Dôle, Besançon and Arc-et-Senans

landscape of the Jura Franche-Comte regionThe province of Franche-Comte is characterized by the Jura massif, which extends from the Alps to the Vosges mountain ranges and by its plains carved out by the generous affluents of the Saône and the Rhône rivers.

It's a region of rugged mountains, boasting an incredible diversity of geological forms : peaks and cliffs, valleys and combs, transverse valleys, plateaus covered with immense "cathedral-like" forests, a country of white waters, sparkling waterfalls and lakes, of countless springs bubbling up from a mysterious underground world. Authentic and full of charm, Franche Comte is proud of its singularity, of the great minds who were born there, of its rural traditions and its craftsmanship.

The history of this province is a troubled one, since it was coveted for centuries by its powerful neighbours of Bourgogne and the House of Austria, before falling under French sovereignty. The geography of these lands is also rugged. Huge layers of shale and limestone sediments accumulated on the ocean floor during the Mesozoïc era ("Jurassic" system). When the Alpine range emerged, this mass was lifted up and dislocated, with the sediments deposited at high altitude in an inextricable tangle. Subjected to erosion, the folds gave birth to surprising formations, sheer cliffs towering over remote valleys with no exit. The Jura range has become the region of reference for the study of geology. Interestingly, this Jurassic period – 200 million years ago – has experienced a renewal of interest thanks to Spielberg’s film "Jurassic Park", which featured the dinosaurs, who have become the modern heroes of comic strips and cartoons. Recently the remains of some of these fabulous animal that excite the imagination so much have been discovered in various parts of the Jura.

In many parts of this mountain range, powerful springs flow out of the earth, often as re-emergences, forming rivers with atypical courses. Thus the Doubs, which springs 90 km from its confluence with the Saone, follows a course of over 430 km, heading dead North until it reaches the foothills of the Vosges, where it changes direction completely. A land of white waters, the Jura boasts countless spectacular waterfalls and over a hundred lakes of infinite variety, each nestled in its own landscape, at the foot of cliffs or in wooded valleys. A great attraction for tourists, they offer visitors a festival of shimmering colours : transparent blues, bright greens, clear yellows, vibrating with the changing light at every moment of the day.

Another original feature of the Jura is its extraordinary underground universe, which is as spectacular as the mountain range. The geological memory of the Jura was carved out of the soft limestone, offering a gigantic natural museum, a mysterious underworld of wells, galleries, caves, rivers, waterfalls, siphons, of grottoes with exuberant calcareous concretions, stalactites, stalagmites, columns and concentrics. Nigh on 5000 chasms or grottoes have been discovered, but many are as yet to be fully explored; they offer potholers extremely sought after underground sites, both for scientific exploration or leisure activity. Several equipped sites (the grottoes of Beaume, Osselle, Poudrey, etc…) allow tourists to discover the prodigious creations and fantasies of nature in relative comfort.

The most representative image of the Jura range is its forest. Hardly surprising, since the word "Jura", derived from the vulgar latin "juria" , meaning a forest. It is indeed the most wooded region in France. It has often been claimed, that the forest has been the "protective and nurturing mother" of the region since time immemorial. It was indeed both a refuge during periods of trouble and the source of firewood, building materials, tools, means of transport and everyday objects. From the infant’s cot to the dead man’s coffin, wood has always accompanied the lives of its inhabitants. Today, it remains an essential feature in the life of the region, all the more so in that the Jura forest boasts a wide variety of tree species.

The fir tree has always been the uncontested sovereign of the forest due to its size and it adaptability to altitude. In each forest, the most vigorous tree, called "President Fir", was preserved for centuries and honoured in local festivals. Little by little, hardwood trees : beech, oak, larch, birch, etc…were planted. This heritage is the object of an organised forest management policy involving the exploitation of forest resources, the fight against parasites, reforestation, and pathway maintenance. Tourists and cross-country skiers can thus fully benefit from the vast network of paths and trails.

Generations of lumberjacks have lived in symbiosis with their "forest cathedrals". Man and tree have been partners in the work of cutting and skidding but also in games designed to test strength and resistance, such as competitions with a two-man saw. The forest also generated many crafts linked to woodwork and woodturning, practiced for the most part during the long winter months. Thus was born the manufacture of pipes, which has put St-Claude on the map, as well as toy manufacture in Moirans. These crafts have developed over time, notably in the sculpture and the manufacture of wooden toys, today overtaken by plastic materials. The taste for meticulous work and precision is still alive however and gave rise to a number of artistic crafts, among which watchmaking has been the jewel in the crown for several centuries. The visit of a watchmaker’s workshop where the famous comtoise watches are manufactured inspires admiration.

Traditional housing in the higher regions strikes the visitor because it brings home the extraordinary adaptability of man to the isolation and rigours of Winter. Next to the protective, robust main dwelling stands the barn, the bread oven, the storeroom and the wash house, all the essentials an isolated family might need for several weeks. As for the franc-comtois heritage, it bears witness to the history of the province, of its location at the crossroads of several different nations, with castles from the Middle Ages, refurbished during the Renaissance, private hotels displaying the Italian influence, fortresses and fortifications designed by Vauban. The most original building is without doubt the Arc-et-Sans Royal Salt works, dating from the 18th century, registered as a World Heritage site.

Few French regions can boast such a large number of illustrious people as Franche-Comte. Besancon gave France Victor Hugo, the great 19th century writer and the Lumière brothers, the inventors of the cinema. From Lons-le-Saulnier came Rouget de Lisle, the author of the Marseillaise. Dole gave us Louis Pasteur, the extraordinary scientist. Montbeliard the great natural scientist of the 19th century. In Ornans, the painter Gustave Courbet was born….all of them, in their different fields, have contributed greatly to the French national heritage.

Franche-Comte has kept alive many traditions, notably those relating to local produce : cheese, wine and salt meats, all widely acclaimed. Comtois cheese production has it’s crown jewel, Comte, which has protected designation of origin status, but also the morbier, the cancoillotte, Gex blue cheese and Mont d’Or…The vineyard, which occupies the slopes on the Western border of the range, is one of the oldest in France and boasts renowned yellow and straw wines. The gold of Jura ! As regards salt meats, they maintain the age-old tradition of smoking meat to ensure its preservation, a regional speciality that continues today. The sausages of Morteau and Montbeliard are deservedly prized by gourmets.

Sportsmen and nature lovers find in Franche-Comte plenty of opportunities for walking, riding or cycling in the Summer months, on snowshoes and cross-country skis in the Winter. Because of its medium altitude and the diversity of its landscape, it is a paradise for cross-country skiers of all levels. One of the world’s foremost cross-country skiing competitions, the Transjurassienne, takes place each winter. The many lakes and waterways are available for the pleasure of surfers, rafters and canoe enthusiasts. Anglers have plenty of choices between the rivers and the lakes.

There are a large number of tours available, the Monts et Merveilles de Franche Comte tour, the altar-piece tour, the comte tour, the Jura wine tour, the thousand ponds tour, the fir tree and lakes tour, etc…. Not forgetting the museums dedicated to arts and crafts, spectacle manufacture, toy making, glass and crystal manufacture, forges, salines, eco-museums, etc… In this land there are many events, fairs, festivals and markets, with their origins in ancient traditions or local produce : comte fairs, "soufflacul" festivals, winemaker fairs, fir tree markets, gentian fairs, lace fairs, biou festivals, local produce markets, the descent of the cows, etc…

Nature, landscapes, gastronomy, traditions, heritage, make up an alluring cocktail for this beautiful and authentic province.
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