Franche-Comté is one of the lesser known regions of France. It borders Switzerland and shares many commonalities with its neighbor. In fact, many people live in Franche-Comté and work in Switzerland. To the north are the Vosges mountains, and to the south are the Jura mountains. Franche-Comté is home to great hiking and cross country skiing, and is a great place to visit summer or winter. With timbered houses on stilts in the Doubs River valley, gorges and waterfalls, lakes, and mountain summits, the area is geographically rich.
Due to its location, it has also been influence by Swiss and German cultures, and even Spanish culture throughout its varied history. The economy of Franche-Comté is driven by car and parts manufacturing, forestry, and agriculture, and is home to a large cheese industry, with 40 million tons of cheese produced each year. Three of the main cities you’ll want to visit in Franche-Comté are Montbéliard, Belfort, and Besançon.
Montbéliard is a historically Protestant French enclave due to its former rule by the dukes of Württemberg. The city is the home of the Peugeot Museum, home to antique cars, modern prototypes, and race cars. Montbéliard is also home to a Science Museum, the Pavillon des Sciences showing the evolution of science and industry. The city is full of stone marketplaces, Renaissance-era townhouses, and smaller homes in beautiful colors like lavender and pink. Montbéliard castle dominates the city, and houses a natural history gallery and Gallo-Roman archaeology exhibits. The city is also home to the oldest Protestant church in France, St. Martin’s, which was built in 1601.
Belfort is accessible by rail from Dijon, Paris, Besançon, Nancy, and other places. It is home to the Lion of Belfort, a Bartholdi sculpture honoring the people’s resistance against siege in the Franco-Prussian War. Bartholdi also built the Statue of Liberty, located in New York. Belfort Cathedral, an 18th century structure, is one of many historical sites in Belfort. Because of Belfort’s strategic location, it has been site of many invasions over the centuries, and was fortified at the request of Louis XIV starting in 1687. With its fortifications, ramparts, and citadel, as well as the Lion sculpture, Belfort is one of the most beautiful towns in Franche-Comté.
Bensançon is the capital city of Franche-Comté, with a population of around a quarter million. Bensançon boasts a high quality of life, with rich history and cultural heritage and one-of-a-kind architecture. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. Industry in Bensançon centers around microtechnology and watch making. The city is also known for making automatic ticket machines for car parks. Located in a large bend in the River Doubs, the historic city center contains beautiful classic stone buildings dating to the Middle Ages and also many from the Spanish Renaissance. In Bensançon you can see Roman remains, Spanish Renaissance buildings, courtyards, narrow streets, and 18th century mansions made from Chailluz limestone, with colors that differ subtly from structure to structure.
Franche-Comté is a charming corner of France, giving visitors a hint of nearby Switzerland in the industrial, agricultural, and architectural features. This relatively small area is densely storied, and reflects a range of influences from different times and the historical events that shaped them.