Hors Course stage 2: From the land of Brie de Meaux to the Champagne region

Stage 2 of the Tour de France Femmes takes the peloton from Meaux to Provins for an uphill sprint finish.

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As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris. And then throughout the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

We start in Meaux and that is the name-giver of one of the most famous cheeses France has to offer. Brie de Meaux. Brie is sold around the world but Brie de Meaux is nothing compared to the white triangle of factory produced cheese you can probably buy at the supermarket wherever you live. Brie de Meaux is something else and you know it the minute you open your fridge. Its smell is intense.

Brie de Meaux and Camembert are the best known of all soft cheeses in France. This soft, moldy cheese is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk and owes its name to its city of origin, Meaux, about 50 km from Paris. 

The proximity to the capital played a big part in the cheese’s popularity. Unlike the Camembert from Normandy, the Brie did not have to wait for the arrival of the railway to find its way into the lucrative Parisian market. You can recognize this brie by its crust, which is thin and covered by a fluffy layer of white mold, marked here and there by some brown-red dots and stripes. The dairy is soft, creamy but firm and smooth.

The finish of the stage is in Provins, a place that is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List. The historic walled city is an outstanding and authentic example of a medieval fair town in Champagne, a region that became an important centre of exchange in the 11th century. It witnessed the rise of trading fairs and that was the beginning of significant international trade in Europe. Two centuries earlier, Provins already minted their own coins showing its significance early on.

Jouy Street in Provins with the Tour Cesar and the dome of St. Quiriace Church in the background.

The trade fairs like the one in Provins targeted merchants and traders from afar. That required long-distance freight transport between the north and south of Europe and with the Middle East. This encouraged the development of activities such as banking and foreign exchange. The urban layout and the medieval dwellings that remain in Provins are a great example of an architectural ensemble built specifically to fulfill these functions. This complex includes merchant houses, vaulted cellars and warehouses, outdoor spaces for trade, and religious ensembles. The city is also known for its well-preserved defense system which was built for the protection of the fairs.

King Philip IV visited Provins several times in the late 13th century, devastating the town with harsh taxes that ended its period of prosperity and caused residents to flee. The town was besieged numerous times and changed hands frequently in the 14th through 16th centuries.  This political and economic instability reduced the importance of the city.

Nowadays Provins has around 12,000 inhabitants. You can visit the ramparts with its 22 towers, of which the Tour Cesar is the most prominent. Provins also has one of the oldest inns of the country. The Hostellerie de la Croix D’Or claims to be the oldest restaurant in France founded in 1270 and you can still have dinner there. That’s a lot of history on the plate.

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