The seven first stages of this year’s Tour de France are set in the West of France. Besides the blue-white-red French tricolour, two flags fly prominently along the route: the red and white flag of Vendée and the black and white flag of Brittany.
In 2017, the Tour never came to western and northern France. In 2018, however, the Tour starts off in the West – le Grand Départ was on the island of Noirmoutier on the Atlantic coast on July 7 – and a total of ten out of twenty-one Tour stages are in the West and the North. Traditionally, the last stage of the Tour, which will be on July 29 this year, ends on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris.
The first two stages of the 105th edition of the Tour de France were in the department of the Vendée in the western Pays de la Loire region. The third stage was the team time trial in Cholet, a town in the department of Maine-et-Loire.
Quite close to Vendée, but historically in the Duchy of Anjou, Cholet was the capital of la Vendée Militaire, a Royalist and Catholic uprising during the French Revolution in 1793. The Vendean forces used le Sacré-Coeur, the Sacred Heart of Jesus – a heart with a cross rising from it – as a symbol on their banners and on patches on their clothes.
Two hearts, intertwined and crowned, with a crosslet on top is known as a Coeur vendéen, a Vendean heart. This emblem, used in the region since the 13th Century, is the official logo of the Vendée today.
In 1944 a newly designed coat of arms for the department was officially recognised. It has a red Vendean heart on silver within a bordure of fleurs de lys, gold on blue, for France, and golden castles with three towers on red, for Poitou, the historical French province to which Vendée once belonged.
The modern departmental flag of the Vendée is a red-white vertical bicolour with an asymmetric version of the Vendean heart in the middle. This logo was designed by French designer Michel Disle and adopted by the departmental assembly on 18 September 1989.
Stage 4-6 of the 2018 Tour de France are all in the region of Brittany or in areas of western France which was part of that region historically. Stage 7 will begin in Fougères in Brittany and end in Chartres in the Central Region of France on July 13.
The flag of Brittany was designed in 1923 by the Breton separatist politician Morvan Marchal. Its name in Breton, a Celtic language unrelated to French, is Gwenn-ha-du meaning “the white and black”. Today, the flag of Brittany is no longer seen as a sign of Breton nationalism, but rather as a symbol of Brittany and Bretons worldwide.
The Gwenn-ha-du has nine horizontal stripes of white and black representing the nine original dioceses of Brittany: five French speaking and four Breton speaking. Today, less than 5 % of the population in Brittany speak Breton.
In the upper inner corner of the flag there is a canton of ermine. In heraldry, ermine is not a colour or a metal, but a fur: on a white background the black-tipped tails of the stout. From 1316 the coat of arms of the Dukes of Brittany was a shield of ermine. So, for more than seven hundred years ermine has been connected to the region, and from beer bottles to policemen’s uniforms white and black ermine signifies all things Breton.