French Jura Attractions
The French Jura, roughly corresponding to the old province of Franche-Comté, lies in eastern France, bounded on the west by Burgundy and on the north by the Vosges, though compared with these areas it is relatively unknown to tourists.
Franche-Comté has a common frontier 250km/155mi long with Switzerland, and the French Jura, the range of mountains between the Saône and the lakes of western Switzerland, is continued beyond the frontier by the Swiss Jura. The region of Franche-Comté has an area of 16,202 sq.km/6,256 sq.mi (3% of the total area of France) and a population of 1.08 million. It takes in the départements of Doubs, Jura and Haute-Saône and the Territoire de Belfort. The administrative center is Besançon.
Two great Frenchmen were born in the Jura - the biologist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and the painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).
Geographically the French Jura is the southwestern section of the chain of mountains which extends for some 700km/435mi between the upper Rhône and the upper Main, bounded in the north by the Vosges, in the east by the Swiss Jura and in the west by the Tertiary uplands of the Saône basin and by the district of Bresse. The most northwesterly section, abutting on the Vosges, forms the tabular Jura, through whose horizontal strata numerous rivers have carved their courses. Beyond the Doubs is the plateau Jura, which falls down to the Saône depression in a steep and rocky scarp slashed by deep valleys (reculées) and to the east rises in a series of steps formed by erosion and gradually merges into the mountainous Jura, compressed during the Alpine folding movement into a number of parallel chains, with magnificent views of the High Alps, particularly from the most easterly and highest chain.
Characteristic of the Jura plateau, as of all areas of permeable limestone, are a variety of karstic phenomena like swallowholes (funnel-shaped cavities), caves and underground rivers, which emerge at the foot of the cliffs as abundantly flowing springs (e.g. the Loue and the Lison). The rivers, most of them flowing down the longitudinal valleys of the mountainous Jura, break through the ridges in transverse valleys known as cluses which facilitate communications within the region.
Apart from the climatically favored southwestern foreland area, where vines and fruit can be grown, the climate tends to have the rawness of a mountain region. The highest peaks in the Jura rise to over 1,600m/5,250ft (Crêt de la Neige, 1,723m/5,653ft, in the French Jura, Crêt Pela, 1,495m/4,905ft, and Mont d'Or, 1,423m/4,669ft, in Franche-Comté). In spite of the joking claim that it has eight months of snow and two months of wind, but the rest of the year is wonderful, Goethe, Ruskin and Lamartine all speak enthusiastically about the Jura, referring to one of its greatest attractions, the magnificent views of the snow-covered Alps to be had from so many places in the region.
But it is not only the distant views that appeal to the visitor in the Jura. The valleys have their old-established industries, with major centers like Besançon, Montbéliard, Belfort and Morez. In the foreland regions fruit is grown. The valleys and plateaux support arable and pastoral farming, and the cheeses of the region (Gruyère, Morbier, Vacherin) are renowned. Timber from the extensive forests also makes a major contribution to the economy.
Thanks to the Jura's romantic valleys, its 70 lakes, its forests, its footpaths, cycle tracks, bridle-paths and waterways and its well-equipped ski resorts (Les Rousses, Métabief), tourism is now making an increasing contribution to the economy of the region.
In Gallic times the Jura was the territory of the Sequani, whose chief town was Vesontio (Besançon). After Caesar drove back the advancing Germanic tribes in 58 B.C. and crushed a rising by the Sequani, who were allied with the Gauls, in 52 B.C. the region enjoyed a period of peace during which the towns of Besançon, Salins, Dole, Lons-le-Saunier and Portarlier flourished. Towards the end of the second century A.D. the Jura was Christianized. After being occupied by the Burgundians in 442 it shared the destinies of the Duchy of Burgundy, which became Frankish in 534, was divided into two independent kingdoms in 843, became the united kingdom of Burgundy in 934 and was incorporated into the German Empire as the free county of Burgundy in 1032. The weakness of central authority led to the establishment of local lordships, and numerous castles and fortresses were built. Soon the various counts and dukes appointed by the Burgundian rulers established hereditary authority over their territories. When Burgundy was divided the Jura formed the Comté de Bourgogne (County of Burgundy), or Comté for short, while the territories on the Saône became the Duchy of Burgundy. In 1322 the Franche-Comté returned to Burgundian control; in 1361 it passed to Flanders; and in 1384, along with the rest of Flanders, again became part of Burgundy. After many years of conflict with the king of France the region was incorporated in the German Empire in 1491. In 1674 it was conquered by Louis XIV, and in 1678, under the peace of Nijmegen, was finally assigned to France.
The river Hérisson, rising at an altitude of 805 m/2,640ft, forms a series of waterfalls on its way down the valley - though these can dry up completely after a long period of drought. The finest of the falls are the Grand Saut and, at the end of the gorge, the Cascade de l'Eventail. The best starting-point for a visit to the falls is Doucier, from which D326 leads to a parking lot; then on foot to the falls. The Col de la Faucille (1,323m/4,341ft), between Gex and La Cure, is the most important pass over the Jura, carrying the road into Switzerland (N5). From the pass there is a cabin cableway up Mont-Rond. From its two peaks (1,534m/5,033ft and 1,614m/4,296ft) there are magnificent panoramic views of the Jura.
St Claude, France
St-Claude (pop. 13,000), a town noted for the manufacture of pipes, with an interesting Pipe Museum, is one of the leading tourist centers of the Upper Jura. Its principal attraction is the Cathedral of St-Pierre (14th-15th C.), which was completed only in the 18th C. with a square tower and neo-classical west front. It has fine choir-stalls (mid 15th C.) and a notable altar. Originally belonging to an abbey which was destroyed during the French Revolution, it is one of the finest churches in the Jura. The Diamond Museum displays a collection of both rough and cut diamonds and precious stones and illustrates the process of cutting and the industrial use of diamonds.
Arc et Senans, France
Colombey de Gex
Crêt de Chalam
Maison de Pasteur
Jura Rivers and Valleys
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire
On a 70m/230ft high crag is a 13th C castle in Belfort, rebuilt by Vauban as a citadel, much of which was pulled down in the 19th C. The surviving part, known as the Château, now houses the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, with an important collection of material on local history (Bronze and Iron Age weapons, Neolithic, Gallo-Roman and Frankish jewellery and ornaments), a collection of pictures (including works by Signac, Vlaminck, Utrillo, Courbet and Rodin) and models of the Vauban fortifications.
From the Château there are extensive views over the Jura and the Vosges.