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Over the course of 23 days, passionate riders cycle more than 2,000 miles at Tour de France, the world’s most prestigious and difficult bicycle race. The cyclists pass through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in France — including places like the Alps and Paris — and even nearby countries such as Belgium, Monaco, and Spain, which are common stages of the route.
While Tour de France’s stages change every year, one thing is certain: there are always breathtaking stops along the competition’s route. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a sports fan or not, because Tour de France’s itinerary is guaranteed to provide you with scenic viewpoints and a memorable experience. Just imagine witnessing the spectacle of the greatest race on Earth while surrounded by the immense natural beauty of the French countryside, and the gigantic mountains of the Alps!
Set to happen from June 26 to July 18 in 2021, Tour de France will start in Brittany, a hilly peninsula known for its rugged coastline and blush-hied sand rocks, and pass-through charming towns, including Tours, Grand Bornand, and Tignes.
Itching to explore Tour de France’s official 2021 route? Then read our guide to learn about the must-see destinations along the route.
Note: Make sure to double-check COVID 19 precautions, protocols, and operating hours before you visit any of these sites.
A Brief History Of Tour de France
The first edition of Tour de France happened from 31 May to 5 July 1903, and it gathered 60 men. Of those, most were French, but there were also a few Belgians, Germans, Swiss, and Italian riders.
Established by Henri Desgrange, a French cyclist and journalist, Tour de France started in Paris, and it ran through Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes. There were only six stages —as opposed to the 21 stages in the 2020 Tour—, and no Alpine climbs. The competitors rode over unpaved roads, without a helmet, or support cars, and could not receive help.
After the first race, Tour de France happened subsequently every year, except during the World Wars, and it has exponentially grown, becoming a national celebration in France. The race always ends in Paris, and thousands of people from all around the world, including sports enthusiasts, and travelers, flock to each and every stop of the route to marvel at nearly 200 cyclists.
Curious Facts About Tour de France
Fact 1. On the first Tour de France, in 1903, cyclists had to make their own repairs. They rode with spare tires and tubes wrapped around their torsos in case of flat tires;
Fact 2. On average, Grand Tour riders intake between 5000 and 8000 kcal per day;
Fact 3. The youngest cyclist to ever win the Tour de France was Henri Cornet. He was 19 years old, and he won in 1904, on the second edition of the competition;
Fact 4. Until the late 1960s, alcohol was consumed by cyclists to easy pains during the Tour de France;
Fact 5. Tour de France reaches more than 15 million spectators and over 1 billion television viewers from across the globe;
Fact 6. The 1926 Tour de France edition featured the longest route in the history of the competition, totaling 3.570 miles.
Fact 7. In the 1920s, it was common for cyclists to smoke and share cigarettes during the rides. It was believed that smoking would help “open the lungs” before challenging climbs;
Fact 8. Only males can participate in the race. In the 1980s, female cyclists launched the Tour Cycliste Féminin, which ended in 2009 due to lack of funding;
Fact 9. The winner of the race earns a €500,000 prize;
Fact 10. Rest days have been a part of Tour de France since the 1st edition in 1903. This year rest day 1 will be in Tignes and rest day 2 in Andorra.
Fact 11. Tour de France has been ending in Paris Champs-Élysées for 47 years.
5 Cities To Visit Along The 2021 Tour De France Route
1. Brest | Le Grand Départ
With a total riding distance of 2102 miles (3383km), the 2021 Tour de France will start in Brest. Located in the Finistére department, in Britanny, Brest is tucked away in a sheltered bay, and it’s bisected by the Penfeld river. The city was an important harbor during World War I and served as the debarkation point for the U.S. troops. Thanks to its rich maritime heritage, and strategic position facing the sea, Brest a port city and France’s second-biggest military port after Toulon.
Set amidst a dramatic landscape, Brest has been almost completely shattered during World War II but extensively rebuild afterward. Nowadays, the city displays a slew of world-class cultural sights, such as the Château de Brest, which is the oldest monument in town. Placed at the mouth of the river Penfeld, the castle boasts over 1,700 years of history, and it has been classified as a monument historique in 1923. Nowadays, Châteu de Brest houses the iconic National Maritime Museum, which displays masterpieces of naval decoration.
Before heading over to your next Tour de France stage, make sure to visit Océanopolis, another must-see place in Brest. With 9,000 m2 of exhibition space, this is one of the biggest aquariums in France, playing host to 1,000 different species and 10,000 animals.
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2. Pontivy | Stage 3
After Brest, off to Pontivy! Also located in Brittany, in northwestern France, this commune was founded in 685AD by an English monk called Ivy. He built a wooden bridge across the River Blavet, and that’s why the city was named “Pont d’Ivy, which means Ivy’s bridge.
Filled with Neoclassical buildings of the 19th- century, medieval streets, churches, and chapels, this quaint town is the perfect weekend getaway in France. One of the most famous sights in Pontivy is Châteu des Rohan, a charming castle that sits overlooking the River Bravet from the Rue General de Gaulle. So, if you’re eager to explore some of the most beautiful castles in Europe, make sure to include this château on your list. Build in the 15th-century, the castle was the seat of one of the Rohan family, which was one of Brittany’s most affluent families.
During your weekend in Pontivy, take some time to Place du Martray, which used to be the city’s main square in medieval times, and from there head over to Maison de Trois Piliers. Listed as a historical monument, this is the only remaining example of a Breton porched house in Morbihan, where Pontivy is located.
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3. Tours | Stage 6
Next stop? Tours. Perfectly located in west-central France, on the Loire River, the city is the gateway to the Loire Chateaux, a collection that comprises 22 of the most beautiful castles in Europe. But there’s more to the city than just being the entrance to the Loire.
With a rich history that dates back to the 1st century AD, when it became part of the Roman Empire, Tours boasts a range of architectural jewels that reflects centuries of history. One of the many worth-visiting landmarks is the Tours Amphiteatre, built atop a small hill in the 1st century when the city was called Caesarodunum. Other cultural gems in Tours include the Sain-Gatien Cathedral, or Tours Cathedral, which is a Roman Catholic church built between 1170 and 1547. The construction boasts 13, 14, and 15 centuries rose windows and great organs from the 16 and 17 centuries.
In case you want to explore more of the contrasting architectural styles that are present in Tour’s buildings, go to the 15th-century Hôtel Gouïn, a fine example of Renaissance architecture, and to the Fine Arts Museum, located in the bishop’s former palace.
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4. Tignes | Stage 9
Placed in the Tarentaise Valley, in south-eastern France, Tignes is a veritable wonderland at all times of the year. The commune consists of a group of villages that form a high-altitude ski resort surrounded by the gorgeous mountains of the French Alps.
But how come a ski-resort town in the Alps can also be a welcoming retreat during the summer months? Well, basically because Tignes is home to the 3450 meters tall Grande Motte Glacier, the highest skiable area in Europe — even during the summer!
Aside from providing the most perfect skiing conditions all-year-round, and dramatic views of the French Alps, Tignes also hosts a showcase of outdoor activities during the summer. The 25-hectare lake, which is located in the heart of the city, turns into a playground for the adrenaline-seekers, which can indulge in a variety of sports, including tennis, archery, volleyball, and paragliding, just to name a few.
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5. Paris Champs-Élysées | Stage 21
There couldn’t be a better way to warp up the Tours de France travel route than by going to Paris. Stage 21 of the competition, the City of Lights is a must-go if you want to witness the moment everyone was looking for: the cyclists crossing the finishing line on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Aside from Champs-Élysées, which is the most coveted place for watching the final, you can cheer on the riders at different places in Paris, including Place de la Concorde and Quai des Tuileries. Friendly reminder: if you’re planning to see the Tour de France final in Paris is to try to arrive early to get the best vantage points, as it can get really crowded.
And why not take advantage of the fact that you’re already in Paris to tour around the city for a couple of days? The warm and pleasant summer weather invites travelers and locals to explore each corner of the city. Plus, the summer days are long, since the sun usually rises at around 6:30 am and it sets only around 9:00 pm, which gives you plenty of time to wander around. You can take a cruise on the River Seine and marvel at Paris from a different point of view, take a day trip to Versailles, and have a picnic at Jardin du Luxembourg. This Parisian holiday will be the cherry on top of your Tour de France travel experience!
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