What if, for once, we explored a region starting beneath the ground? In the Jura mountains, the omnipresent water has carved out a unique relief and a network of underground caves, well worth visiting for their incredible natural scenography.
Up on ground level, between mountains, waterfalls and lakes, the dramatic landscapes of the Jura can be enjoyed in numerous ways: by skiing, hiking or cycling. And let’s not forget the cultural visits: nestled in the valleys are chateaux and abbeys of character.
The must-sees on holiday in the Jura mountains
Do you know what a ‘reculée’ is? To understand everything about this geological phenomenon, go to Baume-les-Messieurs. This village, one of the most beautiful in France, is set between cliffs in the hollow of one of the indentations of the limestone plateau. Admire the superb architectural ensemble formed by the Abbey of Saint-Pierre – some elements, including the church itself, are typical of the Romanesque Jura style.
And slip into the side of the cliffs for an extraordinary journey underground: at 120 metres deep, the cave extends for over 2,500 metres and boasts rooms reaching 80 metres high in some places and an impressive waterfall springing from one of its openings.
In the Jura the five senses are in turmoil, including in winter when we warm up with local specialities. Château-Chalon is famous for its vin jaune (yellow wine), the ‘king of wines and wine of kings’ – but it’s also a beautiful village perched on a cliff with breathtaking views of the vineyards.
The neighbouring village of Arlay is considered the capital of ‘straw wine’, a sweet local wine. A rich heritage is found here: mansions, the Saint-Vincent church crowned with a superb Comtois steeple, and an unusual chateau: its eight-hectare park created in 1773, in the spirit of the romanticism of the time, integrates the remains of the old medieval fortress. Inside, you can visit the beautifully appointed princely apartments, but also the large 17th-century cellar where the estate’s wines are still aging. In the old Dole, a magnificent Renaissance building dominates the Tanneurs canal: the Hôtel-Dieu is one of the jewels of the heritage of ‘little Venice of the Jura’ with the Basilica of Our Lady. And in Orgelet, a fortified church, mansions and former Bernardines convent strengthen the historic stamp of the town, nestled at the foot of Mount Orgier.
The Jura: France’s Lake District
The Jura mountains are also a region of lakes. Lake Vouglans is the third-largest artificial lake in France, stretching for 35 kilometres with emerald waters ideal for numerous watersports, plus three ports and three beaches. And in the Hérisson Valley, the eponymous river turns into a stream that forms 31 jumps and seven waterfalls on a path of 3.7 kilometres. Don’t miss the jump of the Fan and the ‘Big Jump’: the waterfalls here reach 65 metres high!
Taste the delights of the Jura
In the hollow of the Jura mountains, the culinary specialities are the mirror of rural life. Blue Gex cheese, aged for between eight and 24 months, dates back to the arrival of Savoyard monks. Morteau sausage, made from pork, was traditionally smoked in the ‘tuyés’, farms built around a fireplace room. This is sometimes eaten with potatoes sprinkled with cancoillotte, a delicious molten cheese. In the Bresse area, butter and cream benefit from controlled appellations, just like poultry, which can be served with a tasty morel mushroom crust or stew.
Sport and relaxation in the Jura mountains
In both winter and summer, the Jura mountains are a paradise for nature activities. Ski in the heart of the Haut Jura Regional Nature Park in the resort of Les Rousses with a view of Mont-Blanc, explore the Prémanon cross-country ski area in the middle of forests, or cycle through the ‘little mountain’ around the village of Cornod… there are so many routes for sporty types! Combine this with relaxing in the thermal baths at Salins-les-Bains, whose naturally salty waters are rich in trace elements – or take a wine break in Arbois, where you can sample the classified AOC in the local tasting cellars, surrounded by vineyards and mansions.