Tour de France Grand Départ in the Vendée - Pays de la Loire for 2018

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This year's Tour de France sets off from the beautiful island of Noirmoutier before spending the next three stages in the Loire too...

Stage 1 - Noirmoutier to Fontenay-le-Comte

The island of Noirmoutier lies just off the Vendéen coast and has earnt the nickname, the 'island of mimosas' due to the temperate climate that allows these stunning flowers to bloom all year long. It's from the town of Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile that the riders will set off on July 7 for the 105th edition of the world's greatest cycle race.

Made up of salt marshes, sand dunes and green forests, the island is a great area for sailing and birdwatching. The salt marshes are important for Noirmoutier's most famous export, La Bonnotte potatoes, a delicate variety that has to be harvested by hand and is fertilised with local seaweed to give it its unique, slighty salty taste. A true flavour of the ocean.

Once the riders have crossed the bridge back onto the mainland, they're heading south to trace alongside the coastline of the Vendée. Passing through St Jean de Monts, les Sables d''Olonne and Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, there's plenty of wonderful seaside resorts with gorgeous sandy beaches, renowned spas and a wealth of golf courses to stop off at and see the race.

You can forget the stopwatch if you want but there's a stunning coastal route which you can cycle or hike and enjoy the scenery at your own leisurely pace.

The first stage will arrive into the town of Fontenay-le-Comte, an exceptionally pretty 'ville d'art et d'histoire' with the route turning inland. Explore its quaint little streets lined with architectural gems such as the gothic church, monumental gate and even a ruined castle in the park. It's like stepping into a time capsule to the Middle Ages.

Nearby are the Forest de Mervent and the Venise Vert, so-called 'Green Venice', of the Marais Poitevin for nature-lovers who want to explore the delightful flora and fauna of this beautiful natural area.

Stage 2 - Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon

Starting from the small town of Mouilleron-Saint-Germain where Georges Clemenceau was born, the route winds through the Vendéen countryside all the way to La Roche-sur-Yon. 

The arrival town of La Roche-sur-Yon was created by Napoleon and sprang to life in the early 19th century. It was built according to Napoleon's plan with wide streets, large squares and imposing Neoclassical architecture. Head to the Marché des Halles for the largest fresh produce market in the Vendée.

Stage 3 - Cholet

This year's team time trail will take place on the streets of the city of Cholet, south of the river Loire. Famed in the past for its production of textiles and shoes, Cholet is a great city for history and culture buffs with its textile and fashion museum, a shoemaking museum in a nearby village and a fine arts museum with lots of art dedicated to the Wars of the Vendée, of which Cholet was key player in the late 18th century.

There's also plenty of outdoorsy stuff to do with two man-made lakes on its outskirts where you can go boating and enjoy water sports, hiking and cycling. There's also plenty of gardens to visit, as well as animal parks and Terra Botanica, a theme park about nature, is less than an hour away meaning lots of family fun for adventurous offspring.

Stage 4 - La Baule to Sarzeau

La Baule is renowned for its beach - a stunning 9km stretch of sand that is one of the longest beaches in Europe. It's a fantastic area for yachting and sailing as well as other water sports such as kitesurfing and paddle boarding. As you might expect, La Baule has been a popular seaside destination since the Belle Epoque and this chic resort is surrounded by pine forests filled with stylish, historic villas.

Next on the route is the fortified town of Guerande. The ramparts completely enclose the town with four imposing medieval gates allowing you in and out. Overlooking the salt marshes where the famed fleur de sel, a delicate salt favoured by chefs, is farmed, you can walk along the ramparts for some spectacular views.

The marshes at Brière, to the north of the town, where peat used to be farmed, are now rich in flora and fauna. Head out onto the canals in a chaland, a flat-bottom boat, to explore or discover the thousands of picturesque thatched cottages in the area by going for a hike.

The stage arrives in the Breton town of Sarzeau near the Gulf of Morbihan. Like much of the Morbihan department, Sarzeau is home to several ancient menhirs but its most well-known landmark is the Chateau de Suscinio. Originally a forest fortress for the Dukes of Brittany when they wanted to go hunting, this moated castle has been restored since the 1960s. The perfect place to finish a stage of the Tour de France!

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