Whoever organized this stage was kind to the cyclists, who have covered the hardest terrain this year: they avoided the steep mountain roads of the Haut Jura for the valleys of the Petite Montagne. It’s a gentler way to approach, and the landscape here feels like a piece of material close together, with flat, straight roads that run between the folds of the hills.
I have been coming to this region every year for the past ten years, first as a tourist and then as the owner of a second home. Even now my French husband and I are still discovering new treats and revisiting old haunts.
One restaurant that keeps us coming back time and time again is Chez Bouvard in Balanod, a village west of the stage road 19. Here, chef Philippe Bouvard offers a cheap daily menu for around € 15/13, £ 70. Most often, it will feature Bressan chicken in a yellow wine sauce, while on the à la carte menu you can enjoy the Bouvard Comté soufflé or the region’s famous morels.
Both menus can be accompanied by the famous white wine from Jura, made from the Savagnin grape. Recently the restaurant staff who spotted my British accent hesitated when I ordered a bottle. “Do you know the taste?” is the usual refrain. Some visitors, upon encountering the strong sherry flavor, think the wine is blocked.
But the white is here made “under veil”, that is to say that the barrels are not filled during aging and develop a layer of yeast on the top.
The Jura wine region begins near the pretty town of Saint Amour and winds its way to Lons Le Saunier, the capital of the department, and beyond. From Saint-Laurent-la-Roche, an isolated village perched on a high plain to the south of the city, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the vineyards of Rotalier and Vincelles.
Tour de France competitors may not have had time to stop for a drink, but this is the perfect spot for a bike ride with wine tasting. Finding the owners there is a matter of luck, as they are small, family-owned, but at Domaine Joly in Rotalier, the owner Claude is often on site to break Poulsard, the local light red.
Likewise, there is usually the opportunity to do a tasting at Domaine Pignier in Montaigu, a picturesque village that offers panoramas to the south, and across the road, on Lons le Saunier. As in many French cities, the view has been marred by unimaginative municipal buildings. But Lons, which means the city of salt (Ledo Salinarius), is a big place. Its fortune, like Salins-les-Bains, was built in “white gold” and in the 19th century, thermal baths were built in a beautiful building still in use.
The spa is not the only renown in the city. It is also the birthplace of Rouget de Lisle, composer of La Marsellaise and seat of La Vache Qui Rit. Fans of Laughing Cow cheese can visit the museum, which shows how the brand has evolved over time.
With its streets and arcaded squares, Lons is definitely worth a visit, especially on Thursday mornings when there is a bustling market. While the restaurant La Table de Perrault is a good choice for a romantic dinner, for the midday atmosphere, we always choose the Brasserie Le Strasbourg (or the Pink Café, as is known to my children). It’s best to close your eyes to the newly installed crushed velvet banquettes and marvel at the magnificent turn-of-the-century lamps and chandeliers.
Departing from Lons le Saunier, the route of the Tour 2020 heads towards one of the most recognizable villages in the Jura: Château-Chalon. It is designated as one of the “Petite Cité Comtoise de Caractère”, and is renowned for its Vin Jaune, a yellow wine aged under veil for six years and three months and best drunk with a slice of Comté with hazelnuts.
The most atmospheric approach is on foot: we park in Voiteur and take a path that climbs through the vines, arriving by a stone staircase in the middle of hollyhocks and rose gardens, before tasting the wine at Domaine Geneletti .
The Jura is a walker’s paradise, but to experience the next leg of the Tour route, hop in a car. The landscape here is known for its “remote”, or blind valleys, and the best place to see this astonishing geographical phenomenon is from the Belvédère du Cirque de Ladoye. There is also a test walk on the side of the Haute Seille valley, starting right next to the entrance to the spectacular caves near Baume-les-Messieurs and its famous abbey.
The Jurassic period takes its name from the Jura mountains, so it seems appropriate that the end of this stage of the Tour passes near Loulle. The village itself is nothing to write home about, but my kids were bowled over by the incredible set of dinosaur footprints: made by sauropods millions of years ago and discovered in 2009.
This is reason enough for me to make this region more famous than it is. But if dinosaurs don’t get you here, then the fresh air, forest walks, and great food should definitely
How to do
The Jura is easily accessible by car and is just a six hour drive from Calais to Lons Le Saunier. If you prefer to fly, Lyon and Geneva are good options. It takes 90 minutes to get to Lons from Lyon, and up to two hours from Geneva
The Chateau de Marigna (chateaudemarigna.com) in Marigna Sur Valouse is the ideal base for exploring La Petite Montagne. There are four gites next to the castle, which dates from the 11th century. Prices start from 690 euros per week.
La Maison D’Eusebia (maison-eusebia.fr) is a beautifully restored 17th century library and occupies a prime location in the heart of Château-Chalon. There are five rooms and prices start at 85 euros a night.