Monday 23 July 2019 – Monday 29 July 2019 Le Puy-en-Velay – Les Gaillards -Meaux
After a lovely stopover and catchup with Ian’s brother Andrew and his wife Mitzi at their nice house swap in a small village called Neffies we continued on our journey north to end up in Sweden. We decided to continue on our Tour de France experience by being in Paris to conclude 2019 Tour de France. We felt this would be a great culmination to our first experience of watching Tour de France live.
On the drive to Le Puy-en-Velay we stopped at a viewpoint which overlooked Millau, with a gorgeous view of the Millau Viaduct, a cable-stayed bridge that spans the gorge valley of Tarn and the landscape entering the small township of Millau. We continued our drive to Le Puy-en-Velay where stayed overnight at the base of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe.
Le Puy-en-Velay is a lovely small French town of the region Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes. It’s known for the green lentils grown in the area, and as a gateway to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail. The landscape is dominated by Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe and the Statue of Notre Dame de France.
The following morning, we visited Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe,a small chapel built in the 10th century situated on the top of a dormant volcanic pipe, which was devoted to St Michel. Just like other great monuments dedicated to Saint Michel in Europe, the cult archangel Saint Michel is often presented in elevated sites.
After entering the site, the first structure we visited was Oratoire Saint Gabriel, a small church built in 961.
We then climbed over 268 steps, which felt like 500, to visit the chapel which was built at the beginning of the 12th century to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims. The inside is dimly lit with magnificent murals on the walls and ceiling. The 360-degree view from the surrounding wall over the village is stunning.
The Statue of Notre Dame de France was created in the 19th century using the metal from 213 guns taken from the Russians during the Crimean War and offered by Napoleon III to the city of Le Puy-en-Velay. It stands 22.7 metres high and weighs 835 tons and is situated on the highest point of the city, the Rocher Corneille of volcanic origin at 757 metres above sea level.
Located at the foot of St Michel’s Rock is Saint Clair’s Chapel which was part of St Nicholas Hospital built at the end of the 12th century to care for pilgrims without any means of support. The chapel is quite small and of octagonal design.
Later in the day we continued to Auvergne for our night stopover before continuing to Meaux which is where we will stay in order to visit Paris.
The Aire de Camping-Car at Les Gaillards, Auvergne is a lovely old camp site along the banks of a lake with lots of shady trees and great facilities. There were about 5 other motorhomes parked for the night.
The next morning, we drove to Meaux, about 40 kilometres east-northeast of the centre of Paris, to a small Aire along the banks of the Canal Cornillon. When we arrived, there was only one other motorhome there which we were surprised but relieved about. We stayed in this Aire last year and it is a great place from which to visit Paris. We have been to Paris three times previously and visited many sights but have never really walked around the inner-city area, so we decided to go on a walking tour.
We caught the regional train into Paris which takes about 35 minutes and then a metro to the area near the beginning of the walking tour.
On our way we passed Notre Dame, to see the damage caused by the recent fire to the historic church. There is a fence around the entire area with barbed wire on top and scaffolding surrounding the area which was affected. The place is closed to the public until the completion of the work. A complete restoration could require twenty years or more. The fire destroyed the building’s spire and most of its roof and severely damaged the upper walls.
The Gothic cathedral, which dates from the 12th century, is still a masterpiece with the remaining flying buttresses, breathtaking stained-glass windows and carved gargoyles.
Free Walking Tour
We began our tour in Place Saint- Michel where there is a monumental fountain constructed in 1858-1860 during the French Second Empire. It depicts the archangel Michel conquering the Devil, suggesting thoughts of the battle between Good and Evil.
Other highlights of the tour:
Palais de Justice situated within the Palais de la Cite has been used as a place of government since Roman times. It is inextricably tied up with royalty, as it was the residence of the kings of France for a very long time. This is where in 1793 the revolutionary tribunal pronounced the death sentence on Marie- Antoinette and where hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were taken from to be executed by guillotine at a number of locations around Paris. Apparently, the last death by guillotine was in the 1970s. The wrought iron gates and the gold gilding are quite elaborate. It was also used by the Nazis from 1940 to 1944 as their Paris headquarters.
Sainte Chapelle is a royal chapel within the medieval Palais de la Cite, completed in 1248 to house the collection of Passion relics of King Louis IX of France. It has one of the most extensive collections of stained glass anywhere in the world.
Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge built in 1578 across the river Seine connecting the left and right bank.
The Musee du Louvre is the world’s largest art museum and an historic monument housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th and 13th centuries as a fortress to protect the city from English soldiers who were in Normandy. The Louvre Palace was altered frequently throughout the Middle Ages.
In the main courtyard of the Palace is the Louvre Pyramid, a large glass and metal pyramid surrounded by three smaller pyramids completed in 1989. The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum.
The museum contains more than 38,00 objects and displays 35,000 works of art from prehistory to the 21st century. Our guide informed us that it has been estimated it would take 13 days to see every exhibit if we spent a short amount looking at each object. How many people have this amount of time just to see one sight?
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is the triumphal arch located in the Place du Carrousel. It was built between 1806 and 1808 to commemorate Napoleon’s militaries victories. Initially Napoleon commissioned the building of the Arc de Triomphe de I ‘Etoile at the far end of the Champs Elysees. Because of its size, Napoleon realised that he would never see it completed in his lifetime, so he ordered the building of a smaller one, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel on the model of the Arch of Constantine in Rome. It was the gateway of the Tuileries Palace, the Imperial residence and following the destruction of the Palace during the Paris Commune in 1871, there is now an unobstructed view west towards the Arc de Triomphe.
It was originally surmounted by the Berlin Quadriga of Victory (a symbol of peace represented by the olive wreath carried by Victory) which was seized from the Brandenburg Gate by Napoleon during his occupation of Berlin in 1806. It was returned to Berlin in 1814 after Napoleon’s defeat and the Prussian occupation of Paris. In 1828 it was replaced by a quadriga depicting Peace riding in a triumphal chariot led by gilded Victories on both sides. The composition commemorates the Restoration of the Bourbons following Napoleon’s downfall.
The Tuileries Garden is a public garden located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. It was originally the garden of the Tuileries Palace and became a public park after the French Revolution. There were many people enjoying the peaceful surroundings.
This is where we finished our walking tour of Paris central. It was a good tour which complimented a lot of the famous landmarks we have visited.
Stage 2: The Final stage of Tour de France Rambouillet to Paris
We caught the train and metro into the main centre of Paris for the last stage of the Tour de France. After a delightful lunch we meandered through the streets to the Champs Elysees where the riders were to complete 8 laps before finishing at the bottom of the Champs Elysees. When we arrived 2 ½ hours before the race there were people everywhere. We managed to squeeze into a small spot near the end of the sprint section.
The crowd cheered, clapped, whistled and waved flags each time the riders passed by. The swishing noise of the bikes as the whisked past on the cobbled stone street could be heard over the crowd and the speed at which they rode past it was impossible to take a photo without it blurring.
Once again, the winner of the stage was Caleb Ewan, an Australian rider. Our fourth time of watching a stage of the Tour and the fourth time an Australian or Australian team wins. Four out of four for us!
The race finished at 9:30 pm and we decided to try and walk to the finish line to see the presentations. There were people milling everywhere and with the road closures it was impossible to find a way through, so we headed for the metro. On the way we could see the Eiffel Tower.
It was nearly ten o’clock and we remembered from the tour the guide mentioning the Eiffel Tower on the hour lights up with fairy lights and flashes for 5 minutes, so we waited and, sure enough, at 10pm the lights came on and began to twinkle. It was a magical moment and a great way to conclude our visit to Paris and our Tour de France Odessey.
The next day we drove to Ypres in Belgium to watch the ceremony at the Menin Gates.