This bucket list item was completed on 22nd July 2017 in Marseille, France.
Ever since I was a kid I have always marvelled at the endurance of the athletes in the Tour de France. I have never been into road cycling and have never actually rode a proper road cycle but the Tour de France was always an event I could not ignore when it was on TV. I just had so much respect for the athletes who were going flat out, stage after stage, for a month straight. And not just over flat ground… They would go up and down mountain passes and through small villages as they toured around the country. It was my admiration of the athletes that compelled me to put this one on the list.
I was living in the UK at the time and the beauty of Europe is how cheap and easy you can get around. I knew I could get over to France easily enough but since the race goes all through France I always thought it made for terrible logistics to actually watch the event.
I was not set on going to any particular place to watch the event so I figured I would look at the event schedule, which is when I noticed there was a time trial in Marseille. I had always wanted to visit Marseille and the fact that it was a time trial meant that I could stay in one spot all day and see plenty of action.
My girlfriend at the time, Sarah, and I decided to make a weekend of it and visit Marseille. We booked some tickets with Ryanair and landed a nice Airbnb a few blocks away from the Old Port of Marseille, which the time trial looped around. We arrived on Friday evening and made our way to our accommodation. It was a small studio apartment but it was all we needed and the location was fantastic.
After we dropped our luggage we went for a walk down around the Old Port. It was a beautiful evening and we watched the sun reflect off the water in the port as it was setting. We walked past several places, trying to find somewhere to eat, until we settled on Le Bouchon Provencal. They served traditional French food and had superb cheeses and wine. The night time vibe around the Old Port is great and I highly recommend finding accommodation in the area.
The time trial was scheduled for the following day. After we finished our dinner, we walked along the south side of the port before returning to our accommodation.
Saturday was another beautiful day and I woke up early so I decided to walk the streets to see what I could find for breakfast. I managed to find a great patisserie just two blocks from our accommodation, which made the most amazing croissants and pain au chocolat. The carbs and sugar were enough to fuel us for a day of checking out the cycling action.
The time trial started from the Orange Velodrome, south of the Old Port. It was a bit far away for us to walk and I thought we would see plenty of riders just by hanging around the Old Port. We left our accommodation and walked along the north side of the port. The riders were flying past and going the speed of a car since it was so flat. Sometimes it seemed like the support motorcycles and cars were struggling to keep up around the corners.
As we reached the turn-around point at the mouth of the port the crowds had thinned out and I thought it would make a great time for photo. More proof to add to the bucket list gallery!
The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is at the mouth of the port and I had been told it was amazing so we tried to pop in quickly and have a look. Unfortunately it was closed to ensure no attention was taken away from the Tour de France. We were still able to walk around the main areas of the museum but the exhibits were closed. I have that on my list to see next time I am back in Marseille.
After leaving the museum we walked along the course and continued to watch the cyclists whiz past while we did some trinket shopping at the tourist shops. We returned to the main area of the port where all of the restaurants were located. It was a hot day and our legs were getting tired so we sat down for a beer and had a bite to eat. I needed some beer to keep me going for the rest of the day.
We were only a couple blocks away from our accommodation but I wanted to continue walking the course. After the riders looped back around the port they climb up to the top of the hill where the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde sits. It is a beautiful basilica and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city due to the elevation of the hill.
We wanted to see it at some point but I also wanted to see how the riders negotiated their way to the top so we decided to continue to follow the riders. The course takes the riders up Boulevard André Aune, which is a steep incline even for walkers.
I will never forget when we rounded the corner and looked up at Boulevard André Aune. It was lined with people on either side and the riders were charging up the hill faster than I could go on flat land. This was what I went to see! This was the second last leg of the tour and these riders were still giving everything they had and attacking every hill they came across. That one moment of watching those riders charge up the hill fulfilled exactly what I wanted to see when I pictured the Tour de France live.
Chris Froome was the Tour leader going into the day and managed 3rd place in the time trial, finishing only six seconds behind the winner. He went on to win his fourth Tour de France title the next day in Paris.
The last rider had gone past as we were half way up the hill but we continued until we reached the basilica. The views were amazing, as well as the basilica itself. It was a busy day and a lot of time spend on our feet but it was well worth it. An experience I will never forget.
Have you seen the Tour de France live? Let me know in the comments below.
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Dave has been on a mission, since 2010, to cross off the 100 items on his bucket list. The stories of his adventures are complimented by life lessons learned along the way and his travel tips are unique to his experiences.