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Squeezed between Burgundy, Alsace and the Swiss border, the Jura has an economy that essentially revolves around producing outstanding cheese, wine, and watches. It’s stunningly beautiful, lots of tiny villages, history, long stretches through beautiful countryside. Not “exciting” but perfect for a low key weekend within 2-3 hours of Lausanne. Also huge for road biking and hiking. Packed with amazing driving roads in excellent condition. NOTE: not at all convenient via public transportation, you need a car. The line between France and Switzerland is thin at best, and you could cover a range of these towns together.

Specialities: Comté, Morbier Vache Qui Rit cheeses; Vin Jaune; toys, Saint-Claude pipes, watchmaking, eyewear, woodworking, industrial subcontracting, wildlife watching (lynx, eagle, black grouse, chamois) 

Competitions: La Forestière (mountain bike trekking and racing from 40 to 100 km), the Transjurassienne (must for Nordic skiing in France), cycling Tour du Jura. 

More on the Swiss Jura towns here.

Jura trivia: the Jurassic is named after the Jura Mountains within the European Alps, where limestone strata from the period were first identified.

Articles:


Arbois 

Louis Pasteur’s home town of Arbois is sleepy and quiet, packed with historic buildings and wine tasting shops.

Dining

  • **Restaurant Le Bistronôme Lisa/Jérôme: a finer dining experience. It’s good, if not remarkable, in a modern setting, all indoors, with about three tables overlooking the river. Seasonal French fare.
  • The local dining side of town is near the cathedral. We loved **Domaine de la Tournelle: through the gates of this winery is a lovely riverside restaurant. Menu is limited but if you’re in the mood for cheese and a salad, it’s perfect. Also surrounded by good restaurants.
  • It’s worth it for a long and wonderful meal at **Maison Jeunet. $150-200/person, plan on a 3-4 hour meal. (We ate at the original location in Arbois, it’s now in Port-Lesney, just outside of town).
  • *Domaine Jacques Tissot has a very cute exterior and does tastings, but the wine is pretty poor. Try one of the Tissot shops on the square (there are multiple winemakers in the extended family).

Sites

  • **House de Louis Pasteur is very cute. It’s not incredibly science-focused, it’s just his house, where he enjoyed his family life, with everything perfectly preserved. It’s a 20 minute, worthwhile sop. 9:30-12:30 and 2-6.
  • ***The Cathedral of Arbois: do stop and visit. It’s very old, tilting to the side, and quite wonderful. One of my favorite cathedrals in France.
  • We made an effort to find Cascade des Tufs outside of town, in August. Two things to note: 1) despite what Google says, you can only reach it from the left (east) side of the valley. 2) in a dry year, it doesn’t run in August. We’ll try again in the spring, it is apparently quite pretty.

Arc-et-Senans

The **Royal Saltworks in Arc-et-Senans is another Unesco world heritage site where you can see how salt was such a valuable commodity during the reign of Louis XV. 9 a.m to 6 p.m. Architecturally impressive. There are also rotating art exhibits, and in the summer display gardens.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/la-saline-royale


Baume-les-Messieurs

This town appears seemingly out of nowhere – wind around the bend and find a beautiful valley ringed by stone cliffs, forests and waterfalls. The setting itself is the best part, and worth driving a bit out of the way to see. 

The *Benectine Abbey (Baume Abbey) is the largest in the Jura, pretty but not particularly notable. The complex is largely filled with shops now (aside from the cathedral itself).

**Le Grand Jardin is a good traditional restaurant with well prepared food, friendly staff.

About 45 minutes on foot at the end of the valley (or a short drive), there’s a large waterfall (Cascade des Tufs) and a cave complex, **Les Grottes de Baume-les-Messieurs. The waterfall wasn’t running during our visit (September); aim for the wetter seasons. The Grottes are big, have lots of bats, and are generally impressive. The tourable area isn’t huge, the emphasis more on education about the geology in a select set of rooms. Via tour only, in French.


Chateau-Chalon 

An excellent day trip: Chateau-Chalon is a very old town (the ‘Chateau’ dates back to 800, I believe) and is almost entirely dedicated to a very specific type of oxidized wine. There are a few restaurants, beautiful views, and it’s fun to wander around in. Beyond the village are walking and biking trails through vineyards and pretty countryside.

  • ***Le Bouchon Du Chateau is very good destination dining – it’s a popular family destination for celebration meals, with fresh ingredients and a skillful touch in the kitchen. Pretty outdoor patio with a big play area for kids (just far enough away to not be disruptive).
  • le p’tit castel looks cute, though it’s hard to figure out when they are actually open.
  • This hotel looked cute (and has a pool): La Tour Charlemagne, https://www.tour-charlemagne.fr.

On the way there (which is an amazing drive from Switzerland through the Jura), we stopped at **Cascades du Harisson. It’s a 5 minute walk to a nice fall, or if you want to be motivated there are 6 more that you can do in a 3 hr hike.


La Chailleuse

A very pretty, and ancient town on the edges of the French Jura. There’s a grand lookout with a madonna, overlooking a church, the dramatic hills of the town, and a long vista across the hills towards Macon. On the back side of the town, there are many small hamlets & tiny vineyards: the heart of the natural wine area of the Jura.

We drove around fairly extensively and did not find any visitable wineries (Domaine Des Miroirs, Labet Alain, Domaine Jean-François Ganevat are all in this area). It’s still beautiful though, makes for a pleasant drive.


Coisia

On the entrance road to Coisia there’s a rather remarkable archaeological site – the **Piste Des Dinosaures. Dating back 148 million years, this area was on the edge of a warm, shallow sea and marsh land. Much later, the uplift of the Alps pushed the land up in folds, resulting in footprints that are vertical.


Dole

Dole was the capital of Franche-Comté until Louis XIV conquered the region and shifted the capital to Besançon. It’s of manageable size and one of our favorite day trip destinations – architecturally impressive, with a “mini Venice” stretch along the river, and a major cat theme. The walking tour (marked by a cat icon) covers 4 kms and is extremely pleasant. In the summer, it’s a central point of several  major biking and hiking routes.

  • **Au Moulin des Ecorces, opposite the town on the river, was a handy overnight stop. The restaurant was quite good – a family affair with a long list of foods of the region, at very affordable prices. The hotel is rather institutional, very functional-accessible decor.
  • **La Demi Lune is one of several restaurants that face the former canal of the tanneries, housed in the tanneries themselves. The menu is fairly vast (local dishes) and quite delicious. Friendly servers, and in the summer there are several outdoor tables.
  • **La Petite Venise is next door to La Demi Lune, nearly identical setting and slightly fancier French cuisine.

Lons-le-Saunier

Capital of the Jura and an historic spa town, Lons-le-Saunier is a little down at the heels but has a lot of civic pride and has ample evidence of a wealthy past. The Rue du Commerce is lined with arcades, and Place de la Liberté has a lovely theater (and a pretty theater cafe). The town is the birthplace of Rouget de Lisle, who wrote La Marseillaise. I wouldn’t necessarily make a trip to the town, but if you’re in the area:

We visited to see the **Laughing Cow museum, which is nicely done – a history of the brand and graphic design, a good museum for graphic art fans. Not particularly oriented towards kids.

We made a quick stop into the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a small art and sculpture collection. The historic Thermes (the Lédonia spring, known for constant salinity) looks rather depressing and run-down. Grand Cafe du Theater looked like a good dining option, and around the corner the less fancy Brasserie Le Strasbourg had a big crowd.


Moirans-en-Montagne

Perching on the edge of the Ain River gorge, Moiran-sen-Montagne is a camping, biking, and driving destination surrounded by rolling hills and frequent waterfalls. It’s pretty and rural, and the road is great. 

**Restaurant Le Regardoir is better than it needs to be – quite good in fact – a popular weekend destination for touring groups. There’s an expansive patio overlooking a wide bend in the river.In the next town over, the *Sanctuaire gallo-romain de Villards-d’Héria (https://www.lieux-insolites.fr/jura/villards/villards.htm) has promise, but is not open to the public and is not particularly viewable from outside the gate. It appears to be a significant site.


Pesmes

A historic village on the Ognon river, picturesque Pesmes is approached via an avenue of 100-year-old trees, its 17th-century castle reflected in the calm waters. Coveted in the middle ages for its strategic position between Gray on the River Saône and regional capital Dole, it was by turns Frankish, Germanic, Burgundian and Spanish, before becoming French in the reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715).

The village bears witness to this rich past: winemakers’ houses line the stone streets, and the 13th-century church of Saint-Hilaire has an impressive bell tower with a multicoloured tiled roof. There’s also a ruined castle and two medieval gateways. The 17th-century forge, operational until 1993, is now a museum. We found this town a bit too small for our taste, though it is quite pretty and surrounded by beautiful roads for biking. The lodging options are the campground (where we ate – just fine), and the *Hôtel de France in the village center, which is quite run down, essentially a hostel.


Poligny

A former fortified city, Poligny has a rich historical heritage, as well as a pronounced culture around Comté cheese and wine. It’s a pretty setting surrounded by dramatic Jura mountain ridges, and if transiting from Switzerland into the Jura, it’s hard to avoid passing through. The town center is at its best in summer – they still allow parking in the central square, and without cheerful crowds about it can feel more messy than quaint.

There’s a marked town walk, marked by arrows on the ground, that we have partially explored (map at the tourist office), covering the Church of Saint-Hippolyte (College church of the 15th century), the remains of the ramparts of the old Château de Grimont, the wine-growing district of Charcigny, the vault of the Jacobins and the Court of the Ursulines. Like Pupillin, this is a great town for wine tasting – it’s packed with tasting rooms, with an emphasis on unusual Jura wine.

  • **La Maison du Comté is a highlight – it’s new, modern, ambitious, informative, and ends with a tasting. Give yourself at least an hour. We found the content interesting, and the staff charming. For cheese lovers and fans of agricultural nuances, of course.
  • *BADOZ Vins & Fromages is a convenient shop on the central square that is often referenced for Jura wine lovers. I don’t love their wines, but it’s probably worth a more indepth tasting at the winery itself, a short walk away. Domaine Badoz (benoit-badoz.com) has been making wine since 1659. Benoît, the 10th generation in an unbroken father-to-son line, returned to the family fold in the 1990s after spells in leading Old- and New-World vineyards and took over from his father in 2003. Almost half the vineyards are planted with Savagnin for both early-matured wines and long-lived vin jaune.
  • We have not yet found a particularly good restaurant in the town. On the main square, *Cafe Du Centre and *Aux Platanes are unremarkable.

Pupillin

Just outside of Arbois, Pupillin is packed with wine makers and would make for a fun day of tasting interesting wines. There appeared to be quite a few tasting rooms of varying degrees of formality. The approach from the south is beautiful – the town sits on a ridge with expansive views.

**Auberge du Grapiot is a fairly high-end dining experience in the center of town, in a modern setting. The food is creative and seasonal, and they offer wine pairings from the region (and town.). On a Saturday (2022), the lunch tasting menu ran €30. My only complaint is that it lacks a view entirely. Closed Sunday and Monday.