Out for the Day…..in the tracks of the Tour de France

Hands up if the thought of exercise brings you out in a rash, and the most calories you have burnt recently came from lifting that ice cold bottle of beer to parched lips!  OK.

Put your hands down and use them to grab hold of the bull by the horns….or the bike by the handlebars. It’s definitely time to dust off that old push bike (or treat yourself to a shiny new one) and get back into cycling mood ‘cos cyclists and non cyclists alike are dancing a jig here in the P-O this summer!

Why? Because the much loved Tour de France is coming back, fast and furious, for stage 15, starting chez nous in Céret and finishing in Andorra.

So you won’t be surprised to hear that our July day out follows the same route that those intrepid heroes will be cycling this July. Why not follow the route in stages before, after or even during the race, with plenty of hotels, restaurants and campsites on the way to rest your aching bottom?

tour de france

Say it right

LE tour – tour

LA tour – tower

Start

Our tour begins in Céret, cherry capital of the Vallespir, with it quaint, cobbled streets, ancient ramparts, pretty squares, lively shops, restaurants, and bars, and art and music museums. Picasso loved it; so will you!

The weekly market, held every Saturday morning beneath the hundred-year-old plane trees that line the streets of the town centre, is one of the best in the area. Locals and tourists alike are drawn by the very ‘Frenchness’ of it, the strains of accordion or jazz mingle in the warm southern air with artisan made goat’s cheese and paella ‘à emporter’, and the café trottoirs overflow with people watchers.

Find out everything you need to know at the Tourist Office in the Rue Ferréol, with seating for visitors, tablets to surf and a cellphone charging station where you can plug in your phone, head off to lunch, and return later to retrieve it fully charged.

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Remnants of the Mining Age

Many of these villages have mining origins. The Romans were the first to extract the iron, building roads for easy access to Perpignan, crafting iron wheels for carts, used to transport and make armaments for their vast empire.

The Romans left, but the industry continued and prospered. Small settlements grew up in the Vallespir, the Conflent and the valley of the Lentilla, to house the families of miners, muleteers, blacksmiths, and transporters.

From 1950 onwards, the mines could no longer compete with the rest of the world, and closed down. Today, many of the ancient villages have been saved from ruin by second home and gite owners, immaculately restored remnants of the mining age.

Then…

From Céret, à not-so-strenuous uphill climb of 15 km for our valiant cyclists should see some fierce battles to take the lead as they head towards Oms, then onwards and upwards along oak lined roads with fantastic glimpses through the trees of panoramic views. Pass Calmeilles, tiny, immaculate pedestrian village, with interesting Romanesque church, first mentioned in 959.

Calmeilles

Keep going!

Continue climbing until you arrive at the Col du Fortou crossroads (655m), with signs indicating straight on for Ille sur Têt or left towards Amélie. We will be going straight on, direction Ille towards Bouleternère, but you may wish to take a little detour to the right, down a narrow road, to the tiny hamlet of Prunet. Blink and you will miss it. Clustered around a minuscule 10th century church beneath a couple of two hundred year old oak trees in whose branches peacocks roost, the graveyard has some fine examples of traditional wrought iron crosses.

Prunet

From Bouleternère (198m), we head for Prades, passing Vinça, and its impressive ‘plan d’eau’ on the right and a pleasant lake and beach where you can swim, hire pedalos, trampoline, jump up and down on the bouncy castle……

Vinça

E-xhausted?

Not loving the idea of excessive uphill cycling? How about following the route on an E bike?

Still great E-xercise but easier on the thighs (and all the other bits!) when the ups and downs of this fabulous region become a little too challenging. E-conomical, E-cological and E-accessible to all fitness levels, you can put in as much, or as little, effort as you wish.

What better way to be sure of earning your maillot jaune?

Les plus beaux villages de France

On past pretty Eus with its narrow, be-flowered, cobbled streets joined by ancient vaulted passageways, the imposing 18th century church of St Vincent, perched on a rocky peak, old rampart to walk around with panoramic views of the Conflent Valley.

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Prades

Prades (340m) next, capital of the Conflent, land of cooler air and contrast, rich in culture and history, from its snowy peaks, its wild and and mountainous terrain, its stunning lakes to its many pretty and peaceful villages. This bustling and lively market town is clustered around the large church of St Pierre, with its dramatic Sunyer altar pieces, and a starting point for all levels of exciting sporty adventures!

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On we pedal!

Tour de France cyclists probably won’t be thinking of sight seeing, but delightful Villefranche de Conflent (433 m), a perfectly preserved fortified medieval town with ancient ramparts, is well worth the stop. Just two main pedestrian-only streets with art galleries, souvenir shops and local craft shops, you can also buy handcrafted lucky witch dolls, ‘poupées sorcières’, as befits the legends of magic and witchcraft surrounding this region, steeped in history and superstition.

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Getting hot and bothered between the excitement of the competition and the Conflent sunshine? Just across the road from Villefranche, ‘Les Grottes des Canalettes’, are an exciting network of spectacular caves to cool you down, following a qualified guide along specially adapted bridges and walkways, deep into the heart of the Massif du Canigou.

canalettes

Vernet les Bains is also well worth the detour off to the left of the main tour route, passing through Corneilla de Conflent, once home to Guillem Ramon, Count of Cerdagne. Only a tower remains of his palace but the rather splendid looking church has some fine examples of Catalan Romanesque art and the whole village has an olde worlde charm.

Vernet itself was a highly fashionable ‘station thermale’ at the start of the XX century. Today, it is a pretty Catalan village and spa, recommended for respiratory and rheumatic disorders, with bars, restaurants and casino, its steep, narrow, flower decked streets, leading to the XII century church of Saint Saturnin attached to the castle.

vernet les bains

Enough detours for now, there’s racing to be done

Back to the main route and riders come up against the first real climb (8.4 km at 5.7%) as they approach Mont Louis (1560m), the highest fortified town in France. Renamed Fort Libre during the  French Revolution, the ramparts and fortifications are intact, and a stroll  around the walls makes a pleasant walk with stunning views.

mont louis

You can also visit the Puits des Forçats (Convicts’ Well), with its enormous wheel that supplied water to the site, the first solar furnace in the world, and the church dedicated to St Louis, with its series of Roussillon baroque altarpieces dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Fancy going commando?  Mont Louis is also home to the ‘Centre national d’entraînement commando’, training elite troops in commando techniques and endurance of physical and mental stress in combat situations.

And if you decided not to ride up to Mont Louis on your bike (!) you can make your day by taking the little yellow train there from Villefranche de Conflent, and pampering yourself at the nearby natural hot springs of Saint Thomas, lunching within the historic walls after a gentle stroll around the ramparts.

Going up!

Back on your bikes (or climb back into the car), direction Font Romeu at 1783 metres.

Modern and lively winter resort, but equally lovely in the summer, with its casino/cinema/disco, plenty of hotels, bars, and restaurants, and pure relaxation at the natural hot baths at nearby Llo, Dorres or St Thomas, particularly welcome if you’ve just cycled up from Perpignan! Nature and art collide in the museum without walls, the highest outdoor art gallery in Europe, or visit the world’s largest solar furnace.

Font Romeu
Font Romeu

Les Angles

Ski resort in winter, starting point for delightful walks and sporty adventures in summer, the old village of Les Angles is centred around the church of St Michel, several fountains and the remains of the XIII century tower of the chateau. Attractive old houses have been turned into gites, restaurants and hotels, with a new Balnéo Well Being Centre, if you’re in need of a pamper, sauna, jacuzzi…..

Les Angles
Les Angles

Bottom sore yet? Nearly there!

Head now towards the Col de Puymorens. High mountains form the frontier with Andorra, huge granite boulders and small waterfalls provide a stunning backdrop as the road winds its way up to the 1900 metre col, before plunging down towards Andorran Pas de la Casa, once nothing but a single shepherd’s hut overlooking the pass. You might find it changed a little!

Bypass this busy tax free haven and purpose built border town (unless you’re desperate for cheap booze and other duty free delights), and take the Port d’Envalira, the highest road in the Pyrenees, 2408m above sea level.

If you still have the energy, head down towards Soldeu, Canillo and Encamp along the Collada de Beixalis mountain pass (1,790 m), and down through Anyós towards Escaldes-Engordany, before arriving on Sunday 11th July at the finish line in Andorra la Vella, capital of the Principality of Andorra and highest capital city in Europe.

Nearby Latour de Carol is the last station stop of the Yellow Train, if you’ve come up the easy way from Villefranche de Conflent.

Collada de Beixalis
Collada de Beixalis, Visitandorra

Phew! We made it. Are you still with me?

Whether you follow the Tour on your bike, car, train, bus or just on the telly, you will be constantly surrounded by the stunning scenery of the beautiful Pyrenees-Orientales. Enjoy.

Did you know...?

….. in 1904  competitor Hippolyte Aucouturier tied a piece of cork to a long piece of string, tied the other end to the back of a car, and bit down on the cork as he followed the car. He was disqualified for cheating of course.

…..the route of the Tour de France changes every year, takes place over 23 days covers over 2,000 miles and always ends on the Champs-Élysées.

……each rider consumes an average of 123,900 calories over the course of the three weeks, equivalent to 495 croissants, 152 full English breakfasts or 200 bottles of champagne!

—–in 1904, several competitors including the 1903 winner were disqualified after allegations that they used trains during the race.

…..in the 1920s competitors smoked cigarettes, sharing the amongst themselves as they rode, as it was believed that it helped them to ‘open up’ the lungs before a hard climb.

…..competitors used to drink alcohol to ease pain during the race, later banned when it was classed as a stimulant.

…..the first Tour de France race was held in 1903 and entry cost 10 francs

…..the youngest rider to win the Tour de France was Henri Comet in 2004 at just 19. The oldest was Firmin Lambot, at the age of 36, in 1922.

TOUR DE FRANCE VOCAB (1)

List of road closures on Sunday 11th July

From 9am

  • RD 115 around Céret
  • RD 615 between Céret and the Col de Llauro
  • RD 618 and RD 16 between the Col de Fourtou and the RN116 at the Bouleternère roundabout.
  • RN 116 from the Ille sur Têt east junction to the entrance of Prades
  • RD 916 between Ille sur Têt and the Bouleternère roundabout
  • RD 916 crossing Prades
  • RN 116 between Prades and Mont-Louis/La Cabanasse
  • RN 20 between Ur and the Puymorens tunnel
  • RN 320, RN 22 to the Pas de la Case border at 8.30am
  • Puymorens tunnel from 9 am to 5 pm minimum

 

Closure from 11am

  • RD 118 at La Cabanasse/Montlouis between the RN116 (Brousse roundabout) and the roundabout with the RD618
  • RD 618 between Mont-Louis and Font-Romeu at the junction with the RD10F
  • RD10F between Font-Romeu and Egat
  • RD618 between Egat and the RN20 at Ur



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