Where to Watch the Tour de France

bikeAdam Ruck, The Daily Telegraph, May 20, 2013

"Before the final sprint the racers may have time to look at the Roman remains at Mariana," writes Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France, in his description of the first stage of this year's Tour, which will take competitors up the east coast of Corsica from Porto Vecchio to Bastia. Yes, and doubtless Mark Cavendish will whip out the binoculars as he races past the nearby Lake Biguglia bird reserve, to admire the flamingos and purple herons before challenging for his chance to wear the Yellow Jersey for the first time.

The charming notion that the world's toughest sporting test is a succession of enriching heritage moments for its participants is one of the Tour de France's many eccentric traditions. Mont Saint Michel, where the first individual time-trial of this year's Tour finishes, is described as "a sumptuous visual feast for the riders. One after the other, each will have time to admire this precious World Heritage site while pedalling to the finish line."

Not only that: "The magical site and the majestic decor will provide a stunning setting for the winner's photos." And now we may feel M Prudhomme is getting to the point.

The Tour de France may not be a holiday, but it is the world's biggest and best tourism promotion.

Towns and villages pay handsomely to host the start or finish of a stage (not always the same place, as the race course is not unbroken). The event brings prestige, a boost to takings in hotels, bars and restaurants, and, most enviably of all, repairs to the road surface. Could we have the Tour de France down our way please?

M Prudhomme and his fellow organisers have pulled out all the patriotic stops for the 100th tour. "This will be the Tour of all the beauties of France," he promises, from the Island of Beauty (Corsica) to the City of Light (Paris), where special celebrations are planned for a spectacular evening finale.

All France turns out to cheer the peloton as it streams through towns and villages. Serious tourheads pitch their tents and park their camper vans in prime position on key mountain passes days in advance of the Tour's arrival. If you are tempted to join them, the most exciting and popular sections are the mountain climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees and, this year, the Mont Ventoux in Provence.

Stage finishes, mostly in towns, are always busy. Elsewhere, at road junctions in open country, you will be able to watch comfortably with a few dozen other spectators for company. Consult the local newspaper and you will find estimated timings of the progress of the local stage. The road closes at least two hours in advance.

"La Caravane" is a carnival-like parade of sponsor vehicles and motorised floats which precedes the race, its riders hurling promotional bumf, sweets and branded knick knacks at spectators as they pass. It lasts more than an hour and many fans, especially the young, are more interested in La Caravane than the race itself.

A good strategy is to find a café on the route, with a television. Watch the race and listen to the local know-alls discussing the evolving story of its strategic tussles amid gathering excitement as the peloton approaches; and dash out into the road in time to see the real thing sweep by.

Here is my guide to some of the best viewing points, and how to take part in some of the events. For a full intinerary see telegraph.co.uk/tourdefrance, or the offical tour website ( letour.fr ).

Best viewing points Throughout France, June 15

La Fête du Tour will see non-competitive mass fun rides (known as gran fondos or cyclosportives) of varying length held in all towns holding Tour stages. All cyclists welcome.

Corsica, June 29- July 1

This year's Grand Départ is three stages in Corsica, which hosts the Tour for the first time. "Sunday (stage 2) is changeover day for most British holidaymakers on the island," says Rob Ashton Kane, keen cyclist and local manager of specialist operator Corsican Places. On Saturday (June 29th) the best places to watch will be the departure from Porto Vecchio, probably at about 11.30 (with aerobatic display); or on the southern loop from Porto Vecchio via Bonifacio, where minor roads between Sotta and Plage de Santa Giulia will enable spectators with cars or bicycles to short-circuit the route and see the Tour go past twice.

For those with the means to get there on Sunday, Ashton Kane recommends the mountain village of Venaco (12km south of Corte). "The riders will come hurtling downhill to a narrow village street with a bad surface. It should be quite exciting, not to say hair-raising." Much of stage 3 (Ajaccio to Calvi) follows a famously beautiful stretch of rocky coast, but access to the route is not easy, except for those staying along the route, in Porto, Cargèse or Calvi.

Getting there: Corsican Places (0845 3302059; corsica.co.uk ) offers several options including 14 nights from June 23 which avoid the problem with the changeover day on Saturday 30 - from £885 per person in a villa on the beach south of Bastia including flights and car hire.

Albi, July 5

A tempting combination of sightseeing (cathedral, Toulouse Lautrec museum) and Tour viewing, in beautiful cycling holiday country in south west France.

Getting there Cycling Magnolias (00336 12285206; cyclingmagnolias.com ) in Plaisance, 40km from Albi offers six nights for £780 per person including hotel b&b, three dinners and two lunches; day trip to Albi on July 5 to watch the Tour; day trip to Millau with canoeing on the Tarn; bike rental; and airport transfers. Easyjet ( easyjet.com ) offers flights to Toulouse from Gatwick and Bristol from £116.22 return (July 3 - 9); checked baggage costs extra.

L'Etape, July 7

Since 1993 the Tour has opened one mountain stage to the public (not on the same day as the main race). This year's Etape on July 7 is the penultimate stage which starts at Annecy and finishes 130km and several mountain passes later with the 11km climb to Le Semnoz. It is too late to enter individually, but you might be able to buy an Etape package (see below). Hardened veterans report that this Etape is less tough than some recent examples. 'Hardly worth bothering with,' says one. 'Isn't the Etape supposed to be a challenge?'

Getting there Exodus (0845 287 7411; exodus.co.uk ) offers five nights from July 4 for £1,249 per person including hotel b&b, flights and transfers, three days cycling including the 130km Etape on July 7.

Avranches and Mont St Michel, July 11

This is the ideal stage to target for a short hop across the Channel. The time trial means that riders race individually against the clock, instead of forming a group peloton so you get great views and photos of the top riders going past one by one over a period of hours. The intervals between them tell you who is gaining and losing time.

Getting there Use Brittany Ferries ( brittany-ferries.co.uk ) services from Portsmouth to St Malo (50km from Mont St Michel), Caen or Cherbourg and, for hoetl recommendations see our expert online guides ( telegraph.co.uk/normandy ) and ( telegraph.co.uk/brittany) .

Mont Ventoux, July 14

Bastille Day will see key battles won and lost on the relentless 22km climb from Bédoin, which comes at the end of a long stage. "Sunstroke is a serious risk for anyone watching at or near the top. It's completely exposed, and getting away afterwards will take hours," warns Peter Chittick of Crillon-le-Brave, whose guests will have a comfortable viewing terrace in Bédoin, with a big-screen TV, and wine and food on the go. Failing that, Chittick recommends finding a shady spot in the woods lower down.

Getting there: For details of Crillon's Tour de France weekend package, which includes the chance to tackle the Ventoux on Saturday July 13th, on high-spec bikes hired locally costs from 1,032 euros per person including three dinners, a champagne reception and some other refreshments ( crillonlebrave.com ).

Alpine Stages, July 18-19

In a new twist - which some have interpreted as part of a strategy to thwart Wiggins - riders will have to make the famous hairpin climb to Alpe d'Huez twice on July 18. As an alternative to braving the crowds there, consider watching the downhill stage finish at Le Grand Bornand on July 19.

Getting there VIP (0844 557 3119; vip-chalets.com ) offers seven nights from July 13 in Alpe d'Huez for £999 per person including half board in a chalet, including bike fitting, guided cycling, Tour spectating on July 18 and 19; airport transfers by arrangement (extra charge); four night stays on request. For strong cyclists. British Airways ( ba.com ) offers flights to Lyon from Heathrow from £147.60 return. Bikes must be dismantled and packed in a bag and may cost extra depending on fare.

Paris and Versailles, the final stage, July 21

Always a good holiday choice. The final stage will start at 6.30pm inside the gardens of the Château de Versailles, and finish at around 9.45pm after ten laps of the Champs-Elysées (always crowded with spectators), including a lap of the Arc de Triomphe; with lap of honour, light show and aerobatics. The Champs-Elysées Gran Fondo (public cycling) starts at 3pm on Avenue Foch (5 euros). A Tour de France photographic exhibition at the Senate until July 27.

Getting there Returns from London to Paris with Eurostar ( eurostar.com ) from £69; for hotel recommendations see our online expert guide ( telegraph.co.uk/paris) .