2015 Tour de France: Crossing the Alps
From 22 to 25 July, it’s the turn of the Alps and its legendary passes to take centre-stage, as the Tour travels from Digne-les-Bains to Alpe d’Huez. Famous winter sports resorts in their own right, the Tour de France’s host towns offer visitors a whole host of top-quality outdoor pursuits amid verdant scenery during the summer months. The area boasts wonderful views, visits to mountain towns and villages, hiking, mountain biking, white-water sports, and well-being treatments at the region’s spa towns.
Stage 17 (Wednesday 22 July): Digne-les-Bains > Pra Loup (161km)
Stage 18 (Thursday 23 July): Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (186.5km)
Stage 19 (Friday 24 July): Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > La Toussuire – Les Sybelles (138km)
Stage 20 (Saturday 25 July): Modane Valfréjus > Alpe d’Huez (110.5km)
Digne-les-Bains (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence / PACA)
Digne-les-Bains has many facets: 12 times a host town for the Tour du France, the capital of lavender and a spa town. To help you relax, recharge your batteries or help cure your minor ailments, make sure you find time for a trip to one of its spas, with their 49°C curative waters. A town also renowned for its sports activities, Digne-les-Bains welcomes skiers in the winter as well as hikers, climbers and canyoning enthusiasts during the summer. For visitors interested in culture, discover the remains of buildings built between the 1st and 13th centuries in the crypt of Notre-Dame du Bourg cathedral, considered one of the largest crypts in the world.
Things to do around Digne-les-Bains
- Enjoy a walk through the Géoparc de Haute Provence, the largest geological nature reserve in France, with its abundance of fossils (10min drive).
- Head out on a journey of adventure along the Route Napoléon, following in the footsteps of Napoleon Bonaparte (10min drive).
- Discover the Gorges du Verdon and relax on the beach at the Lac de Castillon, in Saint-André-les-Alpes (40min drive).
- Experience the typically Provençal ambience of Aix-en-Provence (1hr 10min drive).
Pra Loup (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence / PACA)
This town in the Ubaye valley has developed strong links with Mexico, to where around 2,500 local inhabitants emigrated from 1820 onwards, making their fortune before returning to the Alps - the sumptuous villas built in Barcelonnette bear witness to their success. The Latin-Mexican fiestas in August further strengthen the town’s links with Latin America. The Ubaye river is well suited to white-water activities such as rafting and kayaking, and with just cause, as it is one of the few rivers in Europe not to have been tamed by man. The ski resort, with its 180km of runs, attracts winter sports enthusiasts as well as mountain bikers and hikers in summer.
Things to do around Pra Loup
- Descend the Ubaye river, around Barcelonnette, by canoe or raft (15min drive).
- Admire the Lac d’Allos, the largest man-made mountain lake in Europe, at an altitude of 2,200m (1hr20min drive).
- Marvel at the majestic landscapes from the very top of Europe’s highest road, the Col de la Bonnette, at an altitude of 2,802m.
Saint-Jean de Maurienne (Savoie / Rhône Alpes)
The historic capital of the Maurienne valley, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne offers a wide range of cultural activities for visitors, including a visit to Saint-Jean-Baptiste cathedral and the Tabellion quarter (with its remarkable Correrie tower). The town has also given risen to the famous Opinel knives of the Savoie, the history of which can be explored at the Musée Opinel (old workshop, machines, the story of the family that established the company and a boutique). The Opinel knife is very much part of the town’s history, as can be witnessed by a giant knife displayed at the Opinel roundabout, which the Tour de France’s cyclists will ride past on 24 July.
Things to do around Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne
- Stroll through the charming historic centre of Chambéry, the former capital of the Dukes of Savoy (50min drive).
- Recharge your batteries in the spa town of Aix-les-Bains (1hr drive).
- Enjoy the charms of Annecy and its delightful lake (1hr 15min drive).
Fontcouverte La Toussuire (Savoie / Rhône Alpes)
Situated at an altitude of 1,800m, La Toussuire is one of France’s oldest ski resorts. From here, the view of the three peaks of the Aiguilles d’Arves is unbeatable! These peaks can also be admired from a number of different buildings, such as the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church dating back to the 17th century. Another religious building worthy of interest is the Notre-Dame de la Salette chapel, a listed historic monument.
Things to do around Fontcouverte-La-Toussuire
- Admire flowers, chamois and birds in the Parc de la Vanoise, with its myriad hiking trails, in particular the GR5, GR55 and the Via Alpina (40min drive).
- Discover and enjoy a tasting of the fine wines of the Savoie in the "Cœur de Savoie" wine area (50min drive).
- Relax at the delightful Aiguebelette natural lake (1hr 15min drive).
Modane Valfréjus (Savoie / Rhône Alpes)
Known for its tunnel connecting France and Italy, Modane Valfréjus is home to several buildings of interest: the Chapelle du Charmaix, the forts of Saint-Gobain (including a 300m gallery which provided shelter for 150 men during the Second World War) and Replaton, as well as the "leaning house", formerly a defensive blockhouse.
Things to do around Modane Valfréjus
- Enjoy a picnic alongside the pretty Lac du Mont Cenis, on the border with Italy (1hr drive).
- Visit La Grave, officially recognised as one of France’s Most Beautiful Villages (1hr 45min drive).
- From La Grave, take a ride on the Glaciers de la Meije cable-car, from where you can admire the Girose glacier (3,173m).
Alpe d’Huez (Isère / Rhône Alpes)
A renowned ski resort, Alpe d’Huez is a legendary stage for cyclists on the Tour de France, as the resort has been chosen as a host town on no fewer than 28 occasions. Sights of interest here include the Notre-Dame des Neiges church and the Brandes archaeological complex, the only site from the Middle Ages to have been discovered in the Alps. Another sight not to be missed is the view from the Pic Blanc (3,330m) in the Grandes Rousses chain, which can be reached by cable-car. The 360° panorama from here encompasses the Parc National des Écrins, Mont Blanc and Mont Ventoux.
Things to do around Alpe d’Huez
- Discover the small village of Le Bourg d’Oisans, the gateway to the Parc National des Écrins (30 min).
- Enjoy a stroll through Grenoble, exploring its old town with its typical squares (1hr 10min drive).
- While you’re in Grenoble, take the cable-car that runs from the centre of town to the Bastille hill, from where the incredible views take in the town and its surroundings.