Here’s a word of warning. If you leave the job of booking your accommodation at the Tour de France to the last moment, you will end up staying in the odd truly terrible hotel.

But if a decade of property programmes on British television has told us anything it’s this: Location, Location, Location.

So, what our base in Chateauroux, the Hotel Voltaire, gained by being less than 800 metres from the finish line, it lost for being possibly the worst hotel I have ever stayed in.

I am not going to slate the place, because disorganised beggars can’t be choosers and it was only 35 euros per room per night, but how they could justify the two stars painted on the wall, I don’t know.

Perhaps the tarif list on the door should have been a clue. For a five euro supplement, guests were welcome to have an animal stay in their rooms with them.

As we checked in, Ed held both room keys out and invited me to choose. I picked room number six – which turned out to be very much the short straw. There was no evidence that the guest before me had been a dog, but whoever had been in there was definitely a smoker. To French hoteliers, the phrase ‘non-smoking room’ means that there isn’t anyone in there smoking at the moment.

I am not kidding you when I say the hotel room key was on a keyring in the shape of a little torch, the sort of thing a child might get as a stocking filler at Christmas. The cover had been taken off the battery cavity and inside was placed a post-it note with the access code to the hotel’s front door on it. That’s not the sort of thing you get at the Four Seasons, New York. You can’t put a price on that sort of individuality.

NICE ONE CAV

Mark Cavendish was good enough to delay winning his first Tour de France stage until I could get there to see it. I am pretty sure he didn’t do this as a personal favour to me, but I am grateful nonetheless. In my time covering the Tour de France I have managed to miss just about every British highlight. In 2000, I arrived the day David Millar lost the yellow jersey. In 2002 I was on holiday without access to a television the day he won in Beziers and in 2003 I came home from France the day before the Nantes time trial he won.

It was mayhem in the Avenue de la Chatre. The scrum at the finish seem to be more chaotic than ever, with the other riders having to fight their way past the army of television cameramen swarmed around the winner. I can understand why the riders get a bit heated with all the jostling. They’ve just raced a couple of hundred kilometres and then a load of goons with cameras and dictaphones get between them and a cold drink and something to eat.

There was a nice moment in the little area adjacent to the finishing line where the journalists gather to watch the race on television. Team Columbia’s head honcho Bob Stapleton and Credit Agricole’s manager Roger Legeay stood together and watched as their two boys, Cavendish and Thor Hushovd, prepared to do battle. They shared a joke together and it was nice to see Legeay congratulate Stapleton warmly when Cavendish won.

RIDING THE TOUR

As Ed has documented in our exciting CW Rides (part of) The Tour feature, we headed to La Bourboule and got the bikes out to ride the final 50 kilometres of the stage to Super Besse.

Cavendish has been riding with some sticky blue tape on his legs which, he says, helps his muscles. This must surely be spoof sports science because I can’t imagine any amount of tape helping me over the Col de la Croix-Morand.

I can see it now, though, loads of sportive riders turning up for their events with sticky tape down their calf muscles. You read it here first.

Anyway, Super Besse was pretty horrible for me. I am not the lightest and riding with Ed, who recently completed the Marmotte and weighs about six ounces, was a pretty demoralising experience. As he coasted up the climb, answering the phone and talking easily, or taking photos, I sounded like a set of punctured bagpipes and I could feel my pulse in my neck.

This is a family website, so I can’t write what I thought when he said: “Okay, I’m going to start trying now” – well, that’s what I heard, at least – “I’ll see you at the top.”

We didn’t make it to the top because the gendarmes intervened. I had left my press pass back at the hotel so there was absolutely no sweet-talking my way past the four-kilometre-to-go banner. Ed rather unkindly suggested this was a ploy to get me out of riding all the way to the top but it honestly wasn’t.

THE DOMESTIQUE’S GUIDE

CW’s travel experience rated

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Voltaire, Chateauroux

Tarif: 35 euros per room per night

Facilities: Non-existent, although there was a lift

Room: Small, dark, smoky

Bed: Spongy, like riding on a slow puncture you know won’t make it all the way home

Staff: Very pleasant. Apologetically so

Ambiance: Musty

Surroundings: Right in the centre of Chateauroux, not the prettiest town

CW RATING:

Tour de France 2008

…and that’s being very generous

Hotel Regina, La Bourboule

Tarif: 65 euros per room per night

Facilities: A swimming pool and spa we didn’t have time to use

Room: Nice at first glance but the shower door was missing a panel meaning the bathroom flooded

Bed: I was so tired, I’d have gladly slept at the Hotel Voltaire again

Staff: The owner was the French equivalent of Basil Fawlty. He didn’t want us to take our bikes to our rooms. When you consider the potential damage of doing so could run to as much as 10 euros, whereas the potential damage to us if they were stolen could have run to 4,000 euros, we felt this was a bit mean. The bikes weren’t stolen

Ambiance: Sleepy

Surroundings: Next to the river in La Bourboule. Not too shabby

CW RATING:

Tour de France 2008EVENING MEALS

Le Petit Bouchon Chateauroux

Last year, as my colleague Simon and I drove the camper van from Pau to Belgium in a day-and-a-half, we broke our trip in Chateauroux and dined at this pleasant family-run restaurant. It was much busier this time, with tables in the pedestrianised street outside, but the food was just as good. Both Ed and I opted for a starter of meaty, Lyonnaise sausage salad with potatoes. It wasn’t the lightest entree ever, the sausage was particularly heavy, a cross between a hot dog and pork pie filling.

I only just had room for the delicious lamb steak stew with vegetables served in a Le Creusot pot. My pudding boycott was severely tested by the chocolate fondant Ed had.

CW RATING:

Tour de France 2008Brasserie Cyrano La Bourboule

The best meal so far. We skipped the starter to allow us a fair crack at the enormous Auverge cheese platters we’d seen being delivered to other diners.

We had a unique take on the traditional confit de canard – marinated duck breast – which was served covered in Cantal cheese. Sounds odd, but was a great combination.

The cheese was excellent. Ed, who used to live just up the road to the north of the Massif Central, correctly identified all three cheeses as Cantal, St Nectaire and Bleu d’Auvergne, which he looked rather too smug about.

CW RATING:

Tour de France 2008NEXT TIME The hotel that didn’t take credit cards…

LIFE AT THE TOUR: PREVIOUS BLOGS

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TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage

Stage six: Ricco storms to win

Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win

Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead

Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break

Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint

Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit

Doping back in Tour de France headlines

Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]

Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]

Millar to go for yellow [stage six]

Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]

Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win

Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]

Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]

Who is Romain Feillu?

Cavendish disappointed with stage two result

Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey

Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?

Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec

Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win

Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage six

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Stage four

Stage three

Stage two

Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

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