Featured image by Josh Hallett
The summer of 2014 looks set to be another blockbuster for sports enthusiasts, and few events capture the imagination of the global audience quite like the Tour de France. This year, the world’s most prestigious bike race starts off in the heart of Yorkshire, with the route passing through some of the country’s most beautiful scenery before crossing the channel to France.
The start of the 101st edition of the Tour de France will see riders journey from Leeds to London, via Harrogate, York, Sheffield and Cambridge.
As impressive as it will look for a worldwide TV audience, there’s nothing quite like exploring these fantastic regions first hand. So why not set off on a summer road trip to see the sights for yourself? Hire a car in Leeds and head to the starting line to explore the best UK and French hot spots with our ‘Le Tour’ route guide.
The bustling city of York will host the start of the second tour stage, with the southbound route passing through a long list of charming Yorkshire towns before reaching Sheffield. If you’re starting your journey here, book a car hire in York to follow the Tour route and make the most of your visit to this region. Famous landmarks include the magnificent York Minster cathedral, while a trip to the National Railway Museum – considered to be the finest in the world – is not to be missed either.
While you’re here, don’t miss a visit to Jorvik Viking Centre, one of the most popular attractions in the UK. Experience the sights, sounds and smells of a bygone age with a walk through Viking streets, providing a unique insight into how they would have looked 1000 years ago.
Once you’ve brushed up on your Viking knowledge, hop behind the wheel and head for Hebden Bridge – one of the charming market towns featured on the Tour route. As well as being a cosy place to stop for some tea and scones, it’s also the perfect opportunity to take a break from driving and explore the countryside by foot.
Hardcastle Crags features over 400 acres of woodland and 24km of criss-crossing footpaths waiting to be explored. Don’t forget to visit the Gibson Mill visitor centre, which tells the story of the valley through dance, exhibitions and interactive performances.
Explore the Nord – Pas-de-Calais region
The first stage on French soil starts in the outskirts of Etaples and weaves its way inland through the northern Pas-de-Calais region, close to the Belgian border. The region was once the French part of Flanders, an area with close connections to the First World War. Take time to visit one or two of the poignant memorial sites, such as the Etaples War Cemetery – the largest of its kind in France. This is the resting place of over 11,500 soldiers, all of whom lost their lives during the Great War. The thousands of white graves stones and monuments make for a fascinating visit, all within easy reach of the Tour route.
Champagne road trip
The town of Epernay marks the start of the seventh stage and will see riders embark on a gruelling 233km journey to Nancy. This particular part of the route will appeal to road-trippers with a taste for the finer things in life, who’ll find themselves heart of the Champagne region. Located to the east of Paris, this charming province has historically been a key agricultural area but production of the finest sparkling wine remains its ultimate claim to fame.
Expect green fields and rolling hills for as far as the eye can see, interspersed with several fantastic vineyards. Head north of Epernay to the town of Reims, where the Champagne Aspasie has been producing wine since the late 1700s. Swing by for a tour of the grand estate and discover the secrets behind producing some of the finest sparkly known to man.
Although the Tour de France route changes every year, the final stage remains forever unchanged. Each year, the grand finale sees the riders sweep into the streets of Paris and repeatedly lap a city centre route before the race concludes on the iconic Champs-Elysées, with the Arc de Triomphe providing the spectacular backdrop for the trophy presentation.
Needless to say, the French capital is blessed with top attractions, famous landmarks, an endless list of cultural offerings and of course top notch shopping and dining options. But why not make the most of your rental vehicle and venture outside of the city? A short drive to the west will take you to the town of Versailles; the home of the Palace of Versailles, the former residence of King Louis XIV. Explore the majestic Palace grounds, including the famous Hall of Mirrors, or spend hours meandering through the immaculately presented 800 hectare gardens.