The path less travelled in France produced stunning rural vistas, friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture, far beyond our expectations.
Heidi and I hired an electric car at CDG airport in early spring 2022 and drove a six thousand kilometre “figure of eight” around France. Despite moderate fitness levels we hiked and cycled many remote picturesque places. We also found rural and remote areas of France have much to offer serious foodies.
Off the Beaten Path: Nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found
Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture in France, way beyond our expectations.
This is part 6 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip.
I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.
Part 6 – Passenans – a tiny wine village in the Jura
The Jura is a lightly populated rural department in eastern France, adjacent to Burgundy and bordering Switzerland. A wide plain gives way to vineyard-clad hills and then rises up to the Jura Mountains in the southeast. The area is known for its natural beauty, Comté cheese and the infamous Vin Jaune which is very definitely an acquired taste.
We spent a week with Heidi’s sister Judy and her husband Abel in a former winery, now a B&B, in the tiny wine village of Passenans (population 300). We chose this location because it is central to most of the area’s wine towns and outdoor attractions.
Highlights and Hidden Gems
Most people visit the Jura to hike in the mountains, enjoy the lakes or visit the many spectacular waterfalls. The rather uninteresting capital Lons-le-Saunier is home to just 250,000 people and the next largest town Dole, just 23,000.
Visiting Dole was an afterthought for us but turned out to be one of the highlights of the week. The town sits on the banks of the beautiful Doubs River. and boasts a small network of delightful canals. We wandered the old town for many hours on our final morning in the Jura and discovered a well-preserved, sophisticated, and somewhat arty place.
We hadn’t done any research for this visit so it was a surprise to find a signpost to the birthplace of Louis Pasteur, the family tannery on the banks of the main canal. We were even more delighted to find a picturesque waterway and several very attractive restaurants with outdoor seating, bathed in glorious spring sunshine. We decided to eat at La Petite Venise, directly outside the tannery of the Pasteur family. It was a lovely place to take a typically leisurely, long French lunch; we especially enjoyed the excellent and typical regional cuisine. The highlight was my ham salad served with a warm pot of Crémeux du Jura (cheese) and roast potatoes. It was a little bit fondue-like and the cheese was so delicious that almost everything on my plate (and Heidi’s) was dunked in the cheese.
Walking, Cycling, Touring
The Jura is rightly famous for its lakes and waterfalls. One waterfall, the Cascades du Hérisson, is in particular simply breathtaking and is so large that it takes the best part of a day to hike the entire set of seven falls. We started at the bottom of the falls where a large car park and Information Centre cater to visitors, however, it is also possible to start at the top. The hike to each of the seven falls is long and steep, so having to return downhill was a blessing on an unseasonably hot spring day. Fortunately, the paths and stairs are well-made and well-maintained. We managed only the first 3 falls in a couple of hours, however, we were suitably impressed with each majestic cascade.
France and indeed Europe are full of hilltop towns, however as with churches and cathedrals, once you’ve seen a few you’ve pretty much seen enough of them. Chateau Chalon was worth making an exception for, being one of the more spectacular hilltop towns we’ve ever visited, with the bonus of it housing some of the best Vin Jaune caves (cellars) in the region. The views are breathtaking, the village is very interesting and there are many wineries open for tastings. Best of all there are very few tourists. It’s definitely a place for les flaneurs.
Food and Wine
Our decision to stay in a tiny and somewhat remote B&B turned out to be fortuitous indeed. The owner, granddaughter to the former winemakers, had recently re-discovered an underground cellar full of dusty old wines. One evening she asked us to dinner in her courtyard and offered us a bottle of 1929 Vin Jaune to share with her. Vin Jaune takes over six years to make, is yellow in colour, somewhat oxidised, and has a unique nutty flavour. To many, it is simply unpalatable, while for others it is a classic and unique wine. At 92 years of age, we were privileged to enjoy a wine that was very definitely in astounding condition. For me it was the highlight of our week, however, I am a self-confessed wine geek.
For those wishing to do a wine tasting in the region, we can recommend Domaine Jacques Tissot in the small wine town of Arbois. They have an excellent range of all the regional wines including some bargain back vintages. And for a Comté cheese tasting, try this wonderful cheese shop in Poligny, another of the most important wine villages.
Don’t go to the Jura expecting Burgundy, Bordeaux or the Loire Valley. It is a place for relaxation and the great outdoors. It is beautiful and a wonderful place
for hiking, however, you’ll probably struggle to stay stimulated if you’re expecting vibrant cities and gourmand cuisine.
Do you enjoy travelling off the beaten path? Share your experiences below.
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Merci Mille Fois