- The race 2011
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The Pyrénées – a symbol of passion and ambition© DG / OTC Pau
• Stage town on 63 previous occasions
• 87, 000 inhabitants
• Prefecture of Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64)
Pau Porte des Pyrénées is at the heart of an area of 250,000 strong men and women who share an identity built on peace, sharing and passion. It’s an outdoor sports destination with a white-water stadium, Europe’s oldest golf course and a vast network of hiking trails. You feel close to nature in the town, too, in its many parks and gardens. It’s also a favourite cultural destination, with Château de Pau a favourite destination, especially when lit up at night, when visitors can enjoy a spectacular walk in its grounds. It’s a town fit for a king, and is the birthplace of Henri IV and Jean-Baptiste Bernadette, who was to become king of Sweden. It’s also a gastronomic heaven, with a number of delicious local produce: Jurançon wine, poultry, foie gras, goat’s cheese... Lastly, the area boasts a growing economy: geosciences, farm produce, aeronautics and the equine industry are all prevalent. And then there’s Pau Broadband Country – a co-operative project which supplied France’s first high-speed broadband network.
The newly rebranded area of Pau Porte des Pyrénées provides all you need to be seduced for a day, a weekend or a whole lifetime.
The capital of Béarn was the birthplace of Henri IV. Pau has also played an important role in the history of the Tour de France since the first finish was judged there in 1930, as it has become the race’s most visited city after Paris and Bordeaux. In total, seven of the Tour’s former winners have won in Pau. And if the stages that started in the city are also taken into account, it can pride itself as being part of a kind of Grand Slam with the other two cites. Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain and Armstrong, the Tour’s record-holders, also have something in common as they have won stages linked to Pau.
Fortified chateau with the Pyrenean museum in its keep© E. Bielle
• Stage town on 2 previous occasions
• 15, 700 inhabitants
• Cantonal subdivision of the Upper Pyrenees (65)
Lourdes is the third most popular place of catholic pilgrimage in the world after the Vatican and Mexico’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and is visited by almost six million people each year. Ever since the appearances of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, the city has had to adapt to the needs of pilgrims and visitors by providing quality services and infrastructure. It is served by both a major railway station and an international airport, and only Paris has more hotels. This charming town nestles in the shadow of its fortified chateau (eleventh-seventeenth centuries), which also houses the Pyrenean museum. The area also offers a wide variety of sports and leisure activities: golf, fishing and walking around a huge glacial lake, cycling and rollerblading, as well as downhill mountain biking from the summit of the Pic du Jer, which is accessed via the 100-year-old funicular. Lourdes is also the perfect Midi-Pyrénées base from which to explore the rest of the surrounding mountains in the Pyrénées.
With more than 5 million visitors per year, the city is the third most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. The town celebrated the150th anniversary of Bernadette Soubirous’ visions of the Virgin Mary in 2008, but the Tour de France only stopped there for the first time in 1948, with the win of Bartali. Although it was the only finish «in the town” of the former rugby capital (which won the French Championships eight times), four other stages have also finished in the neighbouring winter sports resort of Hautacam.