There’s a reason France is the most visited country in Europe. It has an endless and fascinating diversity, from the Atlantic to Mediterranean, the Alps to the Pyrenees. Not all regions are equal though and it’s still possible to find areas that are overlooked by the majority of the millions who visit every year. Savoy is not one of them, but just north, the Jura region was a revelation: great natural beauty, historic towns and villages, and a range of wines completely new to me.
Our road trip finished as it had begun, in a surprisingly beautiful, historic and fascinating town that I had never heard of before. Besançon sits at the northern end of the Jura region and was the perfect place to end what had been a journey of discovery. Not to mention inspiration for more trips to a part of France that likely won’t fly under the radar for much longer.
Crowned by an impressive Vauban fortress, Besançon is surrounded by a giant loop in the River Doubs. History oozes from its ancient centre and it has one of the best Musée des Beaux-Arts I’ve ever visited. I have no idea why it isn’t overwhelmed by tourists, but thankfully it isn’t. Nor is the Jura region to the south that we travelled through on our way back to Brussels.
We only had a few days to explore the Jura, but the glimpse we got of the glories of the region will see us go back again soon. We stopped in the UNESCO listed Salins-les-Bains, a strategically important town thanks to its historic underground salt mines. The tour of which provided some much needed relief from searing August heat. Nearby is pretty Arbois, former home of Louis Pasteur. A small picturesque spot surrounded by vineyards.
Just south of Arbois is what the tourist board refers to as the Cœur du Jura, a beautiful area of rolling wooded hills, vine filled valleys, limestone escarpments, and attractive historic towns and villages. One of which is the formerly fortified medieval town of Poligny, which also just happens to be the epicentre of production for one of France’s most famous cheeses: Comté. Cows with bells around their necks decorate nearby fields.
We based ourselves in Le Vernois. The village itself is nothing to shout about, but it sits in the centre of a huge wine producing region – think vineyards as far as the eye can see – and is home to the wonderful chambres d’hôte, Le Relais de la Perle. It’s a great jumping off point for Baume-les-Messieurs, rated as one of the most attractive villages in France, and the equally special village of Château-Chalon.
The capital of the Jura, Lons-le-Saunier, is nearby but had a down at heel feel despite being an historic spot in its own right. It was the polar opposite of glorious Annecy where we had spent a couple of days soaking up the delights of the Vieille Ville, the gorgeous Old Town with a backdrop of Lac d’Annecy’s turquoise waters and the mountains of Haute-Savoie. It is as crowded as it is attractive.
We arrived in Annecy after a week on the shores of the equally gorgeous Lac du Bourget, near the famous spa town of Aix-les-Bains. Swimming in the lake under clear blue skies will live long in the memory. We visited the ancient Abbaye d’Hautecombe, the pretty village of Chanaz and the often overlooked former Savoy capital of Chambéry. I’d hoped to walk in the nearby mountains but the mid-30ºC temperatures made that a challenge too far.
As for the surprisingly beautiful, historic and fascinating town where our trip began: Bourg-en-Bresse. Centred around the lovely Place de l’Hotel de Ville, the star attraction is on the edge of town, the utterly beguiling 16th century Royal Monastery of Brou. Worth a visit.
9 thoughts on “Savoy lakes and Jura valleys, a French road trip”
Nice. I know Annecy, Chambéry, I had College friends form there. I’ passed thru Bourg.
Not the others. Thanks for the trip Paul.
A new area for us to explore, Brian, and one that is very beautiful. We’ll definitely be back in that area soon.
Savoie is quite, quite nice. They have also “upgraded” the cities a lot in past years…
It was all new to me, Brian, just underscores how large France really is.
True. though I would say it is incredibly varied. Take the train from Paris to Lyon, the landscapes, the buildings, the churches, the cattle, the trees, all have gradual variations.
I suspect you could say the same driving from Scotland to England. There must be minor variations…
Ah, another of my old stamping grounds for the 2.5 years I lived and worked in Grenoble. A much-overlooked part of France.
It’s an extraordinary part of the world, really loved the Jura region, but there’s so much more to explore around there. I’m told Grenoble is a fascinating place, maybe one day!
A beautiful part of the world. Vineyards, spa towns and a resort feel lakeside- sounds like bliss.
It truly is a lovely spot, I wish I’d visited sooner.