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Yorkshireman launches specialist Yorkshire Grand Départ Guide

We talk to Rob Cowen, the brains behind the expert guide to enjoying Yorkshire during this year’s Tour de France

Launched this week, Le Tour Guide is a new site that aims to be an independent online guide to the great places in Yorkshire to see, eat and stay in and around the Tour de France route.

The guide’s editor, Rob Cowen, spoke to about the project’s development, its future once the race is over, and even his own plans for enjoying the race.

“We’re unofficial,” Cowen, who is a journalist for the Independent and the Telegraph, said. “We’re unaffiliated with the Tour de France. We’re not an official site whatsoever, but that’s necessary in our DNA. We are objective. You can’t pay to be in this guide, only the best get in.”

“We wanted to be completely objective and come at this from a journalistic point of view. This is an editorial site, not a directory.

“We list purely on merit and quality. We don’t list everything, we only put the best in.

“The idea is, is that if you’re coming up for the Tour, this is the website you go to to get that kind of insiders guide, that local insight into what is really great. It’ll tell people where the best place in Harrogate is to get a pint, or the best place in Ilkley to get a good bedroom.”

Cowen started work on Le Tour Guide as soon as the announcement was made that the race would depart from Leeds.

The born-and-bred Yorkshireman spent 23 years of his life in the county, before moving to London to write. After coming back two years ago, he’s been writing about his county almost constantly.

“I’ve been writing about Yorkshire always, so I’m really aware of the locations and all of the places, what I needed was a twelve-month refresher course of going round and visiting the B&Bs, prospective campsites and all the restaurants.

“It’s taken twelve months, but it’s been worth it.”

Strangely, Cowen’s idea for Le Tour Guide did not come from Yorkshire. It was while writing a travel feature that the calling to write this guide came.

“Conversely, the idea for the guide came from France,” Cowen said. “It struck me while I was writing a feature on the Ardéche Gorge.

“I was staying with a hotelier in the region and after a couple of glasses of wine in his beautiful vineyard he asked to have a look at the PR list that I’d been given of places to visit.

“After one look he was disgusted and said ‘you can’t go to these places, these aren’t the real Ardéche Gorge.’ He pulled out his phone, called his local contacts and handed me a list of what he described as ‘the real Ardéche.’

“He was right on every score. The real Ardéche wasn’t what I’d been given, it was these places that the locals new.”

“After this he said ‘I’m coming to Yorkshire in July to watch my beloved Tour de France and I’m bringing my family. Where should I stay? I can’t find the information.

“I wrote down all the places I knew, but after looking online I realised there wasn’t really a resource for people. What there was, was very impressive glitzy tourist board sites, but nothing of much use for someone who doesn’t know the county.

“So I realised I had to create this guide.”

Cowen’s guide looks to do what mainstream travel guides, and outside experts can’t. Le Tour Guide gets deep into the small-town Yorkshire which the Tour passes through, finding the hidden gems in villages like Ilkley and advising travellers and tourists on where to find the soul of the county rather than the best Travelodge within ten miles of the race.

“I got together a team of experts who were all journalists or destination experts,” Cowen said. “We started pulling together, over twelve months, the places that we thought desperately needed to be visited by everybody coming up here. The places that would really show the best of Yorkshire.”

The guide splits the vast quantity of information that Cowen and his team have collected into separate tabs and categories. On the landing page you will be faced with three tabs: a tab for stage one, a tab for stage two and an ‘about’ tab.

Under each of these tabs are maps of the respective stages and a horizontal, scrolling list of the towns and locations that the race route passes through. After clicking on one of the towns on the list you will be faced with a guide to that town, including information on the town, advice on where to eat, drink and stay as well as a range of purchasable maps for thoroughly researched hike and cycle routes for that area.

“In total we pulled in 30 locations and in each we cover an overview of the place itself, a bit of the history and a bit of orienting yourself. We then give people places to eat and sleep, so where the good campsites, B&Bs and hotels are.

“We then tell people where’s good to drink and what’s good to drink, because our beer in this country is like wine to the French. So we wanted to show off the microbreweries and to show off the fact that Yorkshire’s got all these great places and these great pints.

“We also got experts involved from the cycling and walking worlds, so that every location we cover will have downloadable maps and cycle routes.

In terms of the future, Cowen sees his guide as just one element of the Tour’s legacy in Yorkshire.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” the Yorkshireman said. “We want this guide to exist long after the Tour’s gone. Once the race is over we’re going to rebrand it as the ‘Insider’s Guide to Yorkshire’.

“Then we’ll cover the places that aren’t on the route, like the Yorkshire coast and the North York Moors, so we’ll have this incredible Michelin guide resource for people that’s completely honest, written by experts and giving visitors the information they really, really need.”

With so much going on in the county it'll be difficult to decide where the best place to watch the Tour will be. Even Le Tour Guide's editor, who has the most extensive knowledge of the region and what's going on ahead of the Tour, is still unsure where he's going to spectate. 

"I live in Harrogate, which gets the race on both days; my Mum lives in Addingham which also gets the race twice and my Dad lives on the race route in Green Hammerton.

"I've got an embarrassment of riches of places to watch it, but half of me is thinking I might hike up to the Dales and stay at one of the campsites that are popping up.

"It's going to be incredible, the atmosphere is going to be brilliant, so I'm going to wait and see where the best place is.

"We'll be posting all that information, so keep looking back because the information is ging to be updated constantly between now and the race."

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