Following the Tour de France

A honeymoon in the Alps, soaking up the sun whilst enjoying the atmosphere of Stages 17, 18 and 19 of the Tour de France 2015

My name is Kate and my husband Mat and I were married at the beautiful Bramleigh Receptions in Victoria, Australia in early 2015. We postponed our honeymoon until July 2015 so we could make our way over to the French Alps to see a bit of the Tour de France.

Every year we sit up until 2am watching the Tour from our home in Croydon, Australia, live on TV. I end up falling asleep on the couch as I’m not in to it as much as Mat is. We don’t actually ride, but we love watching all the scenery on the TV as well as the cycling! Every year we would sit there and talk about how one day we will get over to France to see it live…

We began our eight week honeymoon in the freezing cold Melbourne winter. Jumped on a few planes and after a couple of stop-offs we arrived in Paris. We didn’t realise just how far Australia is from the rest of the world.

After spending a full day and night sightseeing in Paris, the next morning we boarded another one of our 15 flights, this one to Lyon. A wonderfully quick hour and 15 minutes flight and we picked up our luggage and aimed for the Eurocar rental desk. There was a shuttle bus from the airport that takes you to all the different car rental places. Thank goodness this was all organised before we left, as neither Mat or I spoke any French and the car hire staff clearly didn’t speak any English!

Getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road was a challenge. We headed down the freeway past Chambèry then we reached the famous Col du Galibier. Driving through Valloire and the Tour de France hype was starting to hit.

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Col du Galibier, near Serre Chevalier

Avoiding bikes and caravans, we made our way through the windy roads along and through the beautiful mountains. Driving on incredibly dangerous cliff edges until we reached our destination, the alpine spa village of Le Monêtier les Bains.

What a beautiful, quaint village. We were both feeling very excited as we had not only just driven up and down the Col du Galibier (where the Tour was ‘yesterday’) but Tour fever had hit us. We were so close. We found our accommodation at Chalets de la Chamoissière, no thanks to our car GPS! (Hint: use your phone GPS and load the maps while you have wifi to then guide yourself via your phone; a lot easier to find.)

Our apartment La Chamoissière was sensational, and we couldn’t have felt more welcome. It was so homely. The wifi worked great and there were movies there for you to watch too. We walked to the local supermarket and got supplies for the week ahead. The wonderful thing about La Chamoissière is the cooking facilities; it has everything you need for saving money on eating out all the time. Pity we ran out of time to try the outdoor heated pool. But no time for that. We had Tour planning to do!

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La Chamoissiere apartment

Before we left Australia we had printed maps and worked out the best and closest Tour de France stages to watch. Because we had never done ‘the Tour’ before, we were in fact just winging it. We had a starting guide from the Tour De France magazine that we bought before leaving home and planned to be at each spot around two hours before the riders came through.

Day 1, Stage 17 (Digne les Bains – Pra Loup)

Up early and packed sandwiches for lunch as well as snacks, sunscreen and comfy shoes. We drove two hours through the stunning Alps to get as close as we could to park our car at Pra Loup. A few roads were closed around the route up to Pra Loup but we followed the crowd and discovered that in France you can pretty much park anywhere you want! We parked seven kms from the top and started the long walk up.

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The long walk up

There were cyclists and people walking up too so we couldn’t get lost. We ended up following who seemed like locals up to the top. They took us straight up the hill rather than zig zagging all the way up. What an experience! We were walking through people’s backyards and through their farms. A bloody hard climb in 30 degree weather. (Hint: Take fly spray. Flies galore!)

Finally we made it to the summit. One and a half hours later. Wow! The walk was definitely worth it. The quiet walk erupted into a bustling town full of spectators and cyclists. After looking around the last three kms of the stage we parked ourselves up on a balcony at the front of the shops to watch the riders from there. What we had no idea about was the big parade that goes on before the riders come though. Floats of sponsors with people throwing out free products and advertising to the crowd. So much fun. What an atmosphere. Even for me and I hardly know anything about cycling! There were also some great Tour de France souvenir shops that we went crazy in.

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Pra Loup, Stage 17

We watched on the big screen where the riders were. We stood about 50 meters from the finish line and after a few riders had passed us we ran around the back of the finish line where all the riders were getting off their bikes and doing interviews. We watched the presentation of the jerseys on the stage and headed back the long walk to the car. The traffic queues down the mountain were moving so slow with all the campervans that we nearly beat them walking.

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Pra Loup, Stage 17 finish

Once in the car we didn’t move from our car spot for 20 minutes. Lucky we had snacks! From leaving at 7.30 am that morning we finally got home at 11 pm. A long but incredibly exciting day!

Day 2, Stage 18 (Gap – St Jean de Maurienne)

7am we left for Gap. Today we are watching the start of the stage. One and a half hour drive to get there. We parked at a supermarket and walked along the main street to the start line. The parade began.

Gap (Stage 18 start) – Tour de France 2015 – La Caravane Publicitaire

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Gap – Stage 18 start

There was cyclist interviews on the stage and quiz’s. Prizes Galore! We were standing 10 meters from the starting line. Once they were off we had the rest of the afternoon free. Stopped off at a lovely lake-side restaurant on the way home to Monêtier. Once back, we walked along the main street to look in the souvenir shops and the information center.

Day 3, Stage 19 (Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – La Toussuire/Les Sybelles)

Day 3 took us to St Jean de Maurienne. We left at 9 am and one and a half hour’s drive later we arrived at the start. We planned it well because after the start we had a few hours to kill before the Tour was heading back around the same place again. What a beautiful town.

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We were able to stand right next to the team buses and all the riders warming up. We didn’t realise how much they ride before they actually start the day’s race. Great insight as to how the Tour all happens. They actually have washing machines and dryers in the bottom of their team buses!

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Washing machines in the Tour buses!

We had lunch at a lovely little Italian restaurant (restaurants everywhere!) called Le Montana. We walked up the hill to the other side of St Jean de Maurienne (15 minute easy walk) and waited for the riders to come through again. Hundreds of people slowly gathered. The floats came through then the riders. Great photo opportunity. Family back home were watching out for us in our footy jumpers. Thanks to a quick thinking brother, we were famous!

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On our way home back to Monêtier we drove over the Col du Galibier again. Some breathtaking tunnels and of course the mountain views. Home at 7 pm. A fantastic day out.

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Totally awesome few days watching the Tour but time to take in some sights of Monêtier too. The lady at the info centre suggested a lovely walk to Lac de la Douche, a heart shaped water pool. About one and a half hour walk (7km each way).

We set off. A long, long walk up very rocky and steep paths to the beautiful blue water. Stunning.  Definitely worth the walk. People having picnics and enjoying the sunshine.

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En route to Lac de la Douche

Back down in Monêtier we found a cute little pub (Bar L’Alpen) about four minute’s walk from Chalets de la Chamoissière which was showing the final 30 kms of Stage 20. Very cool atmosphere with locals all watching it on TV. Small quaint little place with very friendly staff. Later that night we had dinner at a place called La Kawa. Delicious pizza and crêpes. Lucky we got a table because they were booked out for the night.

Our last night in the beautiful Monêtier. France was unbelievably beautiful and a place we would definitely come and visit again. The Tour was so much more fun than we thought and would recommend it to anyone, even those with the slightest interest in cycling.

Onto our next stage of our honeymoon. Brussels here we come…

“Congratulations Kate and Mat on your wedding and what sounds like a fabulous honeymoon” – Mel @ EurekaSKI