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Franche-Comte

Franche-Comte

Franche-Comte, formerly the ‘Free County’ of Burgundy, lies on the border of Switzerland in the east and between the Vosges and Jura mountain ranges to the north and south. It consists of the four departments of Doubs, Jura, Haute-Saone and Territoire de Belfort.

Birthplace of the chef Raymond Blanc, the culture of Franche-Comte is strongly influenced by its Swiss neighbours. It has a landscape of rolling fertile land and pine forests. Consequently, the local economy is based largely on agriculture and forestry.

Cheese making is also a very lucrative source of income with production running at around 40 million tons a year.

There is an important manufacturing sector and the region is the home of the Peugeot car company. It is also the centre of the French watch-making industry, an activity which takes place on both sides of the Swiss border. Franche-Comte is, in fact, the country’s biggest exporter. The largest city and regional capital is Besancon but Belfort, Dole, Vesoul and Montbeliard are also sizeable towns.

The region has an extensive road network and is crossed by several motorways passing through on the way to the south of France and Switzerland. There is a TGV service from Paris to Besancon with a journey time of about two and a half hours. Easyjet flights from the UK are available at airports in neighbouring regions and it is easily accessible from the Channel ports.

The climate of Franche- Comte is classified as semi-continental. Summers are mild while it is usually cold in winter. The atmosphere is generally quite humid.

The region’s most important visitor attraction is probably its outstanding natural beauty. One of the popular areas of tourism is the Jura Mountain range. It provides an excellent location for campers, hikers and mountain bikers. In winter it is possible to visit the resorts for Nordic skiing.

Other major attractions are the valleys of the rivers Doubs and Loue with its timbered houses up on stilts and the Region des Lacs with its fantastic gorges and waterfalls. In this area you will find villages that have buildings with belfries decorated with tile mosaic while the lakes provide wonderful opportunities for swimming outdoors during the summer months.

The historic city of Besancon has a well preserved centre consisting mostly of old stone houses. It is the home of the oldest public art gallery in France. Sometimes referred to as ‘petit Louvre’, it houses an impressive collection of old masters including works by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt and Matisse.

As part of your visit to the city you can also check out the birthplace of Victor Hugo, look round the fine cathedral or take a river cruise.

Other places of interest to visit include the Peugeot motor museum in Montbeliard, a town which boasts a fine castle amongst other things. It is also famous for its diverse cultural activities, in particular the art of street theatre.

Located in the small, attractive town of Lons le Saunier, can be found the Laughing Cow cheese museum – that famous ‘La vache qui rit’ cheese-spread that is a favourite with children. A little more on the cultural side is the Chapelle Notre Dame de Haut, designed by the Swiss architect, Le Corbusier.

Salt water springs are an important feature of the region. The town of Lons le Saunier dates back to the Roman era and its spa tradition has continued into more modern times. Salins-les-Bains was settled over 2000 years ago on account of its salt water springs.

Franche-Comte has a good reputation for the quality of its food products. The many types of cheese you will find include Bleu de Gex, Mont d’Or or Vacherin and the traditional Comte. This is very similar to Gruyere and is considered one of the finest of all French cheeses. You might also want to try Cancoillotte which is a semi-liquid cheese made from cow’s milk.

Other typical regional specialities are the smoked sausages (Morteau) and hams which originate from the mountainous regions.

As regards alcoholic beverages, the region produces a variety of liqueurs made from locally grown plants. The aperitif Vins Jaune is one of the best known with the most famous variety coming from the attractive village of Chateau Chalon.

Some good wines are also produced. Wines with the AOC appellation are Cotes de Jura and Arbois, a white wine with a distinctive flavour, named after the picturesque village which is located at the centre of the wine producing area.

The Franche-Comte region is not one that necessarily springs to mind in terms of areas to visit in France. However, many travellers have found that its stunning scenery and unspoilt architectural heritage make it a very attractive place to spend time.

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