14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in French Jura
Beautiful natural scenery and interesting historic sights draw many visitors to the Jura region, an area of France that corresponds roughly with the ancient province of Franche-Comté. The Jura is one of France's most picturesque regions, bounded by the rolling hills of Burgundy on the west, the Vosges Mountains in the north, and the Swiss Lakes in the east. The Jura's majestic mountain range lies between the Saône River and the frontier of Switzerland. French Jura shares a 250-kilometer border with Switzerland, beyond which is the Swiss Jura.
The French Jura's pastoral landscape is dotted with cultural treasures: medieval towns, splendid Romanesque churches, and relaxing spa towns. During winter, the Jura's ski resorts offer a winter wonderland of powder snow and well-groomed trails. In summer, vacationers relish the longer days and pleasant weather in this gorgeous piece of the French countryside.
Besançon lies in a picturesque location on the winding Doubs River at the fringes of French Jura. In the Middle Ages, Besançon was the main town of the historic Franche-Comté region (the former "Free County" of Burgundy). Begin a tour of town at the Place du 8 Septembre where the Eglise Saint-Pierre and Hôtel de Ville are located. Nearby is the 16th-century Palais de Justice (Law Courts), once the seat of the Parliament of Franche-Comté. The town's main street, Grande Rue, follows the line of the Roman road Vicus Magnus. The Grand Rue's uniform houses were laid out by Vauban in the 17th century.
Vauban's masterpiece, the UNESCO-listed Citadelle is a remarkable fortress set 100 meters above the old town, offering spectacular views. This fortress has 20-meter-high walls that are more than five meters thick. At the Place Archéologique A. Castan are the remains of an ancient theater and cistern. The 11th-13th century cathedral features a Virgin and Child with Saints painting by Fra Bartolommeo (1518). More exquisite fine art is found at the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie, which has an excellent archeological collection and splendid 15th to 20th century paintings, including works by Tintoretto, Rubens, Goya, Courbet, Bonnard, and Picasso.
Standing majestically on a chalk cliff surrounded by woodland, this gem of the French Jura region is listed as one of France's Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages). The village of Baume-les-Messieurs grew up around an abbey that was originally founded by the Irish monk Columban in the 6th century. Then the famous Abbey of Cluny was established here by Benedictine monks in 910. The Abbey Church was built between the 12th and 15th centuries in the Romanesque-Gothic style. Spend some time admiring the serene sanctuary, which features a beautiful 16th-century Flemish triptych as well as several fine sculptures. Visitors will also enjoy wandering around the charming village and poking into the many artisan and artists' boutiques.
The town's magnificent surroundings of peaceful nature, waterfalls, and caves is equally inspiring, adding another layer of interest to this historic village. The Grotte de Baume-les-Messieurs is a 120-meter-long cave that dazzles with thousands of stalagmites and stalactites and even waterfalls. Another interesting cave, the Cirque des Baume, lies about three kilometers south of Baume-les-Messieurs.
Steeped in history, the town of Belfort lies on the Savoureuse River at a strategic point on the route between the Vosges Mountains in Alsace and the Jura region. Until the 14th century, the town belonged to the Counts of Montbéliard and since then endured the turbulence of many different rulers. A monument at the main square, Place de la République, commemorates the town's turmoil; the large Monument des Trois Sièges by Colmar sculptor A.F. Bartholdi (1904) recalls the three sieges of 1813-1814, 1815, and 1870-1871. Another commemorative monument is the Lion of Belfort dedicated to this "City of the Lion." Bartholdi crafted this magnificent sculpture from red Vosges sandstone and it appears to be guarding the city.
Also watching over Belfort is the Château (Citadel) that stands on a 70-meter-high crag. The Château was rebuilt by Vauban as a citadel featuring impressive fortifications and a terrace with panoramic views over the Jura countryside and the Vosges Mountains. The citadel also houses a natural history museum. Other noteworthy sights are the Porte de Brisach, a relic of the town's old ramparts; the 18th-century Cathédrale Saint-Christophe with a gorgeous interior; and the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) built in 1784.
Surrounded by picturesque, green rolling hills, Arbois is a pleasant town with beautiful 18th-century houses on the Place de la Liberté and a 12th- to 13th-century church, the Eglise Saint-Just. The Musée Sarret de Grozon (on the Grand Rue) has an excellent collection of paintings, furniture, and ceramics. The town's most famous resident, Louis Pasteur, spent his early years in Arbois and frequently returned here. The Maison de Louis Pasteur, where Louis Pasteur lived and performed experiments, is now associated with the Institut du France Académie des Sciences and is open to the public. The house (including its laboratory) has been faithfully preserved.
For those who enjoy nature sights, a worthwhile driving detour (five kilometers away from Arbois) is the scenic Reculée des Planches, the Jura's unique limestone plateau filled with lush vegetation, waterfalls, and amazing wildlife, including falcons. The main attraction of this area is the Grotte des Planches, an underground cave that was carved out by two sources of the Cuisance River and still has an underground river flowing through it. Several kilometers away from the Grotte des Planches is the medieval village of La Châtelaine and a breathtaking viewpoint at the Cirque du Fer à Cheval.
5 Poligny & Comté de Grimont
Explore the heart of the Franche-Comté countryside in the historic county of Comté de Grimont. Driving through this rural area, travelers will see many old monasteries, convents, and churches along the way to Poligny. This town is a worthwhile destination with many cultural treasures. Poligny's most striking features are the old towers: the Tour de Paradis and Tour de la Sergenterie, vestiges of medieval ramparts. A must-see sight, the Collégiale Saint-Hippolyte built in 1415, is one of the most exquisite churches of the Franche-Comté region. The church features harmonious lines and fine vaulting and contains 15th-century statues of the Burgundian school. The Eglise des Jacobins, was formerly part of a Dominican convent founded in 1271 by Alix de Méranie, the Countess of Burgundy. This 13th-century church exemplifies pure High Gothic style with three naves and ornate keystones. An even older church is the Eglise Monthier-Vieillard, a magnificent Romanesque building that dates back to the 9th century.
A lovely pastoral area, the Comté de Grimont is renowned for its gourmet specialties, especially the cured meats and Comté cheese. The Maison du Comté (on the Avenue de la Résistance) is a museum that educates visitors about the processes of cheese production and offers a tasting of Comté cheese.
This wonderfully preserved medieval city is distinguished by its atmospheric cobblestone streets and beautiful ancient buildings. The tower of a medieval fortress stands as testimony to Pérouges illustrious history, with an arched gateway allowing entrance into the town. Visitors will enjoy wandering the charming lanes and admiring the quaint half-timbered houses that date from the Middle Ages. The most remarkable half-timbered house is L'Ostellerie, one of the oldest auberges in France. The town also features an impressive church, the Eglise-Fortresse. Pérouges is known for its lively festivals throughout the year: the Week-end Mousquetaire (Musketeer Weekend), the Venetian Carnival, and the Fête Médiévale (Medieval Festival). The main square is typical of an old French town except for its elegant sundial. During summer, the town square is used for the Marché d'été, an open-air market that's popular with locals, and during Christmas, the town has a Marché de Noël (Christmas Market) featuring a festive ambience and many handcrafted gift items for sale.
The UNESCO-listed town of Arc-et-Senans is a fascinating place to visit. This town came into prominence with the creation of the Saline Royale (Royal Saltworks) that was commissioned by King Louis XV. The elegant Neoclassical Saltworks building is a masterpiece of industrial design created by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. During the 18th-19th century, the Saltworks provided important industry, producing salt from natural sources of underground water 200 meters deep. King Louis' commission included an ambitious plan to build the ideal industrial town. The town's circular layout features five pavilions and two large storage rooms grouped around an administrative building. The Saltworks closed down at the end of the 19th century and now houses the Musée du Sel (Museum of Salt) and the Musée Claude Nicolas Ledoux, a museum devoted to the renowned royal architect's life and works.
The former capital of the historic Comté de Bourgogne (the old County of Burgundy), Dole lies just above the junction where the Doubs River meets the Rhine-Rhône Canal. Dole was the birthplace of Louis Pasteur, who left the town at the age of five. The house on Rue Pasteur where he was born is now a museum, the Musée Pasteur, which displays family mementos and illustrations of Pasteur's scientific achievements. The town's architectural highlights include the 16th-century Eglise Notre-Dame and the 15th-18th century houses in the old part of town around the church. Another must-see sight is the Hôtel de Froissard at 7 Rue du Mont-Roland. This elegant 17th-century hôtel particulier (private mansion) exemplifies the grandeur of a bygone era.
9 Château d'Arlay
In a peaceful area overlooking the rolling hills of the Jura, the Château d'Arlay is one of the most beautiful estates of the region. The château lies on the site of a convent built in 1650 and was bought by the Comtesse de Lauraguais, the Princess of Isenghien in 1774. The Countess reconstructed the building in 1774 in a Neoclassical style inspired by the Salines Royales building in Arc-et-Senans. The updated château and property were designed to be fit for a princess and her guests. The cloister was converted to an elegant courtyard and the interior was redesigned with grand reception rooms and luxurious guest quarters. The courtyard opens up into the Parc Romantique, lovely gardens that feature a beautiful fountain, many flowers and fruit trees, and a Jardin des Jeux, a space reserved for croquet and other games. The château is open to the public; the rooms on view have been wonderfully preserved with the original decor.
Address: Château d'Arlay, 2 Route de Proby, 39140 Arlay
Known as "La Cité des Princes" (City of Princes), this cultured city has more than eight centuries of regal history. Built on the site of a 5th-century fortress, Montbéliard's magnificent château was created for the Comtes de Montbéliard in the 14th century. Standing high above the town, the château with its medieval towers are easily visible from a distance. The château is open to the public and features several museum collections. The history collection displays paintings and objects of art, which illustrate the timeline of Princes who have lived at the château. There are also archaeological, natural history, and contemporary art collections. Other interesting sights are the Temple Saint-Martin, an austere Protestant church built in 1601, and the Eglise Saint-Maimboeuf, a 19th-century Neo-Renaissance style church built to affirm the conquest of the Catholic faith.
The quaint medieval hilltop village of Nozeroy has the distinction of being the smallest town in France. In the 16th century, Nozeroy was the center of the mountainous Upper Burgundy region, which became part of the Franche-Comté. Nozeroy was a city of the Lords of Chalon, and from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance was a center of economic activity, religious faith, and humanistic ideas. Nozeroy's historic buildings and idyllic rural surroundings give the town a charming Old World ambience. Visitors have an impression of stepping back in time to the Middle Ages. Some of the well-preserved features include two town gates, the 15th-century Eglise Saint-Antoine, and the old houses along the Grande Rue. Be sure to see the Tour de l'horloge (Clock Gate Tower), an impressive tower that is the last remaining relic of the Château des Chalons.
Tucked into the verdant Rahin Valley, the old mining town of Ronchamp boasts an interesting mining museum, the Musée de la Mine. However Ronchamp is most renowned for the Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut built between 1950 and 1954. This unique church sits on the crest of a hill high above the town, a site with historical and spiritual importance. The view from this location extends to the Vosges Mountains. Created towards the end of Le Corbusier's career, the Chapel of Notre-Dame is a surprising departure from his earlier more cubist-inspired projects. The church has an avant-garde sculptural design with a curved roof and a random collection of slot windows. The colored glass windows allow ethereal jewel-like light to filter into the sanctuary. The interior also contains a precious ancient image of the Virgin Mary. There are two annual pilgrimages devoted to the Virgin Mary, an August 15th pilgrimage and a September 8th pilgrimage.
In the picturesque Loue Valley, the attractive little town of Ornans is most famous as the birthplace of the painter Gustave Courbet. The house where the artist was born now contains the Musée Gustave Courbet. Ornans is a pleasant place to discover at leisure. Take a stroll around the old town and discover the beautiful historic houses. The town also has an interesting Romanesque church, the Eglise Saint-Laurent, built in the 12th century. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the church was altered, enlarged, and richly adorned; as a result the interior reflects a blend of different architectural styles.
14 Château de Frontenay
This majestic medieval château stands on protected spur, an ideal location during the Middle Ages. The building seems to dominate the terrain and has the look of a fortress. Renovations in the 18th century gave the medieval building a more luxurious interior and added beautiful gardens with terraces. The Château de Frontenay is open to the public for conferences, receptions, and seminars.
Nature Sites, Spa Towns, & Ski Resorts
Colomby de Gex
In the mountains near the Swiss border, one of the best viewpoints of the Jura is found at Colomby de Gex. To arrive here, take the road that runs south from the Col de la Faucille and then hike the footpath ascending to Colomby de Gex (allow about two hours). From the summit, the panoramic outlook extends to the Alps and Lake Geneva.
A paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts, Culoz is the perfect location to begin an ascent to the Massif du Grand Colombier. This spectacular mountain is a place of majestic beauty with breathtaking views from the top. Culoz also has an incredible château perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the magnificent scenery. The Château de Montvéran was built in 1316 and inhabited by many illustrious men including the Constable of Bourbon.
An important spa town since antiquity, Divonne-les-Bains lies between the Jura region and Lake Geneva. The thermal springs offer a pleasant temperature as well as health benefits. The town also has a racecourse and golf course. Divonne-les-Bains hosts the Esplanade du Lac, a series of cultural performances including theater, music, dance, circus acts, and comedy.
The main tourist draw of Les Rousses is skiing during winter. The ski resort of Les Rousses includes the four villages of Bois d'Amont, Lamoura, Les Rousses, and Prémanon. These ski areas lie close to the French Alps and the border with Switzerland. In the summer, hiking, golf, water sports, and other outdoor activities are popular. Les Rousses is also famous for its regional Juraflore Comté cheese. The Caves d'Affinage de Comté Juraflore au Fort des Rousses (Cheese Aging Cellars) make Comté cheese following traditional methods. First, milk is sourced from the Juraflore dairy, and then the rounds of Comté cheese are aged in the underground cellars. This cheese aging cellar is one of the largest in Europe.
This spa town is blessed with a picturesque setting in the heart of the Jura countryside. Lons-le-Saunier is also famous for being the birthplace of Rouget de Lisle who wrote the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. Another bragging point: the popular brand of cheese "La Vache qui rit" ("The Laughing Cow") is based here.
The perfect place for tourists seeking relaxation and rejuvenation, this elegant spa town lies at the edge of the Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park. Luxeuil-les-Bains has been a popular resort destination since Roman times. The thermal baths of this area are renowned for their ability to improve health conditions. Luxeuil-les-Bains is also appreciated for the beautiful architecture in its historic center; many of the old sandstone buildings are classified historic monuments.
The village of Malbuisson is surrounded by pristine, deeply-wooded forests and lies close to Lake Saint-Point, a short distance from Mont d'Or. Many skiers appreciate Malbuisson because its spacious and serene ski domain is an escape from the larger, more crowded ski resorts. Malbuisson has five ski areas: Métabief, Les Fourgs, Le Larmont, Entre-les-Fourgs, and Rochejean. During summer, the area is popular for hiking as well as water sports at Lake Malbuisson.
In the heart of the Jura mountains, Saint-Claude is a popular outdoorsy vacation destination for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. Alpine ski areas are here as well as opportunities for cross-country skiing. In the town of Saint-Claude, the main attraction is the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre (formerly an abbey church) built in the 14th-15th century, which is one of the finest churches in the Jura region.
Nestled in a valley overlooked by the Poupet Mountain, this typical Franche-Comté town is renowned for its thermal spas and cultural heritage. The town takes its names from the French word for "salt" because it was a center of the salt industry since the Middle Ages. In the 18th century, the town's saltworks was linked with the Royal Saltworks in Arc-et-Senans. A top attraction in Salins-les-Bains is the Thermal Centre, which features fitness activities, recreational swimming, spa treatments, and medical cures from the thermal waters. The town also has several old churches dating back to the 13th century.
Along the pristine Doubs River, Villers-le-Lac is a small town in the mountains near the border of Switzerland in an exhilarating natural setting. The quiet lakes, gentle streams, and majestic waterfalls offer an idyllic backdrop for nature walks, hiking, biking, boating, and fishing. In winter, this area is popular for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. About seven kilometers from Villers-le-Lac is the Val de Morteau ski resort. This well-developed alpine ski resort has ten lifts for a total of almost 100 kilometers of downhill ski runs.