July 11, 2017 / Property Spotlight

French Fantasy: Living Along the Tour de France Route

From Haute-Savoie and Dordogne to the Pyrénées-Atlantiques coast, Luxury Defined looks at life along the route of cycling’s biggest race


Cycling from July 1–23, 2017, the 104th Tour de France covers mountains and meadows, showcasing each corner of France at its best. Covering a total distance of 2,200 miles, the route takes cyclists past sprawling châteaux and rambling country piles, each with its own unique placement within French provincial life.

In 2016, cyclists traveled through Albertville to Saint Gervais Mont Blanc in Savoie during stage 19 of the Tour de France. This year, the 2017 route also visits Savoie and Haute-Savoie, as well as the Dordogne and the foothills of the Pyrénées. Photograph and banner image: Getty ImagesDordogne
Some 75 miles east of Bordeaux, on July 11 cyclists will arrive for the 10th phase in the Roman town of Périgueux, the capital of the Dordogne. They will race to the pretty medieval town of Bergerac, where spectators can sniff out red wines of richness, power, and complexity. 

Among the towns cyclists will pass through on the way are Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, where archaeological wonders such as preshistoric cave dwellings lie beneath dramatic limestone cliffs, and Domme, a fortified 13th-century town which retains much of its original architecture.

Chateau de Castelnaud offers magnificent views of the peaceful villages of the Ceou valley and the winding Dordogne river. Photograph: Getty ImagesDotted with impressive honey-hued châteaux that cling to the hilltops, the region is extremely green, thanks to the Dordogne river that carves a path through it. A mecca for gourmets, the region is likened to Burgundy due to its wealth of homegrown produce and well-stocked wine cellars. Quaint market towns abound, and, come the weekend, farmers’ markets are a must.

In Dordogne, the air is pure, the people are friendly, and there is a very pleasant climate

“There is a quality of life in the Dordogne that is rarer and rarer these days,” says Kirsten Pollard of Maxwell-Baynes, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region. “It has unspoiled rolling hills, the Dordogne river, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and the ‘Valley of the Five Châteaux,’ which is dotted with exceptional architectural treasures.

“In addition, the air is pure, the people are friendly, there is still a sense of community and appreciation of the simple things in life, and there is a very pleasant climate.”

This 17th-century Renaissance château in Sarlat-la-Canéda has 10 bedrooms, most of which are located on the valley side of the property, offering unparalleled views of the Dordogne river. Photograph: Maxwell-BaynesSet within 50 acres, the property comprises a guesthouse and caretaker's house, the ruins of an 11th-century chapel, and several natural springs. Photograph: Maxwell-BaynesBuilt in the 17th century but enlarged and transformed in the 19th century, the chateau incorporates decorative elements that evoke its medieval history. Photograph: Maxwell-Baynes

Architecturally, it doesn’t get much better than the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, which is reputed to have the highest density of historic monuments and listed buildings in France.

“Sixty protected monuments in 11 hectares [27 acres], in fact,” says Pollard. “It was one of the first protected sectors to be created in France under the Loi Malraux in 1964, when André Malraux was the minister of cultural affairs.”

When the road reaches the town of Pau at stage 12, racers know they’re in for a steep climb ahead. Located in the foothills of the Pyrénées, the winding roads weave through the hills and alongside glacial rivers, where white-water rafting, hiking, and skiing are all favored pastimes. Cycling here is big business, too, and in addition to the Tour de France, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup takes place in the nearby town of Lourdes each year.

The resort town of Biarritz draws surfers year after year, as well as elegant sun-seekers. “The glamorous 1920s villas around Biarritz are renowned," says Nicolas Descamps, Director of Côte Ouest, Christie's International Real Estate's exclusive regional affiliate. Photograph: Getty ImagesTravel just 125 miles west of Pau and you’ll reach the surfers’ paradise of the southwest coastline, which stretches from the seaside resort of Biarritz up to the pine tree-flanked beaches of Capbreton, Hossegor, and Seignosse, where the World Surf League Quicksilver Pro France competition takes to the waves each year.

This exceptional property in Urrugne, built in 1911 by architect Henri Godbarge, is set within 12 acres, offering commanding views of both ocean and mountains. Photograph: Côte OuestConstructed in a neo-Basque style, the main house includes living and reception rooms, a library, a dining room, a kitchen, and a caretaker's apartment. Photograph: Côte OuestThis 12-bedroom home is located just a short distance from Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the Spanish border. Photograph: Côte Ouest

“The lifestyle on this coastline is akin to that of California,” says Nicolas Descamps, Director of Côte Ouest, Christie’s International Real Estate's exclusive affiliate in the region. "Many of the world’s biggest surfing brands have outposts on this coastline, so it’s very popular among surfers."

Ideally located for the surf lifestyle, this modern apartment in Guethary benefits from a south- and west-facing garden. Photograph: Côte OuestMaking the most of its position on the Parlementia hillside, many of this open-plan loft-style home’s spacious rooms face the ocean. Photograph: Côte OuestThe long, sandy beaches at Guethary, just steps from this property, welcome the surfing faithful. Photograph: Côte Ouest

“Travel south of Biarritz, towards the Spanish border and the mountains, and things are quieter. The Basque identity is very strong,” says Descamps. “Gastronomy, language, and architecture reflect the region’s close proximity to northern Spain. In addition, the weather is consistently great, with temperatures even reaching up to 50°F or more in February.”

Savoie & Haute-Savoie
Located just over 50 miles south of Geneva, the picturesque town of Chambéry is close to lakes and mountains, nestled between two regional nature parks.

The impressive fortress of Miolans, nestled in the foothills of Savoie’s Arclusaz mountains, once hosted the Marquis de Sade as prisoner. Photograph: Getty ImagesIn winter, Chambéry is served by multiple ski resorts, including the popular Chamonix and Méribel, and the more exclusive Megève and Courchevel, which are both around an hour away by car. In summer, it is of course the Tour de France that draws a crowd, who come to watch the riders slog it out on the steep slopes.

Located between Lyon and Chambéry, this fairytale-like 17th-century castle has 11 bedrooms, five bathrooms, and is set within 79 acres of land. Photograph: Agence ClercRenovated with care, the castle also features a chapel, a caretaker's house, and equestrian facilities. Photograph: Agence ClercGillonay is within reach of both the metropolis of Lyon and the vineyards, ski and hiking trails, and spa towns near Chambéry. Photograph: Agence Clerc

“A lot of clients come here to cycle this section of the Tour de France route, or to explore the area on a bike holiday, and they’ll then come back and buy a place,” says Benoît Clerc, CEO of Agence Clerc, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region.

“People here like to get out into nature and into the exceptionally pure air, and just breathe. It’s mountainous, so of course outdoor sports are very popular here. Skiing, mountain biking, climbing, and cross-country skiing are all very popular."

With unique and unspoiled panoramic views of the mountains, this 15th-century house in Cruet has six bedrooms and three bathrooms. Photograph: Agence ClercIn addition to a swimming pool and summer kitchen, the property also has its own treehouse. Photograph: Agence ClercFull of character, this estate between Chambéry and Albertville benefits from its quiet location, large garden, and panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Photograph: Agence Clerc

“There are two sides to life here because it’s also very well located for businesses based in Geneva," Clerc says. "When the Tour de France comes through Chambéry it’s an additional draw—everyone comes out to watch it. There’s not a single flat part of road in this section of the course, so it’s always great to watch.”

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Emilee Tombs
is Associate Editor of Luxury Defined