Tour de France 2012

Our 2009 Tour Page has much more about Paris -- 2010 -- 2011 -- Go HERE for more pictures of Paris

2012 route   Place de la Concorde in the rain -- looking North

Placez-vous sur les chemins, regardez, Et demandez quels sont les anciens sentiers, Quelle est la bonne voie; marchez-y, Et vous trouverez le repos de vos‚ âmes !

Le parcours (incomplète en

Stage 0 (Prologue) -- Saturday June 30th: At the heart of Liège, in the park Avroy, the Tour de France 2012 will begin. Today's "Grand Départ" will be a 3.7 mile time trial from Liège to Liège (within the city-centre).

Stage 1 -- July 1st: Today's race is a 187km jaunt through the countryside from Liège to Liège-Seraing. Liège is situated in the valley of the river Meuse ("Maas" in Flemish), where the Meuse meets the Ourthe, near Belgium's eastern borders with the Netherlands and Germany -- in the former Sillon Industriel, once the industrial backbone of Wallonia. In the past, Liège was one of the most important steel-making areas in Europe. The city possesses the third largest river port in Europe, directly connected to Antwerp, Rotterdam and Germany via the Meuse river and the Albert Canal. Until 1949, the city's name was written with an acute accent instead of a grave accent (Liége). No war damage since that change.

The twelve days of delay caused by the siege of the city (1914) precipitated an eventual failure of the German invasion of France. The Germans subsequently became occupiers until the end of the Great War. Liége received the Légion d'Honneur for its resistance in 1914. World War II saw even more damage, the town receiving intense ærial bombardment, with more than 1,500 V1 and V2 missiles landing in Liége between its liberation (USA-September 1944) and the end of the conflict. See the Liège Province Website for more information. The city most recently was a Tour Host Site in 2010.

Seraing is a Walloon municipality of Belgium in Province of Liége. The corporate Val Saint Lambert site in this town consists the an old Cistercian abbey and the company's crystal manufacturing facilities, where the workforce continues its noble handcraft, shaping, carving and etching the world-famous pieces of art-glass (and has done so since 1826). The neighboring château houses an important glass museum. The historic town-centre includes the city hall (Hôtel de Ville) and the area's main church. Although its façade dates from 1713, its tower is from the Romanesque period; moreover, it contains 12th-century baptismal fonts. Please visit this Belgium Cathedral, Basillica and Grand Church locations Website.

Link to many pictures 
of buildings Stage 2 -- Visé to Tournai: The trip this day travels across an east-west span of Belgium, beginning near the border of Holland to Tournai, a city on the frontier of France. Visé has the distinction of being the only French-speaking city in Wallonia having a shared boundary with the Netherlands. The shrine of Saint Hadelin (11th to 12th century) remains the oldest in the Meuse River region. It survived even though most of the city-centre became devastated during the invasion of 1914. According to tradition, the first église arose in 779 at the benevolence of Princess Bertha, daughter of the Emperor Charlemagne. Soon thereafter, Normans razed the structure during a raid in 881. A rebuilt churchucture did not survive the sack of the city by Charles the Bold (of Burgundy) in 1467. The reconstruction after 1914 was carried out under the watchful eyes of architects Leon Edmond and Jamar Habran in 1924. It is at this time when the chapel housing the relics of St. Hadelin was incorporated.

Saint Hadelin, born in the early seventh century (Aquitaine (SW France)), was a disciple of Saint Remacle (Remaclus, Rimagilus), the founder of the dual Abbeys of Stavelot - Malmedy in 648 near Liège. The French Revolution ended the 1100 year independence of this area, and at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Stavelot was added to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In contrast, Malmedy was added to the Prussian Rhineland. In 1830 Stavelot became part of Belgium. Malmedy would also become a part of Belgium, but not until 1919. During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, the city was the scene of severe fighting and civilian murders for which the Nazi officer-in-charge stood trial as a war criminal. Stavelot will probably see Stage 1 of the race pass through the town.

In the year 1046, the Bishop of Liège placed the remains of Hadelin in a local shrine, decorated with reliefs in silver. Portions (finished around 1170) can still be seen today in the church of St. Martin de Visé. Later, in 1414, the skull of St. Hadelin was extracted for a special reliquary (sanctified containment). Since 1788, every 25 years, Visé has celebrated the arrival of the shrine in the city. The last event occurred in 1988, the next will take place in 2013. The shrine also is displayed publicly each year on the third Sunday in September in the place where it rests. The shrine is considered the central jewel of the Meuse cultural art from the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

The end point of the race today, Tournai, was known as Tornacum, a place of minor importance in Roman times. It functioned as a safe stopping place where the Roman road from Cologne on the Rhine (to Boulogne on the coast) crossed the river Scheldt. In the third century, Maximian fortified this position when the occupation of the Roman limes ended, replaced by a string of military outposts along the road. Tornacum soon came into the possession of the Salian Franks in 432 as Roman control collapsed fully. the city became the capital of that empire. In 486, Clovis moved his court to Paris. Tournai remained in the eastern part of this empire, which in 987 became what we know today as France. Tournai contains one of the most important cultural sites in Belgium. The mixed Romanesque- and Gothic-style cathedral of Notre Dame de Tournai and the town belfry, the oldest in Belgium, have been jointly designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

One of the reasons to visit Belgium, besides the beautiful scenery is bière. And, for a town southeast of today's endpoint, it is the brew from Brasserie Caulier in Péruwelz, (Hainaut) Belgium. The production line crafts Bon Secours Blonde, Ambrée et Bière Vivante (Dark), which are rated well, unless you get a bottle past its "use by" date (not likely in Europe, but an ever-present danger in the US). The beer comes in a number of other styles and seasonal favorites, all made available at Rue de Sondeville 134 (just before the road splits south of Péruwelz on the right (western) side -- B-7600 Péruwelz); but, the factory complex is closer to Bon-Secours, which sits next to the French border (to the southwest) on the N-60. The most potent brew is called Paix-Dieu, a Belgian-Style Pale Strong Ale (10.0% abv). The company also produces a low gluten, sugar-free beer called Bon Secours Bièn-être Blonde, a drink for persons with diabetes (5.5% abv).

Stage 3 -- Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer (July 3rd): Today the Tour begins in France for the first time. Orchies is a commune in the Nord department of France (région Nord-Pas-de-Calais), especially known for its Musée de la Chicorée (museum of chicory). Philip the Fair invaded Orchies in 1297. France formally annexed Orchies in 1305 under the Treaty of Athis sur Orge. Later, however, the city was made part of ​​Flanders (community of the Flemings -- la Flandre gallicante) in 1370. In 1477 the city was sacked by the King of France, Louis XI. The city became French for the final time in 1668, through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. From 1708 to 1712, Anglo-Dutch forces occupied Orchies. It changed hands many times between the allies and France during the wars of the French Revolution. The final victory was by the Austrians, whose forces entered the city on July 21, 1792. Orchies became another town destroyed during the invasion of 1914. English forces liberated it in 1918. The Tour also passed through this town in 2011.

Boulogne-sur-Mer, throughout the last 2000 years, has remained a primary destination for those from Britain (conquerers or guests) or a departure point (along with Calais and Dunkerque) for those with England on their mind, as it sits 30 miles (50km) from the countryside of Kent). Boulogne occupies the summit and slopes of a ridge of hills skirting the right bank of the River Liane. The town consists of two parts, the Haute Ville (corresponding with oldest (Roman) fortified portion) and the Basse Ville. Perhaps its most famous structure is the belltower, part of which dates from the 13th century. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame was built on a hill upon the site of a much older structure (that was destroyed in the Revolution). An extensive crypt still remains (a few portions come from the earliest 7th century church). Today's Cathedral has a dome that is Europe's most massive, aside from St. Peter's Basilique in Rome. Some say it was inspired by Cristopher Wren's masterpiece in London town.

Abbeville La Colonne de la Grande Armée honors Napoléon I on occasion of his proposed invasion of England from Boulogne. The pillar, which is of the Doric style (60 meters tall) is topped with a statue of the Napoléon, crafted by A. S. Bosio. Although begun in 1804, the monument was not completed until 1841. On the edge of a cliff and east of the port remain some rough brick foundations of an ancient structure, today called Tour d'Ordre, said to be the ruins of a lighthouse first built by Caligula at the time of his intended invasion of Britain. Its counterpart is at Dover, built when the Romans finally arrived in Britain under Claudius (when Aulus Plautius was governor (46AD)).

Stage 4 (mercredi 4 juillet) Abbeville to Rouen 214 km: The name Abbeville first appears in history during the 9th century. At that time it belonged to the abbey of Saint-Riquier. Afterwards, the Counts of Ponthieu governed. It came into the possession of the Alençon and other French families, and later, the House of Castile. Under a marriage contract, it passed to King Edward I of England (1272). The French and English remained alternating masters by turns until 1435. By the treaty of Arras, Abbeville was ceded to the Duke of Burgundy. In 1477, it then became part of the holdings of the family of King Louis XI of France. Louis XII of France married Mary Tudor in the cathedral of Abbeville. Princess Mary Tudor was born to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on March 18, 1496. She was the youngest child of the King and he ruler's consort to live past childhood. Do not confuse this Mary Tudor with later Marys. In 1559, King Henry II of France, killed in a tournament, was succeeded by his son François II, whose wife, Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary Stuart), assumes the title Queen of England. She would die at the hands of cousin Elizabeth I, Queen, but her son would rule England as James I. Most agree that Abbeville was very picturesque because it had survived much of the ravages of time and war, that is until the early days of the Second World War, when it was bombed to rubble in one night; now it is mostly rebuilt.

The Gaulish tribe of the Veliocassi founded Rouen. These peoples controlled a large area in the lower Seine valley and called it Ratumacos. The Romans called it Rotomagus, the second city of Gallia Lugdunensis after Lugdunum (today's Lyon). Later, Rouen became the capital of Merovingian Neustria, a counterpart to the kingdom centered in Metz. From the first incursion in the lower valley of the Seine in 841AD, the Norman Viking invaders overran Rouen. From 912 Rouen was the capital of the Duchy of Normandy and residence of its dukes until William the Conqueror built his castle at Cæn. During the Hundred Years' War, on January 19, 1419, Rouen surrendered to Henry V of England, who made Normandy once again a part of the Plantagenêt domains. Sainte Jeanne d'Arc est brûlée vive à Rouen, sur la place du Vieux-Marché, après avoir été abandonnée par son roi. This date is a traditional feast day for the French, but not much recognized by the English.

Stage 5 (jeudi 5 juillet) Rouen to Saint-Quentin 197 km: Rouen is the historic capital city of Normandy on the River Seine, downstream from Paris. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen contains a tomb of Richard the Lionheart. It houses only his heart. The French tore down the English Norman-style cathedral and built another, which Claude Monet made famous by his studies of light. War during the 20th century left that structure in ruins. Other famous structures include the Gothic Church of Saint Maclou (15th century); the Tour Jeanne d'Arc, where Saint Joan of Arc was brought in 1431 to be threatened with torture (contrary to popular belief, Jeanne was not imprisoned there) and the Church of Saint Ouen (12th–15th century). The city passes through a few hundred years of relative peace and prosperity, under the Bourbon regime.

Mid-July 1430, around noon, Jeanne, La Pucelle d'Orleans passed, it is said, through Saint-Quentin (while it was under English control) on the road that led to Paris, she crossed the city by entering through the gate at Saint-Nicaise Faubourg Saint-Martin, took the Rue Saint-Jean and went toward the northern gate. Joan of Arc was escorted to Beaurevoir Château (where she was kept below ground in a dungeon open to the public today), then from there to her sad fate at the City of Rouen (May 1431). The Burgundians (who turned her over to the English) tried unsuccessfully to seize the town of Saint-Quentin several times, thereafter it returned to France. The Russians in 1814-1815, occupied Saint-Quentin, but without causing damage. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, the population repulsed the invader on October 8th, but the city fell during the second offensive.

Stage 6 (vendredi 6 juillet) Épernay to Metz 210 km: Épernay is a town of champagne near Reims. Épernay (Sparnacum) belonged to the archbishops of Reims from the 5th until the 10th century, then passed to the Counts of Champagne. It was badly damaged during the Hundred Years' War. It was burned by Francis I in 1544. It resisted Henry of Navarre in 1592, where Marshal Biron fell in the attack which preceded its eventual capture. In short, the region was contested by nearly everyone for many-many hundreds of years, with two major wars fought there in the 20th Century alone; but, let us talk about viticulture. The Aisne River Valley, between Reims and Soissons, is considered the historic champagne area. Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation. While many regions in France and elsewhere utilize this method, only a limited production area within the Champagne region (five wine producing districts), may legally use the name Champagne. Champagnes, also, must be made from certain kinds of grapes. They can be made from white Chardonnay grapes, red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes (principal fruit types). Then, there are different names that depend on the sweetness ... but I digress. On June 23, 1791, Louis XVI after having been arrested during an attempted escape to Varennes-en-Argonne, made a stop in Épernay on the return journey to Paris. The royal family steps out of the carriage the Hôtel de Rohan where it takes lunch and rests for about an hour. The royals involuntarily continue westward to Dormans, and eventually to Paris and their doom.Épernay

Cathedral Saint Stephen 
with Chagall Windows The Moselle River (known as the Mosel in Germany) contains some of the best wine country in its western Valley. It also hosts some important industrial cities, one of which, Metz, is an over 3000-year old city in the Lorraine section of France. Since Roman times, Metz has always held a place of importance. Metz (Roman name Divodurum) became one of the principal towns of Gallia, more populated than the little town on the Seine called Lutetia, rich for its wine exports and having one of the largest amphitheatres of the region (a portion of which still remains near the train yard). Metz is close to Verdun, and the Ardenne, made infamous by warfare in the 20th century, however the area has been contested for over a thousand years. Indeed, it was only in 1658, through the treaty of Westphalia, that Metz actually became part of France. The area's culture is a blend of german and french traditions. Aachen and Trier, also principle cities of the Franks, today remain in Germany (although close to the French border and having alternative French names). (lots of Pictures here) Although the first Christian churches for citizens of the town would have been found outside the Roman city walls of Divodurum, the existence in the fifth century of the oratory of St. Stephen (within the town walls) fully has been proved. St-Pierre-aux-Nonnains is billed as the oldest church structure in France. It was built between 380 and 395AD as a Roman gymnasium and transformed into a Christian church during the 7th century.

Stage 7 (samedi 7 juillet) Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles 199 km: The town of Tomblaine (today's departure point) is next to and historically closely aligned with Nancy (and part of its metropolitan district). The city sits in the department de Meurthe-et-Moselle within the région of Lorraine. The history of the site of Tomblaine goes back at least 500 years before Christ, most likely because it occupies a fortifiable location, controlling both river routes. Not far from Nancy (south-southwest) is Domrémy-la-Pucelle. It is in this small western village of Vosges in which Joan of Arc was born (1412). It is possible today to visit her birth house, which is near her local church. Two kilometres away from this village is the Bois-Chenu Basilica, on the spot where Joan of Arc heard the famous voices. Built between 1891 and 1926, the current structure still constitutes an important place of pilgrimage today.

The end point of today's race is north of tomorrow's start at Belfort. La Planche des Belles Filles is also the traditional southern end of the biker's route to and from Tomblaine, and one supposes the Tour de France 2012 will take the same path -- (having gone through Épinal).

Stage 8(dimanche 8 juillet) Belfort to Porrentruy 154 km: Belfort is the city of Liberty. On November 4, 1870, the 100-day siege of the massive fortification overlooking the City of Belfort began. Belfort would be permitted, in the end, to remain with France because of its tenacious defense. It became an independent entity of France (department), while the rest of Alsace-Lorraine submitted to German control. Belfort is the home of The Lion of Belfort, a sculpture by Frédéric Bartholdi expressing the people's resistance against this siege. Bartholdi also designed Lady Liberty, which stands in New York's harbor. The City of Belfort is the home of Alstom, the maker of the TGV and the Citadis brand streetcar (du tramway (ou tram-train)). Paris is well along in its Tramway project; some are done some are planned, and the newest opened in December 2006, a line called Maréchaux Sud.

There is another Bartholdi Lion of Belfort located in Paris at Place Denfert-Rochereau. Pierre Marie Philippe Aristide Denfert-Rochereau (1823-1878) led the resistance of Belfort to a siege during the Franco-Prussian War. It is an RER stop and Métro stop (lines 4 and 6), too. Formerly known as Place d'Enfer (where one can find the Catacombs of Paris) until D-R's death. Clermont-Ferrand, in the Auvergne region, while famous for the chain of volcanoes surrounding it, has a most renown public square, Place de Jaude, on which rides a grand statue of King Vercingetorix (Julius Cæser's nemisis) on a steed and holding a glaive (weapon, consisting of a single-edged blade on the end of a pole). The inscription reads: J'ai pris les armes pour la liberté de tous -- "I took to arms for the liberty of all". This statue was sculpted by Frédéric Bartholdi. By the way, Belfort does not mean beautiful or good fort. A belfort is a bell-tower (clocher).

At about the midpoint during the race, the teams will cross the Rhine (Dam (Barrage) near potential crossing -- you are looking at the Swiss side from France) on their way to Porrentruy in the French part of Switzerland. The municipality lies on both sides of the Allaine River, in Ajoie (the bulge in the northwest corner of Switzerland that extends into France) at the foot of the Jura Mountains on the north. With a population of 6593 souls (December 2005) Porrentruy is the second-largest town in the canton of Jura. Originally, in 1868, Porrentruy was connected to France and Paris by train via Boncourt and Delle. The line is being electrified between Delle and Belfort at the present time and is replaced by an hourly bus service (as it is on the main super-highway to Belfort). However, the first known settlement in what became Porrentruy goes back to Roman times. In 1792, French Revolutionary troops conquered the area. Porrentruy became the capital of a dependent republic, which was then incorporated into France in 1793 as the Département du Mont Terrible. In 1800, this department was incorporated into the Département du Haut-Rhin. After the fall of Napoléon, the municipality was given to the Canton of Bern (1815) to compensate for the loss of the Canton of Vaud, which had become a separate canton in 1803.

The Catholic church of Saint-Pierre represents a gothic-style basilica that was built from 1330 to 1350. It holds valuable relics and has a late-gothic altar. The Catholic church of Saint-Germain, was built in the 13th century and restored (and expanded) in 1698. Some remaining baroque buildings are the Hôtel de Ville (1761–63), the Hôtel-Dieu (1761–65), the Hôtel de Gléresse (built in 1750 for the Baron of Ligerz), and the Hôtel des Halles (1766–69). On the squares of the old city are monumental fountains, including the Fontaine des Samarites (1564) and the Fontaine Suisse (1518).

Stage 9 (Contre-la-montre individuel - not a timed team trial - lundi 9 juillet) Arc-et-Senans to Besançon sur Doubs 38 km: The race jumps southwest for a start south of Besançon. Today's race will be an exhausting end to over a week of effort. July 10th will be a rest day. The mountains are ahead. Arc-et-Senans is the home of the Royal Saltworks. The Saline Royale is a historical building complex at Arc-et-Senans in the department of Doubs, Franche-Comté région. It is adjacent to the Forest of Chaux and about 35 kilometers from Besançon. The designer of the chief remaining structure was Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736–1806), a prominent Parisian architect of the time. The work is an important example of an early Enlightenment project in which the design reflects a philosophy that favored arranging buildings by geometry and a hierarchical relation between the parts of the project. The train line from Besançon to Bourg-en-Bresse passes just next to the production site, while the station for Arc-et-Senans is only a few dozen meters from the site (picture here). All production of the salt extraction facilities ceased in 1895 following a lawsuit that the inhabitants of Arc-and-Senans initiated, protesting the pollution of nearby wells. At the same time, the salt works had economic difficulty in the face of competition from sea salt brought by rail. Over time most of the factory suffered destruction.

Besançon (préfecture du département du Doubs), région Franche-Comté: From the first century BC through the modern era, Besançon has held a significant tactical (military defense) advantage, as well as a strategic importance to the region where the nearby Jura mountains controlled access to passage. Julius Cæser states in his treatise on the Gallic wars, that the town, the largest of the Sequani, was called Vesontio (58BC). This name evolved into the current name (through German). The monastery of Luxeuil, founded by St. Columbanus (d. 615), gave to the Diocese of Besançon a series of saints.

During the Middle Ages several popes visited Besançon, among them Leo IX who consecrated the altar of the old Cathedral of St. Etienne in 1050, and Eugenius III, who, in 1148, consecrated the church of Saint Jean, the new cathedral. Notre Dame des Jacobins at Besançon was a pilgrimage site. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of its history is the fact that the city once housed the Shroud (of Turin) at Saint-Étine in Besançon (and later at the new Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon), when it was called by its proper name Saint-Suaire. All the evidence points to the authenticity of the Shroud when it was sent to France by Otto LaRoche in 1208AD. Moeover, evidence suggests that it is the same item found in Edessa in 544AD (and venerated for what it was), a cloth that Gregory Referendarius of Constantinople would later describe with a full length image and bloodstains. In 1389, the Shroud went to another family member (Margaret) and later to the Châtea Montfort (belonging to her second husband). She had married the Count de la Roche (a cousin ??) after the tragic death of her first husband at Agincourt (1415). Margaret (March 22, 1453) gave the relic to a cousin of the House of Savoy, which has possessed the object since then. Interestingly, the burn marks on the original Saint-Suaire come from a cathedral fire (December 4, 1532) at Chambéry (en Haut Savoie), where it was displayed for a while in a Chapel designed to house it in this French capital of Savoie.

Stage 10 (Montagne mercredi 11 juillet) Mâcon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine 194 km: Mâcon (Matisco) is in the département Saône-et-Loire, région Bourgogne. Mâcon sits astride the Saône River, north of Lyon. The foundation of ancient Matisco dates to the 2nd century B.C. The city became a busy crossroads. Formerly the capital of the Mâconnais, now of the Department of Saône-et-Loire, it became a Gallo-Roman civitas (city state) in the fifth century AD, when separated from its historic place in Æduan territory. Christianity appears to have been introduced from Lugdunum (present Lyon) into this city at an early date. Mâcon represented the border between the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire from 843 to 1600. For many centuries the local bishop seems to have been the only local authority in Mâcon. The district had no Compte until after 850. From 926 the countship became an entitlement (hereditary). The Mâconnais became a royal property when sold to King and Saint Louis IX in 1239 by Alix de Bourgogne, daughter of the final count (Géraud II, comte de Mâcon et de Vienne), and her husband, Jean de Dreux (aka Jean de Braine and the King's cousin). The wars of religion filled Mâcon's streets with blood; it was captured on 5 May, 1562, by the Protestant d'Entragues, on 18 August, 1562, by the Catholic Tavannes, on 29 September 1567, it again fell into the hands of the Protestants, and on 4 December 1567, the Catholic forces recovered it yet once more. But the Protestants of Mâcon were saved from the Massacre of St. Bartholomew (August 24, 1572), probably by the passive resistance with which the bailiff, Philibert de Laguiche, met the orders of king Charles IX of France.

Pont St-Laurent et Saône, Mâcon

Today the Mâconnais area is perhaps best known for the fine wine of Pouilly-Fuissé, that comes from two villages south and west of Mâcon. The best Pouilly-Fuissé is rich and full and holds the promise of sumptuous excellence with time. L’Atrium du Pouilly Fuissé on the Place du Village in Solutré-Pouilly is a convenient showcase for the wine makers from the five terroirs (lands) that have the right to use the Pouilly-Fuissé name and allows visitors to sample a large range of Pouilly-Fuissé. Only Chardonnay grapes can be grown here and then about 2,100 acres. The drink, normally aged in the barrel for a year, can be aged in the bottle for a few years. Daniel Barraud's Mâcon-Vergisson La Roche hails from a plot of old vines that essentially continue Pouilly-Fuissé La Roche, but in the village of Vergisson, a little more north. It too is a high-altitude, rocky, south-easterly facing slope, with underlying limestone less than half a meter below the surface. The Chardonnay grape accounts for about two-thirds of the Mâconnais wine produced and, some say, all of the Mâconnais wine that is worth drinking.

Bellegarde-sur-Valserine is the last rail stop on the way into Switzerland (Geneva) along the Rhône River where the Valserine joins the flow. At this spot, the water of the two rivers runs underground, and it was at one time possible to cross both of them easily. Since the building of a barrage (dam) in Génissiat, the level of the Rhône was raised several meters but the "pertes de la Valserine" still remain visible. The massif of the Grand Crêt d'Eau as well as that of the Vuache sit on the east. The site when uninhabited, is mentioned by Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic War. The passage of the Rhône had some strategic importance in his conquests.

Stage 11 (Montagne jeudi 12 juillet) Albertville to La Toussuire - Les Sybelles 140 km: Albertville is a manufactured city, put together from two much older establishments. Located in The Alps as it is, dictates that it be sportive (today) and strategic, but did you know it also has a history related to solicitude and service, as a rest area for those returning from war and pilgrimage. In the late twelfth century, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem founded a hospice, and around it grew the "town" of Villefranche Hôpital. Nearby was the city of Conflans, where Roman fortifications once stood at a place where two rivers joined. It was not until 1835 (19th of December) that the King of Sardinia, Charles Albert, ordered the two towns joined. In 1992, Albertville hosted the Winter Olympics and it is near other Olympic sites.

La Toussuire - Les Sybelles is a resort area (domaine skiable). The Sybelles ski area consists of 6 linked resorts (Saint Sorlin d'Arves, Le Corbier, La Toussuire, Les Bottières, et Saint Colomban des Vilards). . . /domaine-skiable.htm Details of the route to be followed in 2012 are here. The Col de la Croix de Fer is the highest climb of the day at 2.067 meters. It is a mainstay of the Tour.

Stage 12 (vendredi 13 juillet) Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davézieux 220 km: We leave the mountains today, traveling south and west. Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (Italian: San Giovanni di Moriana) is a commune in the Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes région. The oldest possessions of the Counts of Savoy were the countships of Maurienne, Savoy proper (the district between Arc, Isère, and the middle course of the Rhône). Since the sixth century it has been famous as a place where relics were placed, and so it became a Bishopric. The current cathedral structure, for its part, dates the eleventh century. and as such is one of the oldest in France. Its choir sits over an ancient crypt, built one presumes to house the relics of St. John the Baptist. The crypt was rediscovered in the last century and is open to public inspection. Many associated with the church are themselves great French builders, such as Cardinal Varembon, Cardinal d'Estouteville, or Éteinne Morel. Annonay Davézieux is the end point.

Stage 13 (samedi 14 juillet) Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Le Cap d’Agde 215 km: Saint Paul Trois Châteaux (east of Nyons) is the biggest village of the Triscastin area, and opens on to the Southern part of the Drôme department. It's also a place of history and culturally prolific. It's strategic location in between several fascinating areas of the French South makes it a perfect rallying point for a variety of sightseeing trips. The present cathedral was built in the 12th-13th centuries, replacing an earlier one, from which some mosaics survive. It maintains the Provençal- Romanesque style and well-displays the art of reusing Roman-era building materials (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux). The town was on the 2011 Tour (Stage 16).

Le Cap d’Agde is due east of Béziers, in the Languedoc région (département of the Hérault) along the Mediterranean coast. It is also to the southwest of Sète, France’s largest seaport, after Marseille, sitting at the end of the Canal du Midi. It is surrounded by the Côteaux du Languedoc, near the heart of the largest vineyard in the world (Languedoc-Rousillion). This is an ancient region for whom the Greeks and Romans were newcomers. Cap d'Agde can be reached by the TGV direct from Paris or Lille. Bastille Day will be celebrated tonight.

CarteJuly 15th (Étape 14) Limoux to Foix (montagne): Today's start jumps south-west (from Le Cap d’Agde) to Limoux (also a stage point in 2011), in the Aude department, a part of the ancient Languedoc province and the present-day Languedoc-Roussillon Région in southern France. It lies on the river Aude about 30 km (19 mi) due south of Carcassonne. The monolith (Menhir) called La Pierre Droite is a relic that testifies to this early Neolithic occupation. The town grew around its 8th century church In 844, a charter from Charles the Bald permitted the abbey of Saint-Hilaire. Limoux thereafter falls under the authority of the Archbishop of Narbonne. Limoux sits in the middle of the Cathar region, and was subject to its influences. Eventually, the crown of France annexed the town between 1296 and 1376. Limoux is in the middle of the Corbières wine area. One of the original vineyards of the Abbey of Fontfroide (closer to Narabonne), reflects a history going back to Roman times. Recovery of the cultivated vine of the ancients, which was lost with the collapse of the Roman Peace, came many centuries later at Fontfroide. This Abbey was an outpost in the fight against the Cathar heresy of the 12th and 13th centuries. One of its abbots, Jacques Fournier, was elected Pope under the name of Benoît XII (1334 - 1342). This time proved to be its zenith in influence.

Carte The race ends this day in Foix. The riveting views of the town are still a vivid memory from prior years (e.g. 2008). Situated at the heart of the department of Ariège, Foix is best known by the three towers of its castle. Standing atop a rocky perch, the castle (10th-15th centuries) recalls the Counts of Foix (and Viscounts of Béarn), notably the flamboyant Gaston Phœbus (1343-1391), who composed a livre des oraisons (Book of Prayer) and livre de la chasse, a writing related to the hunt. A statue of Gaston stands outside the Château de Pau. Foix remains a small town, but it benefits from the nearby Toulouse (north), Spain and Andorra (south). More pictures from and information about Foix -- here & here.

About halfway, at Tarascon-sur-Ariège (Tarascon d'Arièja) and seen well on the broadcast, was la tour du Castella, which remains (though rebuilt) from an original fortification along the river at the highest point in town (from 1775). It in turn sits upon the dungeon of an older build on the famous rock (Rocher or Roque) in the Ariège. Julius Caesar in his book "De Bello Gallico" mentions Tarusconienses. Charlemagne's troops had a victory, in 778, against the moslem invaders (Saracens) at a nearby place called Pré Lombard. The region continued to change hands. Thus the castle of Tarascon (Ariège) became part of the general fortifications throughout the County of Foix. The city Charter of customs and liberties was granted to the town of Tarascon-sur-Ariège by Raymond Roger in July 1217, to those who came to settle permanently and build below the Castella. The year 1382 witnessed the construction of the steeple of the town's church dedicated to Saint Michel. Tarascon-sur-Ariège was the scene of major conflicts during the religious wars of the 16th century and remains a symbol of the carnage that ensued as the town changed hands. Taken by the Protestant Daudou in 1568, it was recovered by the Catholics troops of the Sieur de Montgascon in 1569 (at the time they executed the towns leadership, including Pastor by throuwing them off the Rock into the river). After about a dozen years Tarascon-sur-Ariège finally was retaken by Daudou again in 1582. It aligned itself with the fortunes of Henri, who became the first Bourbon King of France. However in 1662, a later King had the castle fort torn down (as it was no longer needed). (français) see generally

Stage 15 (lundi 16 juillet) Samatan to Pau 160 km: Samatan is a commune in the Gers department within view of the Pyrenees Mountains (région Midi-Pyrénées). It lies 40km southeast of Auch and it is also close to Toulouse and the Canal du Midi. It's a long hard ride to Pau through the mountains today. Pau is in the ancient province of Béarn (Pyrénées-Atlantiques département today). It formed a considerable portion of the Kingdom of Navarre, independent of France. Independent until one of its Kings became the King of France. In taking the throne, Henri IV merged the two holdings and started the Bourbon line.

Another city featured in today's contest is Auch. Auch, located in the region of Midi-Pyrénées (70km west of Toulouse - 80km NE of Pau), is the capital city of the département of Gers. Auch, the historic capital of Gascony, is Aushin the native Gascon Occitan tongue. The name of Auch comes from the Aquitanian tribe that inhabited the area at the time of the Roman conquest in the mid-first century BC. The name of this tribe, as recorded by the Romans, was Ausci. Aquitanians spoke a language related to the old Basque language, and a striking fact is that the name Ausci seems related to the native name of the modern Basques, who call themselves Euskal !!! At the time of the Roman conquest, the native name of the town Auch, as recorded by the Romans, was Elimberris, a variant of Iliberri, where Ili- comes from the Iberian word meaning town, city, oppidum, a frequently found prefix in names of Iberian cities. In spite of all of this etymology, the Romans renamed the town Augusta Auscorum {alt: Augusta Ausciorum}, which means "Augusta of the Ausci." Eventually, Augusta was dropped, and the name evolved into modern form. Auch became one of the twelve civitates of the province of Novempopulana (Gascony).

The olde town, or high city, is built on a hill overlooking the River Gers, an essential step for pilgrims going to Saint Jacques de Compostela. In the old city one can appreciate the modern panorama of this ancient site. The cathedral dominates the entire city. The prefecture was established in the former palace of the arch-bishop. The Tour d'Armagnac may be its most famous historic item. At the heart of the old city the City Hall (l'Hôtel de Ville), an imposing structure, contains more than simply administrative services.

Auch is known for its Renaissance-style Cathédrale Sainte-Marie (d’Auch) with its magnificent organ (1694), carved stalls and rose-shaped stained-glass windows and la Tour d'Armagnac, a 14th century prison. On the steps is a large bronze statue of d'Artagnan from The Three ..., well you know the rest. As one may expect, the River Gers flows through the town. Located in an area of thermal baths and near fine Armagnac production (the oldest 'brandy' style wine), one rightly anticipates a unique experience in this portion of France -- and then there is fois gras. Château de Busca-Maniban (9 km from nearby Valance sur Baïse) was built by Thomas de Maniban in 1649, one of the finest 17th century of the Gascon châteaux, with a majestic staircase, guard and armory room, chapel, Italian room and the gardens. Taste the estate's Armagnac made, in the oldest distillery in Armagnac region.

It has been said that the town of Morlaàs (just outside Pau) lives a little on past glories, as it still touts its history as the one time capital of the Béarn region. Its 12th century church, a beautiful stone built town hall and an old half-timbered house constructed in a traditional style permit it to revel in its past. The town, a stopping place for the pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela, traditionally furnished food and lodging to weary walkers (the path from Toulouse. Yet, Morlaàs has a plethora modern facilities, with a good range of shops, supermarkets and other amenities for a town its size. On this day it had the Tour, too. The riders, however, did not get to enjoy the justly famed gastronomy of the south-west of France, rich in duck, fruits and cured hams. The wine list is here no poor relation in the town's eating establishments, as with the Madiran appellation on the doorstep (and Bordeaux not so far away) one has access to France's most endearing, well-known red wines.

After the Roman city of Benearnum (today's Lescar) was razed by the Vikings in 841, Morlaàs became the capital of the ancient province of Béarn (Charter 1101AD). It remained the capital until the 12th century, when Orthez took over. In the early thirteenth century, Morlaàs (a town of some 300 homes) also encompassed the priory of Sainte-Foi (or Sainte-Foy), the village of Saint-Nicolas (to the northwest) and Bourg-Neuf (east). The Romanesque cathedral-church of Sainte-time Foy is partially an eleventh century structure. Its construction was begun during the reign of Centulle V. The portal is part of greatest interest, and its style, detail and size demonstrates the importance of the city. A portion of the Church of St. André (rue Bourg-Neuf)is also late eleventh century, as well as the Benedictine priory (cloître) of Saint Foi. Yhe Cordeliers convent was founded before 1290 by Gaston VII of Béarn. The Ministry of Culture has identified several key elements of architecture (keystone and capitals for example). For the Protestants is a structure on Rue Bourg-Mayou, from a time after the restoration of Catholic worship in Béarn (1620).

Chateaux du Pau Pau overlooks its river and valley, Gave de Pau, a gateway to Spain for centuries. Up river (south-east) sits Lourdes; Bayonne, downstream, is near the coast. The ancient pilgrimage trail to Spain (Chemins de Saint-Jacques) crosses the valley here. The site was fortified by the 11th century — the word pau-paü means palisade in Occitan language, one of the medieval dialects of Langue d'oc (southern France). Once again Pau serves as the place where the second and final rest day begins.

Stage 16 (mercredi 18 juillet) Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon 197 km: The beautiful sky of Pau, Beth Ceü de Paü, about which (with enthusiasm) the inhabitants of Béarn continue to sing, is not a legend without substance. Under this sky one may stroll finding the testimony of a long history, of this city that saw two kings being born -- Henri IV (Navarre and France) and Bernadotte (Roi de Suède). Details of the route to be followed in 2012 are here. The end point is a spa town and a commune in the Haute-Garonne department in southwestern France. The springs, which number forty-eight, vary in composition, but are chiefly infused with sodium sulfate, and they range in temperature from 62 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The discovery of numerous Roman remains attests the antiquity of the baths, which are identified with the Onesiorum Thermæ of Strabo.

Abbatiale Romane de Saint Savin, Hautes PyrénéesSaint Savin was one of the first Christians to have evangelized the valley of Lavedan, after a stint at the monastery of Ligugé, some time between the 5th and 9th Centuries. He established himself as a hermit in the mountains above a village (that now bears his name-then called Bencer) at a place called Pouy-Aspé. Today the tomb of Saint Savin, of Roman origin, is the main altar of the abby church dedicated him. On each side of the sarcophagus, two large paintings on wood and dated the fifteenth century, illustrate vividly the life of the saint. They cite evidence of his miracles and the fervor of a people for who will become the patron saint of this valley. The former abbey, now a parish gathering place. It annually hosts many groups of pilgrims for prayer time, worship and celebration of the Eucharist, in part due to the fact that is close to Lourdes, yet remains a quiet place. The church of Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan (not to be confused with the Abbaye de SAINT-SAVIN sur Gartempe), was built for a Benedictine monastery that became very influential in the Romanesque period. The current building dates from the twelfth century, but there seems to be some type of community there as early as 945AD (or before in the Carolingian-era). As the counts and viscounts de Bigorre prosper, so does the monastery, eventually building the structure we see today. Nothing remains of the abbey except the church and the chapter house.

The anonymous instrument of the Abby church of Saint-Savin (Lavedan) was, for four centuries, the only organ in all Lavedan. It remains as one of the oldest in France. The organ was built during the administation of François de Foix Candale, Abbott of the Convent of Saint Savin from 1543 to 1593, as may be gathered from the inscription painted above the keyboard: Hoc organu(m) factu(m) fuit ad honor(em) totius cursae celestis an(no) 1557 -- "This organ was built in honor of the whole celestial court in the year 1557."

An all-season resort Stage 17 (jeudi 19 juillet) Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes 144 km: Superbagnères, located on the territory of the commune, to the south-west of the town, is a ski resort. Historically it was connected to the town by a railway, and it was the 2nd resort in France to install a lift, but today it is connected with a gondola lift. Each cabin holds up to four people and takes about ten minutes to reach the summit, running in the summer as well as the winter. It's not possible to ski back down to the town. Cycling is a popular sport in the region in the summer. The climbs of Superbagnères, Col de Peyresourde, Port de Balès, Col de Menté, Col du Portillon and the Col de Portet d'Aspet are all nearby. The Tour de France route often passes through Luchon, due to its location deep between two passes.

Peyragudes -- is a ski station of the Haute-Garonne department in the Midi-Pyrénées région.

No Stanger to the tramway Stage 18 (vendredi 20 juillet) Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde 215 km: Blagnac is a commune in the Haute-Garonne department, the third-largest suburb of the city of Toulouse. The river Touch forms part of the Blagnac's southern border, then it flows into the Garonne, which touches all of the commune's eastern border. Buses 70 and 71 run to Jeanne d'Arc (connection with Line B of the Toulouse Metro) and and bus 66 runs to St. Cyprien and République (connection with Line A), both in the city centre. Busses and shuttles to the nearby aéroport and a tramway under construction may be finished in time for the start of the race today. You don't need a car to be here today. Arrive early, stay late and see the city sites -- Amphithéâtre romain de Purpan-Ancely, Abbaye de Blagnac (monastère des Dominicains). The Church of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Catherine of Siena is an edifice of Gothic Revival style (L-shaped). The wall paintings of the choir and the nave of the faithful as well as all the windows are listed in the national inventory of historical monuments.

The halfway point today is Cahors. Cahors, the former capital of the distinctly southern Quercy region, is a part of France where people still speak Occitan (Provençal). The town of Cahors began life as a Gallic settlement before becoming a Roman town. It fell to the Moors, restored by Carolingian line, then off to the English by dowery. Finally French hands secured the area. The Romanesque-style Cathédrale St-Étienne was consecrated in 1119. It sits in the middle of town and is one of the oldest in Périgord territory. The interior is quite similar to St-Front in Périgueux.

Henri IV also captured Cahors in 1580 on his way to claim the French throne for the House of Bourbon. He spent the night at the Hotels des Roaldès. If we had been speaking of panache (and those of you who know history understand that we were -- Ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc) and great wine, there exists a little-appreciated area around Cahors of great panache. Local wine must be consumed when visiting. Cahors' vintage is made from the same Malbec grapes as the Gironde Blaye and Bourg wines; however, it is much darker and dryer, well worth more than a tasting.

Malbec has become very popular thanks to some excellent examples from Argentina. However, the grape's roots lie in southwestern France's Cahors region. Traditionally, wines from Cahors were austere and required at least a few years of cellar aging, but the Vigouroux family have broken the tradition to create an early-drinking Malbec with wonderful fruit expression. "Gouleyant" means fresh and juicy, and this wine is certainly that with plentiful, ripe black fruit aromas and flavors. A blend of Malbec (80%) softened by the addition of Merlot (20%). Cahors wines have been famous for centuries for their inky 'black' color for centuries, and they were once used to add depth to the lighter-colored wines from Bordeaux. This uniquely 'Cahors' characteristic is sometimes purposely emphasized in wineries, where heat is used to extract maximum pigment from the Malbec grapes.

By far the most-populated commune in Corrèze, whose capital is Tulle, is Brive-la-Gaillarde in the historic Limousin région. Brive-la-Gaillarde strides a tributary of the river Vézère (upstream) called the Corrèze. For a long time it was known just as Brive (and still is). Today the longer name reflects a change from 1919 and the fact that the town was the first to liberate itself (without outside help) on August 15th 1944. Modern Brive also sits on a 2000 year old site. Upstream from Brive is Tulle, the capital of the département du Corrèze. The town extends along the narrow valley of the Corrèze, on both sides. Its streets at times ascend the hills on either side by stairway. Tulle has had a bishop since 1317. In the middle of Brive is the much-restored church of St-Martin. Originally Romanesque in style, only the transept, apse and a few carved capitals survive from that era. Saint Martin himself, a Spanish aristocrat, arrived in pagan Brive in 407 AD on the feast of Saturnus, smashed various idols, then was promptly stoned to death by the outraged town-folk. Brive-la-Gaillarde was the first city of Occupied France to liberate itself by its own means, on August 15, 1944. For this, the city received the “Croix de guerre 1939-1945” military decoration. Native-born Guillaume Marie Anne Brune, 1st Comte Brune, was raised to the position of Maréchal d'Empire by Napoléan in 1804. He was killed by Royalist forces in 1815 at age 52 during the 100 day restoration of the emperor.

Stage 19 (Contre-la-montre individuel -- samedi 21 juillet) Bonneval (not Bonneval Sur Arc) to Chartres 52 km: Bonneval is only an hour out of Paris, and about 28km from Chartres, the Saturday's end point for today's individual time trial. The city has several important historic sites and is about an hour from Blois and Chambord and the Loire valley chateaux trail. It bills itself as lush, green and restful. About 4 miles west of the town on the edge of the National Park area, L'abbaye de Bonneval sits in a beautiful Valley. L'Abbaye Notre-Dame de Bonneval est un monastère de l'Ordre Cistercien de la Stricte Observance, dont les membres sont parfois appelés "Trappistes" (et "Trappistines"), with 170 monasteries throughout the world.

No trip to France and Paris is complete without a pilgrimage to Chartres and its great Cathedral. It is an ancient Roman city, although not much of that era is visible above ground. Saints and Kings have visited or lived here. A center for pilgrimage since at least 876, the current Cathedral and its predecessors has held a tunic that belonged to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sancta Camisia, presented to the church by Charles the Bald and still on public display. The original Chartres settlement, built on the left bank of the river Eure, is south-west of Paris by about 30 air-miles. Chartres was one of the principal towns of the celtic tribe called the Carnutes The Roman name was based on the river Autura (Eure), and afterwards became civets Carnutum, which has evolved into the current name. It has changed hands and been besieged several times. It was taken in 1591 by Henri of Navarre, who was crowned there three years afterwards as Henry IV. Through all the fires and wars its windows have survived, telling their bible stories and other classic tales of France -- and the giant rose window still illuminates the entry way with an explosion of color.

Stage 20 (dimanche 22 juillet) Rambouillet to Paris Champs-Élysées 130 km -- The final day: today has as its end point the Paris city-centre. It's over, but not before the traditional victory laps on the Champs-Élysées -- the final sprint to see who can attain the coveted stage victory in Paris. In 2011 Cadel Evans (maillot jaune), Mark Cavendish (Green Jersey) the narrow roads, the crashes -- who can forget that exciting -- epic -- year, celebrating one-hundred years in the mountains with mountain climbing tests as tough as they have ever been. The year 2012 looks to be just as challenging.

Rambouillet is a commune in the Yvelines départment in the Île-de-France, located in the suburbs of Paris 44.3 km (27.5 mi) southwest of the Paris obelisk. Rambouillet lies on the edge of a vast forest (Forêt de Rambouillet or Forêt de l'Yveline). Pépin le Bref donated it to the Abby of Saint Denis in the mid-8th Century. The woods are famous for the "historic castle," the Château de Rambouillet, which has hosted several international summits. Due to its proximity to Paris and Versailles, Rambouillet has long been an occasional seat of government. It is served by the same train that goes to Chartres. The Musée Rambolitrain, situated across from the new (1871) Saint-Lubin church (Église Saint-Lubin-et-Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Rambouillet -- un style médiéval) on place Jeanne D'Arc, is a museum featuring miniature trains. And, as one might expect, the town is the original home of Rambouillet sheep, or at least the place where they were named.

Placez-vous sur les chemins, regardez, Et demandez quels sont les anciens sentiers, Quelle est la bonne voie; marchez-y, Et vous trouverez le repos de vos‚ âmes !

A few more of the familiar places to host the Tour in 2012 are: Liège, Tournai, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Abbeville, Rouen, Saint-Quentin, Épernay, Metz and Nancy, Belfort, Besançon, Mâcon, Albertville, Pau and Chartres. Then it is a short jump for the ride to end in Paris.

Our 2009 Tour Page has much more about Paris -- 2010 -- 2011 -- Go HERE for more pictures.

Current Newsletter -- Many more French Cities HERE

© 2011, All rights reserved
New: October 18, 2011 -- complete (at least for now) on October 24th