Haut Jura

Tuesday 23rd April 2013, Matafelon, dans le Haut-Jura
This morning we moved on from Lyon. We are making our way towards our friends Susanne and Roland in the foothills of the Jura mountains near the border with Switzerland. We return frequently to the area to see our friends and to enjoy the peace and beauty of the countryside that surrounds the tiny village of Champagne-sur-Loue. First though, we want to explore parts of the Haut-Jura that are just too far to conveniently reach on a day trip from Champagne.

Our first stop this morning was at the very pleasant riverside town of Trévoux, built up on the steep and sunny banks of the Saône. It was the seat of the principality of the Dombes which became increasingly independent as time passed and remained so until 1762. During the 17th and 18th centuries the town flourished as one of the most brilliant intellectual centres in France. It had its own printing house founded in 1603 and in 1704 the first edition of the Trévoux Dictionary was published under the direction of the Jesuits. For thirty years the Trévoux Journal campaigned against Voltaire and the philosophers of the “Encyclopédie”.

View from the bridge, Trévoux

Palace of Parlement of Dombes, Trévoux

Edict for suppression of the Parlement of Dombes, Trévoux, 1771

The church is 19th century Romanesque with some pleasant features including encaustic tiles throughout and the use of dark stone for external decoration. We climbed up above the town to seek out the ruins of the original château, returning through very steep and slippery woodland past the town lavoir. At the baker’s shop a small girl was in tears. “J’ai perdu mon papa”. Even a pain chocolat supplied by the boulanger could not comfort her as customers rushed around the town seeking for papa. Soon he appeared, looking as anxious as his little daughter and crying “J’ai perdu ma fille”. The two were promptly reunited, the little girl clinging to daddy and sobbing with relief.

Castle, Trévoux

By lunchtime we had reached the mediaeval cité of Pérouges, thought to have been founded by travellers from Perugia in Italy. We parked Modestine down below the hilltop town and after a picnic lunch climbed up to the walled city. We passed this way during our first year of travels and have described it elsewhere. It is charming but a showpiece. The uneven cobbles make walking around the streets very difficult and painful. The church interior is one of the plainest we have seen for its size.

Street in Perouges

Building on main square, Perouges

We were now nearing the Jura and the landscape was changing from pretty fields of emerald green spring grass to high plateaux of Jurassic limestone. We opted to follow the narrow route along beside the Gorge d’Ain through a landscape of towering cliffs. There were several hydroelectric barrages on the river and where the river had been dammed there were centres for water sports, including rowing and canoeing. It was a very beautiful route that was completely new to us. We saw almost no traffic anywhere along the road.

Gorges de l’Ain

And so we reached Matafelon where we found a delightful campsite on the edge of a reservoir. With only two other camper vans and huge grassy pitches we were in paradise as we sat outside with our wine until the chill of the evening forced us inside.

Wednesday 24th April 2013, St. Claude, Jura
This morning we woke to the sound of a cuckoo. The campsite provided us with a fresh baguette and we ate breakfast in the morning sunshine before taking a walk by the reservoir and a turn on the roundabout in the children’s play area. We were sorry to leave really but excited to be heading back into the Haut-Jura, Modestine started climbing as soon as we left the campsite and we followed the road as far as Oyonnax, a town that has few attractions unless you are obsessed by combs in which case there is a museum. It was a useful place to restock the fridge however which was looking very empty. Getting out of the town afterwards was difficult. Little towns that developed before the age of the motor car and lie on the only route through the mountains are permanently congested and cut about by one way systems as they try to accommodate the vehicles that by necessity have to pass through them. Eventually however we were climbing steeply up into the hills through forests of pines. As we got higher there were pockets of snow beneath the trees where the sun could not penetrate. I have to say that for the rest of the day we have been winding either up or down the steep hillsides and I am feeling extremely weary. But it has been worth it for the stunning scenery. Above Echallon we turned off down a broken track to explore a sign indicating a monument to the Maquis. A couple of kilometres through deep pine forests the track reached a huge grassy prairie hemmed in and hidden by the surrounding forests. It was here that the local Resistance movement, in cooperation with the Allied Forces, dropped tons of weapons and equipment flown out from Britain in 1944. These were hidden locally and used following the D-Day landings to supply local fighters as the German army retreated. The monument commemorates the bravery of the local Resistance fighters and the work of the Allied Forces.

Prairie d’Echallon, monument to aviators

The prairie itself was covered in blue and white flowers. According to my book of wild flowers they were possibly meadow saffron or simply wild crocuses. High up here with the sunshine, the blue sky and the complete solitude we had lunch, dozed, pottered around the perimeter of the grassy prairie, thought about the events of history that had happened here and felt suitably humbled. Under the fir trees we left footprints in the snow. During the couple of hours we were there nobody came up the track through the woods. Maybe nobody else will pass that way for many days. It is wonderful that such peace and beauty can still be found anywhere and amazing that it could be so well hidden that the occupying German forces were unaware of its existence!

Prairie d’Echallon, meadow flowers

Prairie d’Echallon, the clearing with melting snow

Soon we were descending down for many miles until we reached the little town of St. Claude where we are camping tonight. First though we parked in mixed woodland and took a walk beside the rushing torrent flowing through the woods, up into the blind valley so typical of the Jura landscape. The river was once used heavily for powering mills. Water wheels powered machinery for saw mills, trip hammers and grinding stones. St. Claude is famed for pipe manufacture and the polishing of semi-precious stones.

Mossy gorge near St- Claude

Guess the main industries in Saint-Claude?

We camped beside the river and next morning returned to the bustling mountain town of St. Claude that straddles a deep ravine. On either side of the long bridge the streets of the town rose steeply up the cliff face while deep down below the river raced on its way between the deep dark cliffs.

View from one of the bridges, Saint-Claude

Market, Saint-Claude

Arcades of old market and pipemaker’s premises, Saint-Claude

Colourful newsagent’s shop, Saint-Claude

After browsing the market and some of the steep and narrow back streets we set off to find the Citroën garage. Modestine had begun to be rather unreliable about getting up and going of a morning and we suspected she needed new glow plugs. The Renault garage sent us to the Citroën garage on the edge of the town who agreed the problem but had nobody available to help us. As we were heading for our friends in Champagne they rang ahead and arranged for the garage in Lons-le-Saunier to help us. They were excellent once we found them and soon we were back on the road feeling confident again. After a picnic in the hot sunshine beside one of the many crystal clear lakes in the area, where water skiers surged along behind speed boats leaving an enormous wake on the water behind them, we found ourselves at Claivaux-les-Lacs, a delightful little mountain town set near yet another beautiful lake.

Church, Clairvaux-les-Lacs

Evening saw us once more back in our favourite and friendly village of Champagne-sur-Loue with our dear friends Susanne and Roland. It was also the start of several days of continuous rain. The Loue was at its limit and the little island beside the bridge had completely disappeared beneath the water. Below the village near the weir at Moulin Neuf the fields too were under water and still the rain fell.

Peaceful fields below the village, Champagne-sur-Loue

Related links
Pérouges See Saturday 21st October 2005