Steve’s Sojourns: Jura, France
Thinking about walking and cycling in France? Before you book, have a look at the Jura Mountains on the Swiss border. Great scenery, fantastic food, superb wines and loads of chocolate.
The beauty of walking in France is that there’s so much of it and as a result there are amazing gems just waiting to be discovered. I have to say that I discovered one of these recently in the region known as Franche-Comté which sits snugly between Burgandy, Alsace and the Swiss border.
The region can be even further divided up in to several distinct areas with their own cultural and natural characteristics, and amongst these are the majestic Jura Mountains. The Jura (meaning “forest” in the Gaulish language) is a beautiful land of lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forest and caves. Although not as high as their near neighbours the Alps, who can easily be seen when hiking, they form a natural border between France and Switzerland (200 Km-125 miles- long) with a maximum height of 1723 m (5650 feet).
For the walker or cyclist though the Jura has many surprises and delights. Chief amongst these is the GTJ or Grande Traversées Jura some 400 km long. If you’re thinking of doing this path you should allow yourself up to three weeks to complete the whole route but you can do parts of it by splitting it up into manageable sections. Broad ridges with stunning views of Mont Blanc in the distance, forest tracks, and paths across flower strewn meadows and sleepy little towns and villages are what we encountered on the sections we tried.
We also walked along part of the Grande Randonnée (GR5) long distance path .
The highest peak of the area, Mont d’Or, has panoramic views of the Swiss Alps, the lakes that border them and the Jura plateaux. On this stretch we walked briefly into Switzerland and also visited a chalet owned by the Alpine Club who gave us a warm welcome. Our professional guide, though French, yodelled as we walked along but also pointed out to us landmarks and local flora, walking through fields of turks head lilies and purple grasses is quite an experience.
The Franche-Comte region region is becoming very popular as a mountain biking and touring cycling area and is crisscrossed by over 3,500 kilometres of prepared tracks. Baume les Messieurs for example is an exceptional village in a dramatic setting dominated by high cliffs. The village is reached by a cycle along the gorge carved by the Seille River. One of the main areas for cycling is at the village of Métabief which like many other villages in the area has a ski lift giving access to walkers to the high ridges of the Jura where you may see chamois, eagles or the occasional lynx.