Franche-Comté in eastern France is in the region of Burgundy-Franche-Comté and borders Switzerland. It’s a lush green land of mountains and pine forests, lakes and valleys. It’s an unspoiled region, with eight departments, peppered with picturesque villages and with no major league big cities. The capital, Besancon has a population of about 116,000. It’s also a land of forts and castles and of rich natural treaures. We take a look at Franche-Comte’s UNESCO listed jewels.
A 17th century Citadel dominates the city of Besançon. Designed by Louis XIV’s military engineer Vauban in 1668, the citadel and 11 other impressive military architectural sites were recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. The fortifications cover 11 hectares and look out over the old town and the Doubs River. The site is encircled by ramparts with walkways and watchtowers, step out on to the Chemin de rond to walk along the citadel’s outer ramparts though if you’ve not got a head for heights you may not enjoy it. Set atop a hill 100 metres above the city, the walls are up to 20 metres high and 5 to 6 metres thick.
The Citadel is home to three museums: the Comtois museum (local life and history), the French Resistance and Deportation museum and the Natural History museum. Citadelle.com
Prehistoric pile dwellings Chalain and Clairvaux Jura
In 2011, 111 Prehistoric palaeolithic sites around the Alps were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They are classified as being “representative of prehistoric habitats” from 5000 to 500 BC. All are located near the main water bodies in the Alpine arc. The Lake Dwelling is an “invisible cultural property.” These prehistoric dwellings were the first underwater cultural property to be inscribed. Now buried and covered with water, the remains including artefacts of every day life including food and fabrics. They have been incredibly well preserved in this waterlogged and oxygen deprived environment. clairvaux-les-lacs.com
Saline Royale (Royal Saltworks), Arc-et-Senans, Doubs
Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for 40 years, the Saline Royale of Arc-et-Senans, commissioned by Louis XV, is the masterpiece of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Built between 1775 and 1779, the factory was dedicated to salt production from the briny water of natural springs at Salins some 16km away. A unique monument consisting of eleven buildings, where almost the entire workforce lived as well as worked. salineroyale.com
Grande Saline Saltworks, Salins-les-Bains
The Grande Saline salt factory is one of the most ancient industrial sites in France. Salt was produced in this town for more than 1200 years. Sourced from natural saltwater springs, saltier even than the Dead Sea, in the 13th century an underground gallery was created. The cathedral like tunnel is 165m long and part of a vast industrial complex covering two hectares which was built by the Dukes of Burgundy in the Middle Ages to produce the coveted ‘white gold.’ salinesdesalins.com