July 23 – 30, 2018
Few sporting events inspire as much excitement as the Tour de France. Each year the grueling multistage bicycle race attracts millions of viewers worldwide. On this eight-day journey, thrill to the competition with special access to parts of the event. See the race to the finish along the Champs-Élysées, and experience this premier sporting event the way few people can.
What began in 1903 as a national competition with only a handful of athletes has become the most acclaimed race in the cycling world, with the largest attendance of any sporting event. Along the streets of historic towns, the grassy edges of fields and the long, painful flanks of France’s mountains, thousands cheer their favorite cyclists. On this exciting program, shadow the cyclists at select stages of the race, and take advantage of your special V.I.P. access to get close to select portions of the course. With experts to give you insight into the event and its history and difficulties, you’ll never forget this race.
James Dao is an avid cyclist who is the editor of the op-ed page at The New York Times. He oversees production of the daily page, the Sunday Review, and the op-ed section of the New York Times International Edition. He regularly competes in Cat 4 and masters racing events. In 2013, he covered the Tour de France for The Times, writing 10 pieces during the final week and a half of racing on topics ranging from the tour’s crazy fans to the art of descending Alpine passes to the cycling-obsessed scientists who try to monitor doping from a distance.
Day 1: Welcome to France
Arrive in Toulouse and transfer to your hotel. Meet your fellow Times travelers this evening at a welcome reception and dinner at a local restaurant, and get a preview of the week’s events.
In the morning drive to Carcassonne, a city famous for its imposing medieval fortress. You will have access to the V.I.P. start village, where the cyclists will sign in and begin the race. Enjoy the atmosphere, including food and coffee, and watch as the cyclists take off. Take some time to stroll the city to seek the perfect spot for lunch. Reconvene for a tour and tasting at a local winery: This area produces lesser-known but still great wines. Return to Toulouse for the evening and dinner on your own.
Day 3: The Relais Etape
Head into the Pyrenees this morning to watch the athletes attempt some of the most grueling stages of the race. The Pyrenean portion of the Tour de France this year includes several classic peaks, including the Col du Tourmalet, at nearly 7,000 feet the highest paved mountain pass in the Pyrenees, and the Col de Portet. Drive to a V.I.P. area along the racecourse called the Relais Étape, a special viewing area. Have lunch with wine and watch as the riders draw close and pass right by, accompanied by the caravan. Today you will receive a gift from the Tour de France as well. Then continue to the city of Lourdes. This evening, your expert will lead a discussion on the history of the race, the significance of various stages and the process of reporting on the event. Have dinner as a group.
Day 4: A Pause in Lourdes
Take a break from the race to enjoy the beauty of Lourdes. This small mountain town came to the attention of the rest of France in 1858, when a local girl named Bernadette Soubirous (later canonized as St. Bernadette) was said to have received visions of the Virgin Mary. As a result, Lourdes became an important destination for religious pilgrims. Explore the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes and the grotto where Mary is said to have first appeared to Bernadette. Continue to the Basilica of St. Pius X, unusual for its modern architecture and having been built mostly underground. Take the afternoon to rest or watch the race from a neighborhood bar in the company of locals. This evening meet with a team mechanic to learn about the extensive equipment and work needed to keep the event running. Dinner is on your own.
Day 5: Back to the Action
Attend the start of the race this morning close to the hotel. Later you can take the funicular to the top of the nearby Pic du Jer or a short hike up to the château fort. The fortress has stood for a thousand years and offers excellent views of the city and surrounding mountains. After lunch on your own, drive to your V.I.P. viewing area, the Col d’Izoard, near today’s finish line. Pass by hundreds of spectators on the way to your special access location, where food, drinks and a prime spot await to watch the action. Return to Lourdes this evening and have dinner as a group.
Day 6: To Paris
Board a train for Paris and ride in first class as you head north. Check in to your hotel, steps from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Élysées, where the athletes traditionally finish the final leg of the race. The remainder of the day is yours to watch the race from a local bar or restaurant near the hotel, where snacks and drinks will be provided for the group, or strike out on your own to explore the city. Dinner is independent.
Day 7: The Final Stage
The final day of the race is here! It begins at 3 p.m., leaving time for more sightseeing this morning. Cycle around the city on a guided e-bike tour that reveals the city’s hidden gems. This afternoon, enter the V.I.P. grandstands along the Champs Élysées for the nail-biting finish. From your superior vantage point, drink in the atmosphere and excitement one final time. You will be close to the finish line on the lower third of the Champs Élysées. This evening, stroll with the group to the River Seine to unwind with a leisurely dinner cruise. Toast the end of your week of the Tour de France as the boat passes Notre Dame Cathedral and the iconic Eiffel Tower.
Day 8: Homeward Bound
Transfer to the airport this morning for individual flights home, or extend your stay in Paris.
Double Occupancy: $7,995
Single Supplement: $850
Enjoy the classic elegance of Toulouse at the Grand Hotel de l’Opera. This 4-star hotel in the heart of the Capitole square was converted from a 17th century Monastery, and shows off the charming traditional styles of southern France.
This four-star Belle Époque property, recently renovated but maintaining the 19th-century exterior, is ideally located near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
This 19th-century property has been updated to 21st-century sensibilities, with views of the Arc de Triomphe from many rooms.