Belfort, Franche-Comté

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Vauban Citadelle and centre of town, Belfort, Franche-Comte

Reading about the town of Belfort, the traveller might think of sombre streets surrounding a harsh military fortress. Well a surprise is in store in the old part of town. Yes, the mighty citadel towers down wherever you are, providing a protective stance, both during the day and at night when the hillside comes alive with floodlight. But the centre of town, with the river Savoureuse running through it, has softly coloured buildings and attractive squares with a hint of the Belle Epoque about them. Belfort is the main town in the small départément of Territoire de Belfort.

There is a wealth of nature on the doorstep with the wooded slopes of the Regional Natural Park the Ballon des Vosges, lakes, and the ponds of the Mille Etangs. Walking, hiking and cycling are popular as is skiing during the winter months. Join the lively music and arts culture too. The Eurockéennes rock festival at the Malsucy lake area takes place the first weekend in July each year attracting multi-thousands.

Here the French language takes on German influences, and the food and wine reflect the specialities of next door neighbour Alsace. The Territoire de Belfort may be small but it is prosperous with a vibrant industrial sector making trains (Alstom)and engine turbines (General Electric). Belfort is a survivor and worth exploring further.

The lion of Belfort

Belfort Citadelle photo burgundytoday.com The Lion of Belfort, Franche Comte France, photo burgundytoday.com

For anyone interested in military history, this area has been battered by conflict since Celtic times. It lies in what is known as the Belfort Gap, between the Vosges and Jura mountains, a passageway between the Rhine and the Rhône rivers for roads, railways, transport and armies. As a result, this is the land of fortresses.

The town's reputation as an impregnable citadel was forged at the end of the Napoleonic era but it was during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 that Belfort entered into legend. Led by Colonel Denfert-Rochereau, the besieged town held out against Prussian troops, three times greater in number, and kept its French nationality when its neighbours Alsace and Lorraine were annexed by the Germans. To commemorate the bravery of the soldiers and the lives lost over this103 day siege, architect Fédéric Auguste Bartholdi was asked to design a memorial. Bartholdi thought big - he suggested a lion be built in pink sandstone which would sit under the fort, protecting the town. (Bartholdi also designed the Statue of Liberty in New York.) The lion is 22m high and 11m long, a symbol of strength and resistance to this day.

Porte de Brisach, Belfort Franche Comte, France, photo burgundytoday.comVauban, the military strategist, was responsible for the success of this citadel. Walk through the Porte de Brisach from the old town, up and up through the defences to the 360 degree panoramic view from the terrace. From this viewpoint you can see the fortress in geographical context and marvel at the size of the defences.There is a museum at the site, open daily in July and August and closed on Tuesdays the rest of the year. During the summer, military reconstructions are held.

Town Highlights

Walk or cycle along the river in the centre of town, stop for coffee in the Place d'Armes and visit the covered market, a turn of the century glass and iron structure in Rue de Docteur Fréry, open Friday or Saturday mornings. The tourist office at 2 bis Rue Clemenceau, 9000 Belfort suggests 20 walks in and around the town and there are many cycling routes to choose from. There is a large flea market, Les Puces de Belfort, attracting 200 stallholders on the first Sunday morning of the month from March to December.

Eurockéennes at Malsucy lake area- first weekend in July

FIMU, International Festival of University Music, three days at Pentecost (Whitsun).

Places to visit nearby

Ronchamp, La Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, Corbusier's masterpiece

Ballon d'Alsace

Ballon d'Alsace near Belfort Franche-ComteFrom Giromagny wind your way up through the pine forests to the Ballon d'Alsace (1247m) for a panoramic view of the region, Switzerland and the Black Forest beyond. Here in the southern Vosges mountains there are lakes, waterfalls and forests, with well marked trails for hikers, cyclists and horse riders. In winter, the hills are alive with activity with ten downhill ski runs and excellent cross-country ski possibilities. Other attractions include a recently opened Snowpark for snowboarding and exhilarating dog-sleigh rides. More...

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A-Z Franche-Comté - some highlights at a glance

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Pam Elson
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