Walking around France

The region


The Jura mountains in France start at the Grand Colombier, 1534 metres, in the Pays de Bugey, where the Rhone flowing south from Geneva suddenly turns north. They run along the Swiss border ending near Montbeliard, where the frontier turns east towards Basle.

Most of the bed rock of the Jura is limestone (Jurassic). About 40% of the region's land area is covered in forest.

The River Doubs flows along the frontier through two large lakes and a deep, densely wooded gorge about 50 kilometres long. It generates significant quantities of electricity and supports a large population of trout and a wide variety of birds.

The Mont d'Or, 1461 metres, is an unusual geological formation typical of the Jura - a mountain which suddenly disappears into nowhere. A sheer 200 metre rock wall drops from the summit ridge. It is as if the limestone had cracked open like a massive ice flow breaking in the Arctic. Below this cliff lie slopes of scree, the debris of millions of years of erosion.

This is dairy country. The local breed of cows is known as Montbeliard - piebald red-brown and white. The breed is over 300 years old. Agriculture in the valleys of the Jura is heavily subsidised.

The Jura lies in the Franche-Comte. The typical Franche-Comte farmhouse has low walls and a high pitched roof. Wide and comfortable, it is a barn to accommodate both animals and humans.

The characteristic dome on a church tower looks like a squashed cardinal's hat.

The beautiful Valserine valley used to be of enormous strategic significance. The Spanish King at one time controlled the Low Countries, stretches of Eastern France, the Franche-Comte as well as lands in Italy. Savoy owned a small corridor on the Valserine which linked the territory of Spain, her ally, with Italy. Spanish troops used to march down this corridor, known as the Spanish road. Savoy eventually ceded this strip of land to France. Later the Valserine was the broder of the Vichy zone during the German occupation of 1940-44.

Louis XIV conquered the Franche-Comte for France in 1678.

In places the trail wanders back and forth across the Swiss frontier, first settled in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars.

During World War Two the resistance smuggled a number of people across the border - agents, British servicemen, Jews. The Jura was part of the Reserved or Forbidden Zone during the Occupation and was directly controlled by the German army.

People cross the frontier from the French Jura to work in Switzerland. A hotelier said "near here 15,000 frontaliers cross the border into Switzerland to work every day. Firms are moving over the border to Switzerland. The Swiss on the other hand come to France to buy properties."

There is a certain pride in the Jura's identity. Cultural and economic links are maintained with the canton of the Jura in Switzerland. It is a long way from Paris. French and Swiss Jurassiens speak the same language. Physically the Swiss and French Juras are very similar. They have their own distinctive products from cheese and wines based on their own grapes to wood and clocks.

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Diary extracts

The small, still voice

After clearing the dishes Louis said there were two more things we had to do. "First you must look at my exhibition on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. Secondly we need a few minutes to bring a fitting closure to the day; to reflect on what we have all done." What looked like a garage on the outside turned out to be a chapel with plain stone walls and three stained glass windows. Two were abstract with the mottos "The fruit of the spirit is serenity" and "In our night the sun will shine". The third contained a picture of a dove giving food to the prophet Elijah in the desert. The motto was "Long is the route which climbs." A cross made out of a vine branch stood behind the altar. Louis said epigrammatically that there were plusieurs barques, i.e. several ways forward in the Christian faith, although this was not the belief of Benedict XVI, the new Pope. He made this remark with some feeling. He told us the story of Elijah who experienced the presence of God neither in the wind, the earthquake nor the fire, but as a still, small voice.

So we sat on benches giving our reflections on the day, holding candles in the dark. Our ex-soldier asked me why people walked long distances and I replied on the spur of the moment - "c'est un hommage rendu a la terre." It is a way of paying homage to the earth. I explained that it was important to do this if you were a believer, because God has given us the earth. If you were a non-believer walking provided an opportunity to admire the marvellous natural world we have inherited and to reflect on man's abuse of it.

Louis clearly felt that an important part of his life was ministering to pilgrims to Santiago. After breakfast he gave me three postcards with pictures of the stained glass windows in his chapel. On the back of the picture of Elijah he wrote - que la brise legere d'Elie accompagne ta vie; may the still small voice of Elijah be with you in your life.

Free spirits

Laurent was a free spirit who had turned his back on contemporary society and decided to seek a new way of life in a mountain refuge. "Once I worked as an ambulance driver," he said, "earning 6 euros an hour for 200 hours per month. That is hardly enough to live on. No-one ever gave me recognition or thanks for doing a good job."

Next we embarked on one of those passionate discussions about the future of the world which the French seem to enjoy. Laurent was very articulate. Sometimes his ideas were confused and contradictory but he expressed himself colourfully and with conviction. "France is not at ease with herself," he said. "We have a culture second to none. We are rich and have plenty of bright people with good ideas but something is wrong. French people should work harder. They are faineant; they do not want to make the extra effort to earn more, whereas you Anglo-Saxons take two jobs if you need money." And then there followed a common complaint against the generation of 1968. "We are not very good at managing change, but it is hardly surprising when you consider the number of old men in top jobs blocking younger people with new ideas."

Laurent suspected anyone in authority - the governing class, the state run TV channels, the police and large companies. They were guilty of manipulation to suit their own ends - this was one of his favourite words. "The Republican ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are dead," he said. "There is no real liberty, only manipulation. The state is all powerful and people kowtow to it. They stage a manif (demonstration) but only for show. There is no genuine individual freedom or brotherhood between people. Huge inequalities exist."

His views seemed to be a combination of radical socialism, a populist suspicion of the Parisian elite with a few planks from the platform of the right thrown in. There was an element of despair in what he said; nothing would change for the better. He would retreat to his mountain, like his friend Jean-Luc who ran the next auberge. Maybe there is something about refuges and auberges in the mountains which attracts people who are disillusioned by society.

Pinned to a post I found this manifesto for the free spirits who live in the mountains: -

A private non-commercial welcome for anyone who wants to accept it

A space for unconventional encounters

A place to experiment with living in a different way based on Love of the Spirit of Truth

Drinks, small menu, refuge with a dormitory in the hay

Exchange of ideas and unconventional thinking

Think Speak and Live differently in the mountains

This farm is self-sufficient in heating, electricity, water and almost in food

A little exhibition of machines which work on renewable energy

Exhibition-Life according to the System Spirit or the Spirit of Truth

At Planvanel a visit is not minted out of what comes from a purse but with what comes from the heart. It is not free but comes at the price of your friendship.

Signed Gerard the shepherd of Planvanel

Entrance and Exit Free.

A party in a gite d'etape

Although the next gite d'etape at Combe Simon was cut off from the outside world twenty eight walkers from the Boulogne region provided an evening's entertainment. I arrived in the bar and only twigged something was afoot when the manager started to pour 28 kirs - a mixture of a cremant from the Jura and mure (blackberry liqueur) rather than the more usual cassis (blackcurrant) which gave the drink its name. Mure has a softer taste and mixes well with the light sparkling white wine of the region. I was reluctant to take a glass but they all said allez-y and that broke the ice. Then the manager said I was a randonneur anglais and questions were flying at me from every quarter. A plump red faced man in a royal blue shirt seemed to be in charge of the group. He let me know pretty soon he was for Sarko as were most of his friends, except for one lady who said all politicinas were rogues. They told me the French were never happy with the government's policies- ils se plaignent toujours, they are always complaining.

We all sat down to dinner together round a large table and with the effect of wine volleys of jokes were soon flying back and forth across the room. The red faced man pushed me into a seat between two ladies, who he said with a wink were "des femmes vicieuses," they had secret vices - I might have some fun! One of my companions was a retired teacher although the other was still working. The group were retraites enjoying the benefits of France's generous retirement system. Most had stopped work at 60 but some were teachers who had taken full pension at 55. What a life! One woman from the other side of the table was desperate to talk English to me but struggled to make herself understood. My blue shirted friend told her she was too bavarde (a chatterbox). Turning to his audience he said that he had run out of money to make the machine work, pointing to her mouth. At this there were more gales of raucous laughter.

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The Walk


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I continued on the GR9 to Culoz where I joined the long distance trail known as the Grande Traversee du Jura. I made one short cut on local footpaths between Menthieres and Borne au Lion near La Pesse (passing through Chezery-Forens in the Valserine) because of bad weather. The trail includes some exciting hill walking but there are no big testing climbs. I did not meet many hikers, unlike in the Alps. The Gorge du Doubs contains some fixed metal ladders over rocks but these present no problems providing due care is exercised. The total distance from the Chartreuse to St. Hippolyte is approximately 290 miles.

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Maps and Guides

Chartreuse to Culoz: IGN 1;25.000 maps 3333OT, 3232ET, 3332OT, 3331OT

Culoz to St. Hippolyte: Topoguide La Grande Traversee du Jura Ref. 512.FFRP. (For Valserine diversion IGN 1:25.000 maps 3330OT & 3328OT)


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The Jura can experience severe weather and snow in winter and Mouthe, which is on the trail, holds the record for the coldest place in France. In summer walkers might encounter heavy rain and winds, which I did on two occasions. High points like the Cret de la Neige near Geneva can be very tricky in bad weather.

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I had no difficulty finding accommodation. I list below places where I stayed which I can particularly recommend. I have not covered every stopping place on my route.

Gite d'Etape La Ferme de Retord


01200 Billat

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 50 56 57 02


Chambres d'hotes La Biolaz


01410 Chezery-Forens

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 50 56 75 35 or

06 59 33 70 53

Chambres d'hotes La Renouee

Chantal Grenard

8 route de Chaudezembre

39310 La Pesse

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 84 42 75 35 or

06 20 48 10 09



Gite d'Etape-Le Pas Sage

Karine Ladet

6 route du Triolet

39310 Lajoux

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 84 41 20 64 or

06 85 02 43 89



Gite d'Etape La Maison du Montagnon

6 rue du Grand Tetras

25240 Chapelle des Bois

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 81 69 26 30

Fax 00 33 (0)3 81 69 13 15



Gite d'Etape Chalet de la Haute Joux

La Combe Simon

39250 Cerniebaud

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 84 51 10 39

Fax 00 33 03 84 51 12 45



Chambres d'hotes Le Muguet

4 rue Bief de la Maule

25240 Villedieu

Tel/Fax 00 33 (0)3 81 69 20 40



Hotel Tannieres

17 Grande Rue

25160 Malbuisson

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 81 69 30 89

Fax 00 33 (0)3 81 69 39 16

Hotel Les Cernets

2126 Les Verrieres-Switzerland

Tel. 00 41 (0)32 866 12 65

Fax 00 41 (0)32 866 13 20



Auberge Le Vieux Chateleu

25790 Les Gras

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 81 67 11 59

fax 00 33 (0)3 81 67 55 38



Hotel La Rasse

M. Kurt Hungerbuhler

Gorge du Doubs

25140 Fournet-Blancheroche

Tel/Fax 00 33 (0)3 81 68 61 89

Mobile 00 41 79 444 87 48



Auberge Le Moulin du Plain

25470 Goumois

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 81 44 41 99

Fax 00 33 (0)3 81 44 45 70



Hotel Le Bellevue

28 Grande Rue

25190 St. Hippolyte

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 81 96 51 53

Fax 00 33 (0)3 81 96 52 40



Chambre d'hotes - Mme. Yvonne-Elizabeth Ruchs

48 rue Neuve

25230 Seloncourt

Tel. 00 33 (0)3 81 37 81 87
















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Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images with captions.

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