandy, Saint-Lô is another area with serious links to the Second World War, as the location of the Battle of Hedgerows. The battle saw American soldiers attempt and succeed at taking control of the region, which led to a great deal of destruction in the city which led to Samuel Beckett declaring the city the Capital of Ruins. These days you can tour the city and see important sites from the battle and the Second World War in general, including the gates of the prison where French prisoners of War were kept.

Arpajon-sur-Cère

Located in the Auvergne region of south-central France, Arpajon-sur-Cère is a small commune with a famous chateau and park, Conros, nearby. The chateau and park are the biggest attractions in this fairly quiet region, perhaps best known as the location of a toy factory, which produces dolls, highly sought-after in France.

L’Isle-Jourdain

The start of Stage 7 of Le Tour, L’Isle-Jourdain is another tiny commune in the south of France, this time in the Gers department. If you’re a thrill-seeker then head to outdoor activity centre Oxygene 40, which includes bungee jumping and much more. Meanwhile, culture vultures will appreciate the Musee d’Art Campanaire.

Lac de Payolle

An artificial lake near the French Pyrenees, Lac de Payolle is where Stage 7 of Le Tour comes to a close. The gorgeous lake and surrounding scenery are popular with tourists looking for an escape from the city, and is suitable for hiking, fishing, sailing and parasailing in the summer, as well as snowboarding, skiing, cross-country skiing and dog-sledding in the winter as the river freezes completely solid.

Vielha Val d’Aran

Located in the northeast of Spain, in the famous region of Catalonia, which is a separate entity to the rest of the country in all but name, Vielha Val d’Aran is one of the only places in Spain which is actually north of the Pyrenees. The region maintains a strong regional identity, and the local dialect, Aranese is one of few minority languages in Europe currently undergoing a renaissance. Surrounded by peaks of over 2000 metres, the region is excellent for winter sports, as well as walking itineraries and more; an outdoors holiday paradise.

Escaldes-Engordany

One of the parishes of the tiny mountain state of Andorra, Escaldes-Engordany is the name given to the urban region of Engordany. The name Les Escaldes comes from the presence of hot springs in the area, which were used by the ancient Romans for medical purposes. The town is also known for its traditional dance, the Santa Anna, as well as its ski resorts and outdoor sports facilities.

Bourg-Saint-Andéol

Back in France, the Rhône Valley region is home to Bourg-Saint-Andéol, an ancient Gallic settlement which is now known as the shopping centre for several smaller surrounding villages. The biggest local attraction is Les Palais des Eveques, the ornately decorated bishop’s palace, featuring the only functional medieval kitchen in France, which offers 15th century food served alongside a roaring fire.

La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc

Also located around the Rhône Valley region is La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc, which is a spectacular replica of the Chauvet Cave that opened in 2015. The cavern includes cave paintings, workshops, models of wildlife which would have existed in prehistoric times in the region and much more. La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc is an amazing, hands-on and interactive educational experience which children and adults are sure to not forget in a hurry.

Villars-les-Dombes Parc des Oiseaux

The Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-les-Dombes is a wonderful bird sanctuary which has been open since 1970. It is one of the oldest Ornithological parks in France, with over 3000 species of bird in a 380 hectare reserve. This popular attraction regularly attracts up to 250,000 visitors each year, and is a must-see in the Ain department of France.

Culoz

Lying in the first foothills of The Alps in southeast France, this commune is a good location for an outdoor holiday among some of Europe’s most famous mountains, with facilities for a range of outdoor activities nearby.

Moirans-en-Montagne

Set in gorgeous mountainous terrain, Moirans-en-Montagne, is a wonderful family destination with plenty to do for children and adults alike, despite the small size of the town which has a population of just over 2000!

With a number of footpaths suitable for family walks, a toy museum which will enchant children and adults and a museum in the local abbey, there’s lots to keep everyone happy for your trip.

Bern

The de-facto capital of Switzerland, and the biggest city which Le Tour passes through, Bern is one of the most populous cities in Switzerland. The old town in the centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has managed to retain its historic features more so than most other European cities. Stroll through the arcades and the open streets and you’ll find fantastic shopping, restaurants, bars and more, with streets punctuated by fountains and towers.

Finhaut-Emosson

Right next to Bern you’ll find Lac Finhaut-Emosson, a gorgeous lake surrounded by stunning mountains and valleys. This is the rugged European scenery which you see in travel guides and films, which inspired fantasy and fairy tale, and continues to charm and captivate to this day. The lake is suitable for watersports, and there are numerous cycling routes and more facilities for outdoor activities in the region.

Megève

A charming ski resort village which is known for the Megève Pass. It was developed by the Rotschilds in 1920 and used as an alternative to Saint-Moritz by French aristocracy. To this day it remains among the most famous and the most prestigious skiing destinations in the world. More than suitable for a lavish trip abroad, it’s fair to say that Megève is perhaps not for those new to skiing!

Chantilly

A town of 11,000 inhabitants which falls in the metropolitan area of Paris, Chantilly is a fantastic place to visit for a day or two if you are on a break which includes the French capital. One of the region’s most famous attractions is the equine museum known as the Living Museum of the Horse. Here you will find over 1000 paintings, drawings, sculptures and more, all covering equine subjects. It also encourages interaction with the animals in order to learn as much as possible about them. Interestingly, the building was commissioned by Louis Henri, Prince of Condé, who believed he would be reincarnated as a horse!

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