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Franche-Comté

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Départements
Doubs (25), Jura (39) Haute Saône (70), Territoire de Belfort (90)

A-Z Franche-Comté - the highlights at a glance
Map of Franche-Comte, ©Routard
Think scrumptious cheese fondue with a glass of Kirsch, glistening snow, alpine flowers, lakes, pure mountain air and pine scented forests. The region of Franche-Comté is a year-round nature lover’s paradise with mountains, rivers and lakes, waterfalls and gorges, stunning vistas and underground caves. In winter there’s cross-country skiing; in spring, summer and autumn take to the hiking and cycling trails, enjoy the water activities, or if extreme sports are more your thing, then go rock climbing, white water rafting or soar the ridges, like a bird, on a hang glider. 

The Franche-Comté has been part of Burgundy in the past and was joined at the hip again at the beginning of 2016 when administrative changes were made by the French government. Due to its close proximity to Germany and Switzerland, its geographical complexities and its turbulent history, this French region is a melange of cultures and influences, seen in everything from its architecture to its food and festivities. It is a fortified area not just in bricks and mortar - the people have learned to live with upheaval from invasion and diverse weather. The generations have become strong and resilient as you might expect. The region experiences long cold winters with plentiful rainfall and hot dry summers.

Engineering and micro-technology make the economy tick: Peugeot has a factory at Montbéliard; the TGV is manufactured in Belfort; clock and watch making, micro and nano technology and items such as automatic ticket machines for car parks are the big industry in Besançon. Dairy farming  produces some of France’s finest cheeses such as Comté and Vacharin Mont d’Or, Raclette and Morbier (40 million tons are produced a year). Over 40% of the land mass is covered with forests and woodland to provide associated industries. Then there’s tourism with two Natural Parks, the Ballons des Vosges in the north and Haut-Jura in the south to enjoy in the region as well as the host of other attractions.

Jura

Cascades du Hérisson Franche Comté Transjurassienne ski championships Jura Franche Comté Vin Jaune Jura, Franche Comté ©franche-comte.org


The tourism is a recipe for success here and there many ingredients to work with. This is the largest of the départements in the region and the most well-known. It is also the most mountainous and welcomes the most visitors, and although not as majestic as the Alps, the Jura mountains are more accessible. There’s the cross-country ski-ing with the main centre at Métabief  Mont d’Or. Each year the area hosts the Transjurassienne ski championship which attracts 4000 entrants. There are two UNESCO Heritage sites- one at the old salt mines at Salins-les-Bains and the other at Arc-et-Senans, a salt processing plant. The Lake District – 80 lakes in all, some natural some man-made, lies along the River Ain with the majestic waterfall, Cascades du Hérisson, one of the highlights. 

Then there’s the wine growing region centred at Arbois, producing golden Vin Jaune and the sweet Vin de Paille. Baume les Messieurs nearby with its cob houses and red tiled roofs, wedged between three glacial valleys is classified one of the most beautiful villages in France. As if that wasn’t enough, you can take the scenic Swallow railway through the Jura; look across to the Alps in Switzerland from the Haut Jura; hike past Château de Joux perching on a precipice of rock, or relax at the spa in Lons-le-Saunier, the main town in the department. All told, an area well worth exploring. 

Haute-Saone

The region is dissected by the mighty river Saône. In the north east, the Natural Park of the Ballons des Vosges straddles Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté. It offers snow-clad granite peaks in winter giving way in spring and summer to alpine flowers, waterfalls and gorges with well charted hiking routes including the GRs 59, 532 and 533.

Vesoul is the administrative centre of the Haute Saône area and looks down on the green Durgeon valley. The town has seen periods of prosperity interspersed by invasion and war. Nothing has been certain in its long past and consequently the motto was adopted ‘moderata durant’, moderation lasts. Solid sandstone buildings give the air of permanence. The Vesoul-Vaivre lake is the focal point for leisure activities along with the 21 km hiking, biking and roller blading nature trail.

In Ronchamp you will find one of Franche-Comté’s prize possessions, the Chapelle de Notre Dame-du-Haut designed by Le Corbusier (shown far left at the top of the page). It is a place of religious pilgrimage, but in addition, this iconic modernist chapel brings architects from around the globe to pay homage to one of the world’s finest and most innovative designers. The sweeping concrete roof, inspired by a hermit crab shell looks modern over 60 years on. It is now a listed UNESCO Heritage Site.

Gray, a large river port on the Saône, is active in holiday cruising and Luxeuil-les-Bains offers spa and wellness facilities.

Belfort  

Hikers on the Ballon d'Alsace,©franche-comté.org

Formally part of Alsace, tiny Belfort resisted being annexed by Germany between 1871 and 1919 largely due to Colonel Denfert-Rochereau, ‘the Lion of Belfort’. The people are very proud of this fact and their most famous statue, an 11 m high lion by Auguste Bartholdi (of Statue of Liberty fame) is a permanent reminder of the area’s resilience in the siege. Being a buffer, it has had to defend itself time and again. Marshall Vauban had a citadel built here which has a visitor centre.

One of the major events in the Belfort calendar is the Eurokéennes Rock Festival attracting 80,000 pop fans by Malsaucy Lake.

The Doubs

Cheese fondue in Franche-ComteThis is a region of valleys, most notably the beautiful Doubs and Loue valleys with their timbered houses on stilts. It is a flatter area than the rest of Franche-Comté, ideal for more gentle pursuits such as walking and cycling. In the Loue valley look out for Lods, and Ornans with its attractive waterways and cherry orchards producing the famous Kirsch alcohol, an essential ingredient in fondue.

Besançon stands in the horseshoe, ‘la Boucle’ of the river Doubs. This is a thriving university town described as ‘an old town, young at heart’. The architecture has Germanic influences offering one of the most beautiful historic centres in France. Here you will find another of Vauban’s famous fortresses. Five of the six towers are still standing and UNESCO has given it a World Heritage Site rating.

More information

If nature and outdoor activities are your passion, there is no finer place than this little known region of France. The tourist offices have copious information and guidelines.

Jura, based in Lons-le-Saunier: sejour@jura-tourism.com
Doubs based in Besançon: cdt@doubs.com
Territoire de Belfort in Belfort: accueil@belfort-tourisme.com
Haute-Saône in Vesoul: contact@haute-saone.fr

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michelin starred restaurants in Franche-Comte - 2016/7 list

Franche-ComtE Connections

By road: The A36 passes through the centre of the region from west to east from central France to Germany and Switzerland. The A39 connects Dole to Lyon and the south of France. From the north, the A31 comes to Dijon in Burgundy and then the A39 continues to Dole.

By air: The region is served by Dole, Geneva, Basel- Mulhouse and Strasbourg airports plus Paris Charles de Gaulle which is linked by TGV to Besançon.

By train: TGV from Besançon to Paris (2hr 05) and Lille (3hr 35) via airport Charles de Gaulle. Montbéliard-Belfort TGV to Paris, (2hr 20). TER train from Vesoul (3hr 15) to Paris. Trains from Basel-Mulhouse to Vesoul and Paris. Also a new line from Dijon to Besançon and Mulhouse.

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Note: The Michelin guide, shown left, is in French