Best Arrival Cities
A question that I regularly get is where to start your journey. For most you’ll start and stop in Paris but know that you have many other options. I haven’t been to every airport in France I have been to most of the key regional airports that you can use as a starting point. In general if you are planning on starting a trip in the Alps Lyon, France, Geneva, Switzerland, and Grenoble, France are all logical choices. For the Pyrenees you can use Toulouse, France or perhaps Pau, France.
I must warn you that traveling to smaller French airports is can add some extra travel anxiety if you don’t plan ahead. The more often you change planes the more likelihood you may have delays so don’t plan too tight of a timeline so you don’t miss a special stage you’d really like to see for example.
With so much to do and see, along with two airports, Paris is a natural choice. Because so many flights come here directly from U.S. hubs so you can eliminate connections and know that your luggage has less of a chance of disappearing. Taking the train from Paris is a consideration as there are so many trains leaving daily
If you are renting a car, driving out of Paris can test your mettle and you may have a long transfer to say the Alps or Pyrenees. Part of the upside of Paris is that if you have bike boxes often you can make arrangements with hotels to keep your empty bike case while you travel. The Hilton at Charles de Gaulle has been helpful to me with this matter in the past but isn’t the cheapest lodging around.
Because it is a major population center and close to the Alps, the airport at Lyon is a logical choice to start a trip. Lyon will be able to support you if you’re renting a car or taking the train. Traveling from Lyon to the popular destination of Bourg d’ Oisans, (bottom of Alpe d’ Huez) is about 150 Kilometers or 2 hours depending on traffic. A quick check showed 16 arrivals daily from Charles de Gaulle.
Grenoble has a new, modern, regional airport that can be used as a destination but it is a relatively sleepy airport. Having visited there on two occasions you can find rentals and such but your choices will be limited to a degree. Compared to Lyon or Geneva you could hit more snags by flying here but all in it’s all a nice airport. One example is a 2003 plane bound for Grenoble had to be rerouted to Lyon and occupants driven by bus to Grenoble. The reason was that with 12 cyclists aboard the smaller plane used for Grenoble could not take their bicycles and luggage. They were put on bigger plane headed for Lyon instead. If you’re traveling as part of a large group maybe try Lyon instead.
Just across the French border in Switzerland Geneva serves as larger destination and a good choice as a starting point for an Alps TdF trip. By train or via rental car you will have numerous choices here. If driving in Switzerland be aware that the Swiss require a permit/sticker that allows you to drive on their Autoroute—it costs about $27-30 USD and if you rent in Switzerland the car should have the sticker already. If you’re driving into Switzerland in a vehicle without the sticker you’ll need to plan on paying the charge. Geneva to Bourg d’ Oisans is just over 210 Kilometers and should take about 3 hours. Geneva is a good choice if you chose to stay somewhere like Albertville or Annecy instead of Bourg d’ Oisans or Les Deux Alpes.
If you plan on starting your trip in the Pyrenees and don’t want the 8-hour drive from Paris, then Toulouse is your airport. About 2 hours from most of the towns you’ll use base for the Pyrenees, the Toulouse airport is large enough to accommodate bigger planes and has plenty of amenities like car rentals and such. On checking I found about 23 arrivals in Toulouse daily from Paris de Gaulle and Orly.
Having some experience in Toulouse I can say that within 10k of the Airport are unspoiled country roads and some incredible riding. I spent two days here in 2004 and wished I had more as during July rolling hills are combined with summer wheat and beautiful sunflower fields. One idea for those with some time would be to fly in and spend a few days acclimating to the time change and enjoying magnificent rides in the area.
Located in the Pyrenees, Pau would be the closest airport to most of the big climbs of region and therefore the race action. Unlike Toulouse though the airport is smaller and has only shows 4 flights arriving daily from Paris currently.