July 1, 2014

I am a huge fan of the Tour de France and have been eagerly counting down the days until the start of the race, planning which stages I am going to try out for myself this summer, with the last of which I reviewed here being Stage 12, from Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Étienne. As a keen cycler, I find the best way to get over to the continent with my bike is with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle; it takes just 35 minutes to cross the Channel, with a 24-hour service and no baggage restrictions. Moving further along the Tour de France 2014 route, this time I'm going to be looking at the highlights along the 125km stretch of the 17th stage, from Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet, that will take place on 23 July 2014.

Start: Saint-Gaudens

This little commune, in its picturesque setting in the Haute-Garonne region of South-West France, has made a popular name for itself amongst the cycling community. It has featured in some of the best Tour de France mountain races in history, and makes a great base for exploring some of the amazing trails in the area.

 Take a peaceful stroll around the cloisters in Saint-Gaudens
Take a peaceful stroll around the cloisters in Saint-Gaudens

Situated about 405m above sea level at the base of the Pyrenees, Saint-Gaudens overlooks a lush valley below, with the mountainous backdrop just begging to be explored. Whilst you're in town, take the time to visit the 11th century Romanesque church and wander the peaceful cloisters, before following the scenic cycle path along the banks of the Garonne river.

The Pyrenees Mountains

During the 17th stage of Le Tour de France, cyclists will be ascending and descending the beautiful peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains, crossing the border from France into Spain and back again. According to mythology, the Pyrenees were built by Hercules as a tomb in honour of his lover, the Princess Pyrene, and what a spectacular tribute they make.

 Wander the rolling green mountains of the Pyrenees
Wander the rolling green mountains of the Pyrenees

No matter what time of year you choose to visit the Pyrenees, they are sure to take your breath away. In the spring and summer months, hop on your bike to explore the rolling fields of green, in fragrant full bloom. In the winter, it can get very icy, so make sure you have winter tyres, and take care on the rocky trails. There are also plenty of other things you can do to enjoy the magnificent scenery, including tranquil river cruises, skiing and snowboarding, and wine tasting at one of the local vineyards. Check with the local tourist information offices as to what is currently in season.

Finish: Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet

At the end of the 125km route, the Tour de France cyclists will find themselves in the beautiful surrounds of the Hautes-Pyrénées department. Although this is the shortest stage of the race, it is by no means the easiest, and competitors will undoubtedly be looking forward to the brief rest here in Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet.

 Stop by a lake for picnic in the sun around Saint-Lary-Soulan
Stop by a lake for picnic in the sun around Saint-Lary-Soulan

There is plenty to keep you busy in the great outdoors here in this ski resort area, no matter what time of year you visit. If you're planning your trip during the colder months, you will be able to take advantage of over 100km of ski slopes, suitable for all ages; there's 'Snow Kindergarten' for the youngest and 'Kid Park' aimed at slightly older children. In the summer, there is a ski park that transforms into a skate park, for those who like to keep life fast-paced, but for quieter days, there are also plenty of scenic mountain walks and bike trails to explore.

Following Le Tour de France

With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, it takes just 35 minutes to get from Folkestone to Calais, which makes it the easiest way to explore the routes taken by Le Tour de France. And with services running up to four times an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you are guaranteed to find a travelling time to suit your schedule. All you need to do is load up the bike rack, and decide which leg of the race you're going to cycle first!

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