When my family and I were visiting our favorite French region, Burgundy, in November 2017, we realized we had an extra night that we hadn’t made arrangements for. My husband and I had been interested in visiting Jura since drinking a bottle of Jean François Ganevat Côtes du Jura Chardonnay at the restaurant Caves Madeleine a few years earlier. It was only about an hour from where we were and so we decided to go. We did some quick research, made some wine tasting appointments and sent some emails to hotels and then set off on a Friday morning. As we ventured into the region in eastern France close to the border with Switzerland, the temperature began to drop as the terrain became more mountainous.
The hills were covered with green spruce trees and golden-colored grapevines. It was off season and the streets in the medieval cliff-clinging village of Château-Chalon were ghostly quiet. We slipped into a tasting at Domaine de Montbourgeau, a family-owned winery with a female winemaker. We were very relieved when Château de Germigney a Relais & Châteaux property in a historic hunting loge, told us they had one room left. That evening, the hotel’s Michelin star restaurant was serving a special game dinner celebrating the hunt. We enjoyed drinks by the hotel’s massive stone fireplace, but we opted to eat at a more casual bistro down the street. When we returned, a band of bugle players in traditional red jackets was performing on the terrace. This ended up being one of the most memorable days and nights of our three week trip.
Jura, a department in the region of Bourgogne Franche-Comté, is just 2 hours and 40 minutes by train from Paris. It has limestone cliffs topped with medieval villages and rolling hills covered in golden vines. Here, five very good reasons to visit.
It Has A Destination-Worthy Museum
Visitors turn off of the A39 onto a country road to get to the Museum of Urban Art and Street Art, the first museum with a focus on both urban and street art in France. A hand written sign on cardboard that says MAUSA is the only indication that you’ve reached the parking lot. One of the most exciting museums to open in France in recent years, MAUSA’s permanent collection includes over 100 works by artists such as Keith Haring, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey. It’s located in the historic Forges de Baudin site, a factory/village that housed 100 workers from the 1800s until the mid-1900s and included a canteen, a sewing workroom, a fire brigade, a stable, a barn and a farmhouse. The countryside location might seem puzzling at first, but MAUSA owner Stanislas Belhomme, an art agent and collector, says the industrial site, with many buildings classified as historic monuments, is a perfect place for a living museum and he hopes it will help the underappreciated region gain more notoriety. MAUSA opens for its first full season April 2, 2018. It debuted last summer for a short three month run, before closing for much of the fall and winter. It has an exciting year of events planned including exhibitions by up-and-coming street artists, B’ART’BECUES every Sunday during the summer and musical performances. A literary café, a local production workshop and an artist-in-residence program are also in the works. A shuttle will take visitors from Dole to the museum when it reopens for the season.
It Has Impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut, a post modern chapel in Ronchamp is considered one of the most important buildings of the 20th century. It’s thick masonry walls and curved roof, give it stylized mushroom. The structure was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with 16 other Le Corbusier buildings, in 2016. The 2,000 year old city of Besançon’s citadel, city walls and Fort Griffon are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Part of the Fortifications of Vauban, they were constructed by the military engineer of King Louis XIV in the 1600s. The region was an important place for salt production, known as white gold, beginning in the 15th century because of its deep, underground saltwater springs. The Royal Saltworks of Arc-Et-Senans, built during the Enlightenment, and the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains, which now houses a museum, are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Its Wines Have a Cult Following
Jura is considered France’s smallest wine region, but it more than makes up for it in quality. In Arbois, the wine capital of the region, vintners primarily produce four grape varieties including Poulsard, Trousseau, Chardonnay and Savagnin. The village of Château-Chalon, designated one of Les Plus Belle Villages de France, is also the birthplace of vin jaune, the region’s beloved and concentrated white wine. It’s made of late harvest Savagnin grapes and matured in barrels for over six years. It isn’t topped off, as other wines often are, resulting in a deep yellow color and an intense, nutty flavor. Domaine Château-Chalon makes benchmark vin jura, but Domaine de Montbourgeau makes an excellent and affordable version as well. Jean François Ganevat’s Burgundian style Chardonnays with minute amounts of added sulfites are beloved by sommeliers in France and the U.S. Neighbor Domaine Labet is making excellent wines from parcels of old vines.
It’s France’s Outdoor Playground
Jura is located between the Vosges mountains and the Alps. In the winter, outdoor enthusiasts nordic ski in Métabief, Monts Jura and Les Rousses. In summer, visitors and locals hike and bike in Jura National Park, fish on Lake de Chelain and hike the Route de Absinthe, a Franco-Swiss route that links agricultural, industrial, and historic sites and activities connected with Absinthe. The tourist trail was officially launched in 2009. Other spectacular natural sites include the Saut du Doubs, the Hérisson Waterfalls, the Loue Hot springs, Baume-les-Messieurs, and the Poudrey Chasm.
Its Cuisine is Underrated
Jura’s most famous export, Comté, is a hard cheese similar to gruyère made of unpasteurized cow’s milk. 2,600 Comté dairy farms are located in the Jura Mountains and the Routes du Comté connects travelers to Comté dairy farms, cheesemaking facilities and aging cellars with eight different possible itineraries. Cured meats smoked with pine and juniper like Morteau Sausage and Montbéliard are specialties of the region. Morbier, Mont-d’or, and Bleau de Gex are other wonderful local cheeses. There are nine Michelin-starred restaurants in the Jura and Doubs including two Michelin star Maison Juenet in Arbois where the young chef took over the kitchen in 2016 and the one Michelin star gastronomic restaurant at Château de Germigney where Chef Pierre Basso-Moro has introduced a new wellness menu. The restaurant has had a Michelin star since 1999.