The 5 best Tour de France stage cities

Tour de Hoody: The annual 'big loop' takes in the hidden corners of France, and these are stage cities everyone wants to return to.

Photo: (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

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The recent confirmation that Nice will play host to the final finish line of the 2024 Tour de France is a first in race history.

Paris and its nearby suburbs have played host to the race finale every year since the inaugural edition in 1903.

Across the historical arc of the Tour’s history, some cities and towns have played host to Tour stages again and again. Yet every year, there will be a hamlet or a summit finale that the Tour’s never reached.

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Some are better than can be imaged, some never want to be seen again.

The Tour presentation every October comes with drama and surprise of where the Tour will be going.

For everyone inside the Tour de France roving caravan, there are a few choice spots that they love to return to year after year.

Here are five of my favorite stops of the Tour de France itinerary:

Bourg d’Oisans, gateway to Alpe d’Huez

Bourg d’Oisans is nestled at the base of the Alpe d’Huez and its famous 21 switchbacks. (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Perhaps no town on the Tour de France itinerary pumps as loud and raucous as this hamlet perched at the base of Alpe d’Huez.

Most of the year, the village is a byway between skiers or cyclists heading up the Alpe for downhill fun or uphill suffering. Come Tour time, and the town is overflowing with cycling fans from all over the world.

There are a few choice hotels in town — book early if you want to get a room — plus a couples of top brasserie that are overloaded on race day. An estimated 500,000 fans will pile onto the famed 21 lacets on the Alpe, and almost everyone comes through Bourg d’Oisans.

The party starts the night before and rocks all the way through the stage and beyond.

The town warrants more than a stopover, and there are three campgrounds at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez climb that are an ideal base to spend a few days riding the nearby climbs. The places are chock full of bike geeks, with a pool, bar, and a pizzeria to recharge the carbs for the next day’s ride.

It’s a great place to be based for a Tour trip, especially to take in the epic climbs and catch a few nearby stages, before culminating with Alpe d’Huez.

Montpellier, coolest town off the tourist circuit

Montpellier is a familiar stop on the Tour de France. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

France’s Languedoc region has a long history with the Tour de France.  The very first Tour went through the region in one of the long-distance inaugural stages that ran 423km from Marseilles to Toulouse.

These days, stages are typically half that distance, and Languedoc-Roussillon — now part of the sprawling French department of Occitanie — sees Tour stages almost every year.

My favorite stop in the region is Montpellier, the thriving regional capital that is packed with university students, and a fully intact Medieval city center that’s heaving with bars, terraces, and great restaurants.

The region extends across southern France, from the Rhone Valley down to the Pyrénées bordering Spain.  What is lacks in big mountains — Mont Ventoux is on one side and the Tourmalet on the other — it makes up for in very interesting terrain.

Montpellier is one of those authentic European cities that might not draw a lot of tourists, like the nearby Avignon or Nîmes, but it’s exactly for that reason that it’s a great place to settle in for a few days while chasing the Tour de France.

It’s usually stinking hot in the middle of July, so it’s a late-night city where the restaurants stay open until midnight, and the bars even later. A chilled bottle of the local Languedoc rosé is the perfect tonic to take the edge off the heat.

Pau, gateway to the Pyrénées

Something always happens in Pau. (Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images)

Something always happens in Pau.

Some of the Tour’s most controversial and dramatic moments have happened in and around Pau. The Michael Rasmussen disqualification or Lance Armstrong’s famous standoff with journalists all happened inside the Pau conference center that also plays home to the press room.

Pau is often the host of the Tour’s rest day, so journalists know to book a room early, or they will get stuck in that hotel blackhole otherwise known at Lourdes.

Pau is a lovely city perched above the Ousse River. A string of brasseries and pubs serve up delicious views of the Pyrénées blocking the horizon. The local delicacy is the tangy confit de canard, served up steaming hot on the restaurants lining the Place Clemenceau.

Tour officials recently unveiled a statuary park celebrating all the Tour de France winners with plaques and historical markers. Pau is a top spot to visit some nearby stages and tackle some of the famous cols in the Pyrénées.

Bordeaux, a sprinter’s paradise

Bordeaux and its nearby vineyards are a familiar stop on the Tour. (Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Wine and Bordeaux are synonymous, and so too are Bordeaux and the Tour de France.

Bordeaux has been a fixture on the Tour de France since hosting one of the original stages in the first Tour in 1903. Stage 4 that year ran 268km from Toulouse to Bordeaux in what was the shortest stage of the inaugural Tour.  The next stage ran 425km from Bordeaux to Nantes.

The Tour kept coming back, with 80 stage starts or finishes across the decades.

As the city blossomed, locals and politicians were not so keen to see the city paralyzed for an entire day by the arrival of the race.

For 2023, the Tour returns to Bordeaux for the first time in 13 years, though it’s hard to believe it’s been that long. The finish is always known as a “sprinter’s stage,” and the usually flat terrain in the approaches to the city rarely see the script finish differently.

Davis Phinney won a stage there in 1987, and Mark Cavendish was the last winner in 2010.

Of course, it’s the wine, cuisine, architecture, and thriving terraces that make the city a favorite inside the Tour caravan.

Paris, city of lights

There’s no finishing straight like the Champs-Élysées. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

There is only one Paris, and if you had to limit your Tour de France bucket list to one stop, the City of Lights wouldn’t be a bad call.

The finishing straight on the Champs-Élysées is arguably sport’s most dramatic finish line. The color and pageantry of the Tour come to an apex on France’s most famous stretch of cobbles (sorry Paris-Roubaix fans).

And if you’ve taken a city bike down the Champs-Élysées you will have new respect for what the peloton has to face on these slick, urban cobbles after three weeks of brutal racing.

Some fans don’t like the final-day parade and sprint down the Champs, but for me, it’s the perfect end to any edition of the Tour. The late start, the early stage hijinks, and then the tidy but hard-fought final sprint for me is the perfect finishing note to a Tour.

A time trial finish just doesn’t pack the same drama. Sure, there’s the famous stage of Greg LeMond beating back Laurent Fignon and his wind-dragging mullet, but that happened once in the Tour 100-year-plus history. Time trials are snoozers for everyone except for the one or two riders who might win the stage and the other two or three who might see their GC positions change.

For everyone else, it’s a rest day.

Now, if the 2024 final time trial finished atop Col d’Eze above Nice, that would be something I’d love to see.

But if you want that perfect Instagram moment, the Tour finale on the Champs-Élysées is hard to beat. And the after-race parties are something off-the-charts.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.