The Via Francigena, a walking route with a thousand-year-old history is calling your name in Besançon! 

This medieval pilgrimage and merchants’ route is now enjoyed by hikers and walkers for its magnificent landscapes, cultural attractions, delicious food and absence of crowds. The route stretching from Canterbury to Rome and later to Santa Maria di Leuca, crosses England, France, Switzerland and Italy. Here we are in its centre, in French Besançon, next to the Swiss border.

Walker on his way from Bucey-lès-Gy to Besançon @Franck Noel

Besançon is a great stop-over for a tired walker, but it can also be a good starting and arrival base for those who wish to do a few sections of the Via Francigena – the terrain on this portion of the route is pretty without being too tiring!

Set like a diamond in the Doubs river loop, Besançon inspired the famous novel “Le Rouge et le Noir” (“Red and Black”) by Stendhal. The city is proudly labelled the City of Art and History and is also a birthplace of Victor Hugo. 

The heart of ancient Vesontio is pounding in a riot of medieval, Renaissance and neoclassical architectural styles. Indeed, throughout history, the city has played an important role in the heart of Europe: a military stronghold first, then a garrison, a political and religious centre, and the capital of French watchmaking! 

Discover it as a Via Francigena hiker: put on your hiking shoes, a backpack, grab a notebook and switch on your curiosity.  

Start your trek along the Doubs river walking on the majestic embankment among trees and flowers. Grab a sandwich, or better an ice-cream, and picnic at the river together with locals, coming here to enjoy the warm weather and sunny days.

Besançon cityscape, view from the Citadel @Tsuyoshi_Kaneko_ Shutterstock

Why not climb the Tarragnoz rampart and explore the Citadel of Besançon? A masterpiece by the engineer Vauban, the citadel constitutes a remarkable example of the 17th-century military architecture. Check the panoramic view from its heights, looking above the colourful roofs of the city and the Doubs valley. At the present day the Citadel is a cultural centre, hosting many museums and varied entertainment centres including a zoo. 

Descend to the Cathedral of Saint Jean – a gorgeous cathedral located in a quiet part of the town. Built in the Gothic style with some Romanesque features remaining from its earlier construction, it interestingly features two choirs; one Gothic and the other Baroque at each end of the church.

Admire its magnificent astronomical clock made of 30,000 pieces.

Besançon astronomical clock @Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB_shutterstock

This incredible 19th century craftsmanship accurately times everything from time, date, leap years, moon cycles, eclipses, tide cycles and more, all of which is driven off pendulums and weights. The clock is a perpetual one that can continue for up to 10,000 years! One of the dials only changes every 250 years, which means it has not changed yet. 

Best of all, you can get right up to it, both in front and behind to see the actual workings. Two tours are available at 11:40 and 14:40, and special animations happen at noon and 15:00 that are worth seeing! 

Then pass by Victor Hugo’s birthplace, which is right down the hill from the cathedral and grab your lunch at l’Echappée bike café and try their original café frappé

Enjoy wandering around very lively Grande-Rue and Revolution square and drop by the Granvelle palace, a magnificent building of the Renaissance period hosting the Time museum dedicated to clock-making! Where else would you visit such a place?

Treat yourself to an aperitif with local delights – Comté and Morbier cheese, made according to ancestral rules in the nearby Jura mountains, Morteau sausage and salted meats from Haut-Doubs and some burgundy wine!

French cheese Comte, three varieties 1-year matured Prestige, fruity flavoured Fruite and Vieille Reserve close up @ barmalini_shutterstock

For dinner order the emblematic dish of the region – chicken with yellow wine and morels, served with the Comtoise galette! So delicious!

To follow the Via Francigena, look for white and red signs and the yellow figure pilgrim which will lead you out of the city on the path to the next stop – Foucherans!

Sign of the Via Francigena in France @Leslie Maussang

#GandBesançon #GBM #AlpineMacroRegion #ViaFrancigena #VisitFrance #Hike

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