Tour de France 2013 – Al Fresco Camping Along the Route - Al Fresco Holidays
Planning to watch the Tour de France 2013, which is set to prove more spectacular than ever in this its 100th incarnation with tougher mountain challenges than ever before? Well, Al Fresco has the country pretty much covered, north to south, side to side, with luxury parks in no less than ten different regions. So there’s sure to be a wonderful choice of accommodation close to your favourite stage – a haven to return to once the push and shove of le peloton has passed.
(Stage 4 Tuesday – July 2nd: NICE Time Trial, 25km)
(Stage 5 Wednesday – July 3rd: CAGNES-SUR-MER to MARSEILLE, 219km)
What an exotic place to hold a team time trial – Nice, the ‘capital’ of the fabulously glitzy French Riviera. This is a super-trendy city for sure, complete with a lovely, smooth-pebble beach. It also offers a rich diversity of culture in its many buildings of historic interest, museums and galleries.
Of course, Day 5 proceedings start just below Nice itself, from new place on the Tour, Cagnes-sur-Mer. This stretch begins the mainland part of the Tour proper, with the riders pedalling at an average 25-30mph down to majestic Marseille.
But it makes no difference where you ‘set your stall out’ for the race, you’re never far from an Al Fresco holiday park, all within easy reach of the famous ‘hot spots’ – including the once sleepy fishing village of St Tropez in the south (‘discovered’ by Brigitte Bardot), to Formula 1 stars’ Monaco in the north, plus Cannes in the middle, where the red carpet is almost always out for one awards ceremony or another. Closer still to our parks is St Rapahel, a forever fashionable ‘in place’, where the boutiques are bulging with rack upon rack of designer labels.
Time to escape the cycling ‘razzle dazzle’? Head a little north of Cannes to the fragrant old town of Grasse, centre of the perfume industry. Even further inland, more astounding natural beauty is to be found in the Gorges du Verdon, otherwise known as France’s ‘Grand Canyon’. Or for a gentler day out, you could pop into Port Grimaud – a Venetian-style lagoon village, comprising 4 mini islands, all joined together by bridges of wood and stone.
(Stage 6 Thursday – July 4th: AIX-EN-PROVENCE to MONTPELLIER, 176km)
(Stage 7 Friday – July 5th: MONTPELLIER to ALBI, 205km)
By now, almost a third of the way into the race, the riders are getting well into their stride, with Day 7 seeing them pushing hard for Albi, birthplace of painter Toulouse-Lautrec and centred around the superb River Tarn, bridged by the celebrated Pont Vieux.
But you don’t have to push too hard to enjoy yourself in and around this region – after all, the Languedoc has plenty to offer the cycling enthusiast after a day’s hard spectating. And we’re not just talking about mile after mile of sundeck-covered sands.
Montpellier, the region’s capital, is especially enthralling with its 17th century houses and broad boulevards. And a short sortie inland takes you to places of equal interest and character, like Carcassonne, a fully restored medieval city, protected by a pointed-turret citadel, standing as strong now as it did in the Crusades. There is Béziers too – an artistic town that has long prospered from its canal, which connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic. Maybe take in a bullfight at the Roman arena whilst you’re there? Further down the coast is Narbonne with its lofty cathedral and exquisite tapestries.
But if city spotting is not for you, chill out in Séte – a splendid fishing port with canals to rival Venice for picture-postcard beauty. The seafood restaurants here are beyond compare. And after lunch, you can pop down to Cap d’Agde, where the amazing Aqualand water park is an absolute hoot.
Fancy a trek in the Black Mountains? There are limestone gorges to wonder at and restaurants and bistros on every corner, serving dishes bursting with Mediterranean flavour. Try the Roquefort – made from ewe’s milk, matured in the caves of Cambalou.
(Stage 8 Saturday – July 6th: CASTRES to AX 3 DOMAINES, 194km)
(Al Fresco park: ‘Village Le Brasilia’)
From its ‘gentle’ start in the pretty, rugby-mad town of Castres to its breezy summit finish at the lofty Pyrénées ski resort of Ax 3 Domaines, Day 8 is certain to offer much excitement (and more than a breath of fresh air) for both rider and spectator alike.
But as an Al Fresco luxury holiday park resident, you’ll have plenty to warm to on your return to Village Le Brasilia, with its tropical pool complex (5 different ‘aqua zones’), cascades and whirlpools.
On the southern-most tip of France’s Mediterranean coast, rubbing shoulders with Spain, Roussillion is Catalan country and proud of it. Canet Plage, where your family holiday park in Roussillion is situated, is a glorious, sand-fringed nature reserve, criss-crossed by creeks and forest cycle-ways. (Though not quite as arduous as those Sir Bradley Wiggins will be tackling…)
Children will adore the dolphins at Marineland, dunk you under water at Aqualand, or insist you take a drive through the African Nature Reserve, home to 3,800 wild animals. Mums and dads will probably prefer the art and cosy harbour culture of Collioure, favourite haunt of Picasso and Matisse, whose startling works adorn practically every wall.
Like many people camping in Roussillion, be sure to pop into Perpignan.
This thriving border metropolis is steeped in history, a fabulous fusion of French and Spanish character, officially named The Capital of Catalan Culture. Don’t miss the Palace of the Kings of Majorca. And when it’s time for a break from the curio shopping amidst the city’s network of narrow streets, check out the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, or the Dali monument above the celebrated surrealist’s much loved railway station.
(Stage 9 Sunday – July 7th: SAINT GIRONS to BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, 165km)
Climbing again for the riders on Day 9, when they hop onto their saddles in the quaint, two-river town of Saint Girons, ascending steadily, taking in five mountain passes in the Haute Pyrénées before negotiating the fiendishly demanding 30km descent into Bagneres de Bigorre, thermal spa town at the foot of the famous Tourmalet pass.
However, with your feet planted firmly on the ground down below, in the country’s sizzling South West corner, you’ll be staying at a luxury Al Fresco park in Aquitaine, a relatively ‘undiscovered’ region that really has the lot.
Bayonne, the Pays Basque capital, is a delightful, little town of cobbled streets, riverside boulevards and a fine cathedral. Bordeaux is a busy port, crammed with good shops, splendid 18th Century architecture and, of course, is a hub of the world wine trade. Biarritz is much more ‘bling’, a magnet for the rich and glamorous who spend their days racing the surf or ‘boutique hopping’ and their nights beside the rattling roulette wheel.
For a change of pace, you might want to venture to Lourdes, the holy shrine of St Bernadette, visited by processions of pilgrims all year round. Dax is well worth a ride out to as well. It’s a lovely spa town, with an enticing variety of smart teashops.
Much closer to your family holiday park in Aquitaine is the thriving resort of Hossegor, a surfer’s dreamland, filled with cool bars, fashion shops and funky vibes. The waves, said to be Europe’s biggest and best, are a major bonus too.
(Stage 10 Tuesday – July 9th: SAINT-GILDAS-DES-BOIS to SAINT MALO, 193km)
Benefiting from a solid rest day on Monday, and an aeroplane ride North West to St-Nazaire, the riders recommence their travail from Saint-Gildas-des-Bois (another first for the Tour), pushing hard through the Coetquidan elite military camp to reach Brittany, where the stage finishes beneath St Malo’s magnificent ramparts.
Watching over the Bay of Biscay, just south enough to be bathed in sunshine, the Vendee features long, sandy beaches that unfold for miles, whilst inland the cooling forest air is thick with refreshing pine fragrance.
The name ‘Vendee’ comes from the river that trickles through its marshland, which is veined with babbling waterways and home to a wonderful assortment of wildlife and windmills. Along the coastline, the waters are a little louder. St Jean de Monts is an especially lively resort, alternatively there’s Les Sables d’Olonne, otherwise known as ‘mini Nice’.
Al Fresco’s three luxury holiday parks in Vendee are within easy reach of Pornic, a 13th Century fishing town, complete with gleaming yacht marina and dominant chateau. You might also want to explore the island of Noirmoutier (accessible by road), with its unruffled sands, 12th Century castle and fresh, juicy seafood.
Younger Tour spectators will love Puy du Fou theme park, where brutal history is brought to life in dazzling costume. A little further afield is Futuroscope (near Poitiers) with its giant screens, interactive adventures and breathtaking rides into the future.
France’s top western corner, with steep cliffs, dramatic rock formations, coves and tiny harbours to the north, wide estuaries and endless sandy beaches to the south, Brittany is a region steeped in Celtic myth and legend.
A magical place, in every sense of the word, Brittany is peppered with deep forests, grottos, rocks and streams, ideal terrain for giants, fairies and goblins. It’s small wonder that King Arthur, on his search for the `Holy Grail’, encountered Merlin the wizard here in the Foret de Paimpont.
One of Al Fresco’s family holiday parks in Brittany (Chateau des Ormes) is close to the northern ‘Emerald Coast’, within easy reach of the lively seaside town of St Malo (with its awesome aquarium), the medieval, walled ‘metropolis’ of Dinan and the saintly majesty of Mont St Michel. Similarly outstanding is the Isle du Grand Bé, a mighty fortress reached by causeway, and the luxurious lakeside chateau at Combourg.
Our other two family holiday parks in Brittany (La Grande Métaire, Le Conguel) lie to the south, close to the historic harbour town of Auray, cobbled fishing village Concarneau and regional ‘capital’ Vannes. The kaleidescope pottery and embroidery of Quimper is only a short drive away too.
Also, when on your family camping holiday in Brittany, try not to miss the weird and wonderful Stones of Carnac, older than Stonehenge, and the breathtaking Pointe du Raz – Brittany’s equivalent of Land’s End.
(Stage 11 Wednesday – July 10th: AVRANCHES to MONT ST MICHEL Individual Time Trial, 33km)
(Al Fresco park: ‘Village Cote de Nacre’)
Keep your eyes on Mark Cavendish (the ‘Manx Missile’) here – the super sprinter from Douglas. Riders will be setting a blistering pace from Avranches (past the General Patton Memorial), the trial culminating at France’s second most popular tourist attraction (after the Eiffel Tower) – Mont St Michel, the tiny, tidal island glowing with Benedictine beauty and saintly majesty.
True north, lush green, home to premium dairy herds that produce the thickest cream, overflowing with apple orchards and the stomping ground of pedigree horses, Normandy is a rich and tasteful part of the country in all sorts of ways.
Your Al Fresco holiday park in Normandy (Village Cote de Nacre) is close the region’s centre, Rouen. On the left bank of the Seine, this is a city of superb heritage, with the elegant Notre Dame cathedral taking centre stage, where Joan d’Arc was famously burned at the stake.
Of course, being so close to England means that this rugged, rural region with the wild granite coastline has not unsurprisingly figured highly in our history for centuries. You might want to visit the Bayeux Tapestry, for example, depicting the Norman Conquests in intricate detail, whilst the wartime significances of Dieppe, the D-Day Landings and the Battle of The Somme need no further explanation.
Touching the emotions on a different level are the wondrous towns of Caen, hometown of Calvados, the fiery apple brandy, and Deauville, an ‘upper class’ seaside resort since the Golden Twenties complete with racecourse, film festivals and countless designer boutiques – Coco Chanel opened her very first store here.
Other remarkable sights worth checking out on your Tour de France camping holiday in Normandy include Honfleur, a haven for artists (including Monet) with its pretty harbour setting and slate-fronted houses. Then there’s St Aubin sur Mer, sleepy old fishing village with an inviting promenade.
(Stage 12 Thursday – July 11th: FOUGERES to TOURS 218km)
(Stage 13 Friday – July 12th: TOURS to SAINT AMAND MONTROND 173km)
(Al Fresco park: ‘Les Alicourts Resort’)
Two dramatic stages that cut right through the centre of France, taking in some of the nation’s most glorious scenery en route, zipping through town after town and village steeped in typical French culture.
Dipping back into Brittany, the long and extremely demanding Stage 12 begins from the fabulously artistic, old castle town of Fougeres and ends in Tours, capital of the Indre et Loire Department, the mighty river itself roaring through beneath a series of superb bridges. Stage 13 is definitely one for the ‘fast men’ – watch out for Contador, Greipel and Sagan tearing into the ‘City of Gold’, leafy, old Saint Amand Montrond, at the finish.
The Loire region is the whispering ‘Garden of France’, dotted with soaring Chateaux peeping through the trees, sprinkling the hillsides and pastures with a dash of regal splendour.
The kings and noblemen of ages past were drawn to this rich and fertile ‘garden’, with its ever-pleasant climate and excellent foods and wines. Your nearest Tour de France Al Fresco park is near Pierrefitte-sur-Sauldre, well placed for ‘chateau spotting’, with the fabulously ornate 17th Century Cheverny (56 miles) and Renaissance masterpiece Chombord (43 miles), the biggest of them all boasting 365 fireplaces.
You may want to take in the main market town of the Sologne – Romorantin-Lanthenay – with its lazy riverside gardens, old mills and yawning bridges. This is an idyllic venue for a spot of deliciously authentic dejeuner. Sure to be on many a menu will be a selection of freshwater fish, with trout a particular favourite, eels too. And with most locals especially fanatical about sweets and cakes, you must have a slice of cherry clafoutis, or apple tartin.
Of course, no luxury camping holiday in the Loire Valley would be complete without a close inspection of the wonderful wine making process. There are numerous vineyards in the vicinity creating wines of individual distinction, where every grape is cherished and every bottle revered. For white wines, don’t miss the legendary Sancerre, or prestigious Pouilly-Fume. The excellent Anjou is a dependable choice of quality rosé too.
If you do venture out to a local vineyard by bicycle, and who can blame you with so many cycle trails taking you right to the heart of the rural picture, be careful on your return…you are most certainly not going to challenge any of the Tour de France riders!
(Stage 14 Saturday – July 13th: SAINT-POURCAIN-SUR-SIOULE to LYONS 191km)
(Stage 15 Sunday – July 14th: GIVORS to MONT VENTOUX 242km)
Tricky Stage 14 begins in central Saint-Pourcain-sur Sioule – a town swimming in wine, with vineyards all around for miles and miles. It ends in the bustling city of Lyon, thriving ancient hub of the country and its ‘gastronomic capital’.
Much anticipated Stage 15, on ‘Independence Day’, is the 2013 Tour’s longest, spanning the celebrated resistance town of Givors to the unforgiving heights of Mont Ventoux, which has taken many victims in races past. Fortune favours the brave…
Best seen in many cases from the seat of a kayak, the Ardeche’s jaw-dropping landscape provides photo opportunities at every turn. An absolute must for the Tour de France tourist is the startling Vallon Pont d’Arc, carved out of the limestone canyon by the River Ardeche over 100 million years. Or the awe-inspiring cave of Aven d’Orgnac, whose lava flow deposits resemble an organ case.
Man too has made his mark upon this most fascinating place. Who could fail to marvel at Agrippa the Roman’s Pont du Gard? A monumental achievement in every regard, this 50km aqueduct, which carries water to Nimes, was built entirely without mortar though some of its stones weigh up to 6 tons. No wonder it’s amongst France’s top 5 tourist attractions. The awesome amphitheatres at Nimes and Arles are well worth visiting too.
The mountain-perched village of Balazuc, just 6 miles from your Al Fresco holiday park, certainly merits attention, with its 12th Century church and splendid views. A little further away (17 miles) is the charming, fortified town of Aubenas, with its cluster of cobbled streets and beautiful bridges. Why not take a tour of the chateau?
Stuck for gift ideas? You could always buy a chunk of picodon – the region’s speciality goat’s milk cheese – or for those with a sweet tooth, there’s melt-in-the-mouth nougat from Montelimar.
* If you want to travel a little further from your luxury Al Fresco ‘bases’ in either the Ardeche or Cote d’Azur to keep up with the race before it flies up to the climax in Paris, following their rest day in Vaucluse on Monday, you can spot the riders over the following, closing stages:
(Stage 16 Tuesday – July 16th: VAISON-LA-ROMAINE to GAP 168km)
(Stage 17 Wednesday – July 17th: EMBRUN to CHORGES Individual Time Trial, 32km)
(Stage 18 Thursday – July 18th: GAP to ALPE-D’HUEZ 168km)
(Stage 19 Friday – July 19th: BOURG D’OISANS to LE-GRAND-BORNAND 204km)
(Stage 20 Saturday – July 20th: ANNECY to SEMNOZ 125km)
(Stage 21 Sunday – July 21st: VERSAILLES to PARIS CHAMPS-ELYSEES 118km)
The end is in sight…last year saw Sir Bradley Wiggins take the coveted ‘yellow jersey’ and make his famous, funny speech. But who will circle the Arc de Triomphe then cross the line on the Champs-Elysees in 2013? Who will be the first to reach the tape having made the final ‘killer’ sprint from the sprawling Palace gardens of Versailles, home to ‘Sun King’ Louis IV? Whoever it is will certainly breathe a monumental sigh of relief and head for the Champagne after his astonishing 3,360km journey.
Want to witness the end of the epic Tour but thought you couldn’t find luxury camping around Paris? Think again…
Just a wee bus and express RER train ride from the Arc de Triomphe, in the leafy suburbs of Rougemont, is splendid Al Fresco camping park Parc Est featuring 4-star mobile homes by the banks of the Seine, plus a wealth of family sports amenities right on the doorstep (Parc du Tremblay, 100m). And it gets better – another short (20-minute) trip away in the opposite direction is Disneyland® Paris, tickets for whose multiple attractions you can buy on site.
Whilst you’re there, you might want to pop over to the world’s biggest fresh food market (Rungis) as well – it’s only a 15-mile drive away. Fontainebleau (Royal Palace) is 35 miles and if you’re fond of the gee-gees, you might just back a winner at Bois de Vincennes (3 miles.)
A little further from the city but equally accessible to Disneyland® Paris by shuttle bus (twice weekly), is Al Fresco parc La Croix du Vieux Pont.
On the banks of the River Aisne at Berny Riviere, set in lush Royal Compiegne parkland, deep in the country’s glorious Champagne region, this exceptionally popular 4-star site, complete with magnificent swimming pools, novelty sports, games and adventure activities, is perfect for kids of all ages.
In fact, here you get the best of all worlds: USA-style razzle-dazzle within easy reach, yet a location that still remains distinctly French in character (a mile up the road is the typically sleepy French town of Vic-sur-Aisne, complete with 12th Century tower, river rides, boulangeries and proper, little family restaurants.)
And that’s not all. A holiday in France’s regal North would not be complete without a long look at Reims, especially its awe-inspiring, Gothic cathedral where the Kings of France were crowned. And remember: you’re in the ‘Champagne zone’ where iconic brands like Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Taittinger and Mumm are bottled. (Why not ‘take the tour’?)
There’s the famous forest of Compiegne too, where, peeping through the trees is the fairytale Pierrefonds chateau, as picture-perfect a castle as you’re ever likely to see (it doubles as Camelot in the BBC’s Merlin). The ancient cathedral at Soissons is well worth seeking out on your travels as well.