For those seeking under-the-radar regions of Europe, Jura fits the bill perfectly. This relatively undiscovered area of northern France is awash in lush forests and winding rivers, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, ski resorts, lakes, caves, gourmet restaurants and vineyards. What’s not to love? We promise Jura will woo you – whether you’re a foodie or an outdoor enthusiast – and become your next travel obsession. Here’s why:
Where Is Jura?
Jura is east of the Burgundy region of France and shares a border with Switzerland to the southeast and east (it’s a bit confusing because there is also a mountain range in Switzerland called Jura).
The main cities and villages of Jura, all within easy driving distance of each other, are each as delightful as the next. Visit the neo-classical town of Dole, where Louis Pasteur was born, and now classified as a Town of Art and History (Ville d’Art et d’Histoire). The capital of Jura is Lons-le-Saunier and is the birthplace of the internationally famous Laughing Cow cheese. The townhouses and public buildings are attractively grand, and the theater clock in the Place de la Liberte actually chimes out the beginning notes of La Marseillaise anthem.
The wine capital of Arbois offers a huge array of foodie-favorite restaurants – and is where eyou’ll find the family home of Louis Pasteur. Don’t miss the spa town of Salins-les-Bains with its imposing fortresses and saltworks museum. High on a cliff, Chateau-Chalon is recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France and is set along the Routes des Vins du Jura – the area is known for the first vineyards to produce vin jaune, a Jura specialty. And, finally, be sure to stop in Poligny in the Culee de Vaux valley, the cheese capital of France-Comté.
Highlights of Jura
Try the Local Comté
To those who love cheese – in all tastes and textures – Jura is a must. There are four AOC-designated cheeses produced here, the most famous of which is the pale-yellow Comté (others include Morbier, Mont d’Or and Bleu de Gex). Learn all about the comté-making process at the Maison du Comté in the village of Poligny – which, of course, ends with a tasting session. You can also tour the Fort des Rousses Comté, the second-largest military fort in France and where more than 50,000 rounds of cheese are matured.
Pair that Cheese with Local Wine
Complementing all that fabulous cheese is the famous vin jaune (yellow wine) of Jura. This may be France’s smallest wine region, but it is an oenophile favorite for this late-harvest white made with the Savagnin grape. The aging process takes place over six years and advances the wine’s distinctive, nutty flavor. A bottle of vin jaune is easily recognizable by its squat shape – called a clavelin – and for being smaller than a standard wine bottle. Most of the vin jaune production takes place in Chateau-Chalon and its surrounding vineyards. If you happen upon Arbois, visit Domaine de la Pinte, where you can taste bio-dynamic wines before buying. (One of France’s top chocolate makers is also in Arbois – Hirsinger.)
You’ll also find unique red grape varietals in Jura, including Trousseau and Ploussard. Jura is also known for its sweet vin de paille, Chardonnay (known locally as Melon d’Arbois and Gamay Blanc) and sparkling wines, produced here since the 18th century and now produced under the Cremant du Jura appellation.
Get Outside and Play
In between all that wine and cheese, take to the incredible outdoor recreation opportunities Jura has to offer. Hike, mountain bike, ride horseback or cross-country ski on the huge network of trails that comprise the Grandes Traversees du Jura. During the winter, go downhill skiing or snowshoeing at Les Rousses or Metabief on the French-Swiss border. In the warmer months, go swimming, paddleboarding or canoeing at Lake Vouglans or hike to the Herisson waterfalls. Descend into the cave of Gouffre de Poudrey near Besancon. Or, explore the flat-bottomed valleys of Jura and the cliff-lined village of Baume-les-Messieurs and its Benedictine abbey. In Baume-les-Messieurs, you’ll also find the 200-million-year-old Grote de Baume with its stalagmite- and stalactite-lined caves and waterfalls.
Travel back in time at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Salins-les-Bains, visiting its museum that tells that tale of the region’s 1,200-year history of salt production. You’ll see the enormous buildings and chimneys of the saltworks and can tour the site to see the original furnaces. Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans is another remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over in Dole, visit the Collegiale Notre-Dame, a gorgeous, 16th-century church boasting impressive stained-glass windows and artwork. Dole is also home to the house museum of scientist and native son Louis Pasteur.
In Besancon, visit the impressive Citadelle de Besancon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site presiding over Old Town. There are three interesting museums on site, including the natural history museum and the Musee Comtois, devoted to the region’s cultural heritage, landscape and cuisine.
In Perouges, another of France’s Plus Beaux Villages, you can feel what it would have been like to live in town centuries ago. Spend a night at the Hostellerie du Vieux Perouges in the walled old town, where you can stay in a 15th-century guest house, where rooms are outfitted with traditional period details and antique furnishings. Downstairs, you can enjoy regional delicacies such as Bresse chicken in morel sauce and a delightful local dessert, galette Pérougienne.
How Do I Get to Jura?
If you are coming from Paris, ride the TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon for two hours to Dole. Rent a car from there. Self-driving is the best way to get around the region (there are tolls on the highways). If you happen to be arriving from the United Kingdom, you can take the car ferry across the Channel, then drive from Calais to Dole (about 5 and a half hours). The quickest route bypasses Paris and goes through Champagne via Reims and Troyes.