Stopover town (French Ville-étape)

The stopover town is a special category within the typology of tourist destinations and also when compared to tourist towns. For the distinction between city/town or village please refer to the entry Touristified town or village.


The stopover town or village is different from tourist towns and villages in that the accommodation function is relatively predominant within the range of tourist activities. Some stopovers are included in a loop covered by tourists as part of the discovery of a region where tourist sites are spread around. Often, the town centre comes to life in the evening with the presence of tourists.

For example, the city of Tours has a proportionately high number of hotel rooms compared to the attendance of places open to the public located in the territory and in the agglomeration. It is not easy to assess the gap in this example since part of the overnight stays are also captured by the capital city, from which tours to the famous castles are directly organised. In fact, Tours operates as part of the tourist region of the Loire Valley, as a complement to many sites that reach or exceed the one million entry mark. The graph below (Ill. 1) thus shows the gap in attendance between, on the one hand, isolated sites (the castle of Chambord) or sites dominating a village (Azay-le-Rideau, Chaumont-sur-Loire where the castle hosts the Festival des Jardins during which attendance increases significantly), and on the other hand, establishments open to the public in Tours (Museum of Natural History, Museum of Fine Arts, Castle of the City, Museum of Compagnonnage, Cloitre de la Psalette), as well as in Orleans (Hotel Groslot).

Ill. 1. Attendance at sites in the Val de Loire tourist region (source: Philippe Violier)

Variety: the stopover along a major route

Other stopovers are more like a necessary stop along a fairly long route. There are therefore fewer evening activities. For example, passing travellers stop over at Saint-Jean de Maurienne (Ill. 2), a village conveniently located along a crossing of the Alps, by the A32 motorway, and, on the French side, just before the Fréjus tunnel. The place is not devoid of interest but it is not the focus of tourists who do not really explore the streets of the village (Ill. 3).

Ill. 2. The cloisters of the cathedral in Saint-Jean de Maurienne (Cl. Philippe Violier, 2022)

Here too, the number of inhabitants is what differentiates the villages from the towns, although we know that these thresholds are arbitrary and vary from one country to another. However, “village étape” (stopover village) is also a label “awarded by the Ministry of Ecological Transition to municipalities that meet the criteria. Along the road, travellers are informed of a nearby village holding the “Village Étape” label. For each village, obtaining the label is subject to compliance with very strict criteria. These are aligned in particular on the concept of route inherent in the label. The landscape and tourism values of the village environment are of primary importance.” (source:

The evolution of these stopover towns and villages hinges on the technical improvement of cars and the development of motorways. The first allowed tourists to cross longer distances such that stopovers were skipped and lost their tourist function. The second has relocated the flow elsewhere even producing a “tunnel effect” that some territories have tried to thwart as shown by the A75. As a result, tourist brownfield sites have emerged. The best example of this are the accommodation / restaurants and garages along some national roads like the N7, sung by Charles Trénet. Another example is the region known as the Mancelles Alps, once a stopover place between the Paris region and the Atlantic coast, which has now become a marginalised space.

Ill. 3. The main street in Saint-Jean de Maurienne. On the left, a sign indicating Hotel Saint-Georges (Cl. Philippe Violier, 2022).

Philippe VIOLIER