Jura interlude

Saturday 10th May 2014, Champagne-sur-Loue
Not far to go today, so we crossed the plateau of the Jura, through the Forêt de la Joux and down into Salins-les-Bains. Then through the town and up onto Mont Poupet for a picnic lunch. The local communauté des communes had undertaken much work there including smooth footpaths to viewpoints from where we had a bird's eye view of Salins nestling in the valley of the Furieuse, flanked by the two forts of St André and Belin.

Salins-les-Bains from Mont Poupet.

We arrived at Champagne-sur-Loue in the afternoon to find we’d missed seeing the hot air balloon ascent over Arc et Senans. It didn’t matter though. There was no way we were going to volunteer for a flight. As it was, Susanne was in the rescue party, accompanying those driving around the tiny, twisting roads in an attempt to follow the balloon and to be on hand when it finally landed. On board the brightly striped Montgolfier were Susanne’s grandson Thibault with his fiancée Camille, along with friends from Paris who store their Montgolfier in one of Roland’s barns. By the time we reached the village everything was over and the balloon safely packed away into its basket ready for another flight, planned for the next French public holiday, of which there are several during May. The next is appropriately named the “Feast of the Ascension” though I doubt that was quite what the papacy had in mind when it was first included in the Catholic calendar of religious holidays.

Because the Paris visitors were already occupying the flat we spent a night on the village campsite. We were the only visitors and enjoyed a peaceful evening on the banks of the Loue with a glass of wine before retiring inside Modestine for supper whilst watching a dvd. The campsite manager told us off for not visiting the village frequently enough and told us everyone knew who we were as Modestine had become a regular sight around the village and Susanne had spoken of her English friends during frequent chats at her garden gate. We learned he was trying to get shot of the work on the campsite but it was proving difficult to find a replacement. Little communes like Champagne-sur-Loue (which has little more than 120 inhabitants) find it hard to maintain the full range of services and we learned from him that there is currently a move afoot to reform local government. Little communes are being grouped together. Champagne already forms part of the charmingly named Val d'Amour. Provinces are being merged – Franche-Comté and Burgundy will join together. Within two or three years the départements, established during the French Revolution, are set to disappear. He said reform was long overdue; there was too much bureaucracy, especially at the local level, but he was concerned that it should not be too rushed.

Sunday 11th May 2014, Champagne-sur-Loue.
We transferred up to the house once Philippe and Catherine had left to return to Paris. It was good to be back in the heart of the village again with our friends just upstairs. Indeed much of our time is spent up there with them. Roland’s health has taken a turn for the worse in recent times and he lacks the energy he used to have. He still disappears into his work shed to potter away making zinc guttering for one of Hugue’s cottages in the village or to wheel a cartload of logs for the heating system down from the barn, but afternoon naps are now a definite part of his daily ritual.

Monday 12th May, 2014, Champagne-sur-Loue.
Today was a day of cold showers and clinging mists, so we took Susanne out with us for a drive around the countryside in the direction of Ornans, where the painter Gustave Corbet worked and where today there is a very smart museum of his works. Susanne however has very limited vision and is registered as partially sighted and had no wish to visit the museum. Instead we went for coffee at the very pleasant museum cafe while the rain fell in a cold drizzle outside.

Houses overhanging the river Loue, Ornans.

Ian was delighted to find a lithographic workshop, complete with stones but, like everything else, it was closed, Ornans.

The car park where we left Modestine was a disaster. There was a barrier across the entrance with a height limit marked, as we thought, at 2.5 metres. It was at the top of a slope and certainly looked quite high and as Modestine has a height of 2.3 metres we drove in. A sickening scraping sound warned us we’d damaged the skylight and there was no way out except back under the immoveable barrier. The damage did not look too bad as far as we could see but we needed to make a plan to get her out again! This we did over our coffee. With both Ian and Susanne standing in the kitchen area at the very back to weigh her down we crawled very cautiously under. We thought we’d done it but at the last moment the crunching sound returned. If the barrier had been even a millimetre lower we would have suffered serious damage so I just have to be grateful for no more than a bent sunroof that’s too high to be seen from the ground. At least she still seems watertight to judge by the amount of rain we’ve had since. Furious with the town for displaying a wrong height restriction sign I was finally obliged to eat humble pie. The sign actually read 2.5t and not 2.5m! Why put a weight restriction sign on the height barrier and omit to give the height restriction? Modestine was under the weight limit but over the height limit!!

Passing back through Amancy we called at the home of Françoise and Eugène whom we have not seen for several years. They were both at home and soon we were drinking tea around their large table, catching up on each other’s news. For them both there are now health issues and getting socks on and off unaided featured large in their list of impossible tasks. Soon the tea was replaced by what looked suspiciously like moonshine which was poured into the same bowls we’d been using to drink our tea. Both our friends are now retired. Eugène no longer spends every waking moment chasing wild pigs, cutting the neighbours’ hair and delivering letters around the village. His two hunting companions have gone the way of so many French chasseurs and are now both dead. Eugène no longer enjoys hunting alone and has hung up his gun, along with his fishing rod, catch-basket and sunhat, on the dining room wall. Now his time is divided between snoozing and tending the bee hives in his overgrown but glorious garden crammed with fruit trees, red currant bushes and raspberries. Glancing inside the woodshed as we left I discovered something very nasty indeed. The corpse of a bloody and tailless fox was hanging up by its teeth in the entrance! Well I suppose once a hunter, always a hunter!

Françoise has recently been confined to hospital as she developed an allergy to bird feathers and was unable to breathe. She’s been plucking pigeons for years - ever since she came back from gutting and cooking wild monkeys for a Gambian orphanage and took up the mantle of marriage and motherhood! She was not allowed to leave hospital to return home until all 70 or more pigeons they kept for food had been killed, plucked, cleaned and deep frozen. Then the house had to be cleaned and fumigated right through. Currently they are eating pigeon pate at every meal but Francoise is at least breathing freely once more.

It was well past Roland’s bedtime when we arrived home and Susanne scurried upstairs to get him a late supper and make her excuses. I think she blamed it all on me.

Tuesday 13th May 2014, Champagne-sur-Loue
Today it was a mere 8 degrees and too chilly to stay in our troglodyte flat so we set off early for Salins intending to read our email over a hot coffee in the Café du Théâtre. It was closed of course. We should have realised there are never customers on a wet Tuesday morning outside of July or August. So we returned from a wasted ride in the rain and have been shivering in the kitchen as we attempt to plan our onward route from here.

The river Loue with thunder clouds.

Wednesday 14th May 2014, Champagne-sur-Loue
We were left to our own devices today as Roland had a hospital appointment and Susanne had to accompany him, so we decided to explore the area around Champagnole. The town itself has little of interest – a main street lined with shops and a few older buildings and the river Ain tumbling in the valley below. However it did have an extremely lively café where everyone on entering shook hands with most of those already inside and there was a hubbub of animated conversation. It was a good place to warm up from the cold. Perhaps the best thing about Champagnole is the view from a distance, from the Belvedere de Bénedegand to the west.

Champagnole from the Belvedere de Bénedegand.

The belvedere required a drive along a muddy track and a walk through the woods, during which a deer sprang across our path and disappeared into the thick woodland. On the way back we found a large cleared area which supposedly contained one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world. They were only discovered in 2004, perhaps because they required quite a bit of imagination to recognise them, even when they had been picked out in different coloured paints. Interesting but not impressive – even if they did date back to the Upper Jurassic, some 155 million years ago.

Dinosaur footprints, Loulle.

More impressive were the waterfalls and gorges we discovered. The limestone landscape of the Jura is for ever springing surprises on us. After the rains the Cascade de la Billaude on the river Lemme was in full spate. We had seen these falls before, but do not remember them being so impressive as today.

Cascade de la Billaude on the river Lemme.

We almost missed the gorges de la Langouette when we crossed the little bridge. The ravine was only four metres wide, but about 50 metres deep. It could have been overlooked as a little stream were it not for the roar of water far below. We followed the gorge upstream on foot for a while until we came up against an impressive cascade crashing down with a cloud of spray beside a crumbled ruin of a building precariously perched at the entrance to the gorge.

Gorges de la Langouette on the river Saine.

Cascades on the river Saine in the Gorges de la Langouette.

We continued north along the steep side of the Saine valley to the village of Syam where it fed into the river Ain. There, in the midst of the Jura, deep in a wooded valley, stood a building more in place in northern Italy. The château de Syam was a Palladian villa, built in the 1820s by Emmanuel Jobez, a forge owner who clearly had a taste for classical architecture. Even the stable block had a certain elegance.

Château de Syam.

Château de Syam, the stable block.

A few hundred metres further on we saw the source of his wealth, the forges of Syam. There had been ironworks in the town since 1690 but the original works closed in 1788. The present buildings date from 1813, set up by the Jobez family who became very wealthy. The forges, which were largely water-powered, continued into the 20th century and in 1995 employed some fifty workers. It all looked rather deserted when we visited, but we could recognise the workers houses arranged around a courtyard.

Forges de Syam.

Our last visit on a very full day was the little hill-top town of Nozeroy, little more than a village really, but with much of its ramparts still intact and a splendid town gate. There were many remains of medieval buildings with fragments of carving, unfortunately rather hacked about, probably during the Revolution. In its time, under the rule of the lords of Chalons, princes of Orange, the little town enjoyed a period of glory, producing the humanist Gilbert Cousin, who was the personal secretary of Erasmus.

Town gate, Nozeray.

Friday 16th May 2014, Neuf-Brisach, Alsace
Thursday was a largely frustrating time, searching Salins and Arbois for any sign of life, more particularly somewhere to have lunch and an internet spot. Our usual internet café in Salins was still closed and the tourist office likewise. Arbois, some twenty kilometres away, proved equally frustrating. The only cheap restaurant was full and the bakers closed for lunch. A charcuterie kindly offered to heat up a couple of quiches for us which we consumed in Modestine. When the tourist office opened after lunch a head-banging session on the internet finally enabled us to load up our first blog. We sought consolation back in the baker's shop in Arc-et-Senans with coffee and extremely rich cakes (an opéra for Ian and a chocolate religieuse for Jill). Then back to Champagne for a final aperitif with Suzanne and Roland - helping then to decide whether fortified, home produced macvin or golden crement du Jura best suited the nibbles and cakes they accompanied.

This morning we were packed and away by eleven, making our way eastwards trying to find previously untraversed routes past Besançon, Belfort and Mulhouse towards the Black Forest. And we were generally successful, skirting the wood-covered southern foothills of the Vosges and stopping at Ronchamps to view the Le Corbusier chapel of Notre-Dame. At eight euros each we limited ourselves to craning our necks over the surrounding walls and admired the shaft of a nearby coal mine instead – probably more picturesque, knowing Le Corbusier's brutalist style.

Le Corbusier's chapel of Notre-Dame, Ronchamps. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Puits Sainte-Marie, Ronchamps, with coal trucks. The shaft was first dug in 1864 and served to ventilate the coal mines.

We drove northwards across the flat flood plain of the Rhine, with the Vosges mountains to our left and the Black Forest hills to our right until tiredness set in as we approached Neuf-Brisach and a lovely campsite just outside the Vauban fortress inside which the town is set. Judging by the noisy singing, there must be a large number of Germans on the site! The friendly lady at reception declared she couldn’t possibly charge us the same as a large campervan and gave us two euros reduction with which we were delighted.

Saturday 17th May 2014, Titisee, Black Forest
The singing died down and we had a good night's sleep, so were up and out early to see Neuf-Brisach. It is a small town entirely enclosed by a massive star-shaped set of fortification by, guess who – Monsieur Vauban. In 1697 the Rhine became the border between the Austrian dominions and France. As Briesach was no longer part of France, Louis XIV instructed Vauban to build the fort at Neuf-Brisach. The little town is in a grid pattern, centred on the Place d'Armes, an enormous square with a little market tucked into one corner and a tent for a Punch and Judy show in another. It also housed the main church, the Eglise Royale, and the governor's house. At the west side of the town was the impressive Porte de Colmar and we walked along the ditches outside the walls to the Porte de Belfort at the south side. The inner wall had eight pentagonal towers, heavily fortified, which were used as shelter by the inhabitants when the town was shelled during the Franco-Prussian War. There was also an outer wall with tunnels through to each of the half moons which formed the outermost set of defences.

Neuf-Brisach, Alsace. The inner ramparts with horses grazing.

Neuf-Brisach, Alsace. Place d'Armes with fountain and Eglise Royale. After the town fell to the Germans in 1870 the commandant erected a smaller Protestant church nearby.

Neuf-Brisach, Alsace. Porte de Colmar.

Neuf-Brisach, Alsace. Porte de Belfort with Rhine barge converted into monument.

Neuf-Brisach, Alsace. Monument to Franco-Prussian war by Bartoldi who is also responsible for the massive lion at Belfort.

Free literature in the town made great play of the fact that the area of Brisach, which has changed nationality five times in 150 years, is now part of Europe, and Breisach and Neuf-Brisach have very close ties. So we crossed the Rhine to see the town of Breisach, which was a complete contrast to Neuf-Brisach. It was not situated on the flood-plain of the Rhine but on a rocky outcrop that towered above the east bank, dominated by the large church of Saint Stephen with one Romanesque and one gothic tower – although it was completely rebuilt after the destruction in World War 2. A massive 15th century mural by Martin Schongauer miraculously survived the wars. In front of the church was a statue of Europa, underlining the twin communities' credentials as European towns. The town had cobbled streets winding up to the church through the Hagenbach Gate and down below there were pleasant pedestrianised streets lined with cafés dispensing Kaffee und Kuchen. We resisted the temptation but the town was a pleasant introduction to Germany.

Breisach, Black Forest. The church of St. Stephen dominating the town.

Breisach, Black Forest. Hagenbach Gate, formerly a prison. Named after the governor Peter of Hagenbach, who was imprisoned there in 1474 before being convicted of murder, breach of oath and rape.

Breisach, Black Forest. Memorial on the church to the shrapnel damage in 1870.

Breisach, Black Forest. Monument to Europa: Europe reaches for the stars.

We continued through the volcanic mountainous area to the north of Breisach, known as the Kaiserstuhl, winding our way through vineyards, which matched those in the Vosges on the other side of the Rhine valley. Then up through the Glottertal, down which the little Glotterbach flowed through mountain villages, winding our way up and up to the little health resort of Sankt Peter with its large Benedictine monastery. The car park was packed with Czech coaches used by Viking river cruises, and a group of Americans complained that they were not allowed into the abbey church. Indeed, there was little to detain us here. The last tour of the abbey church, library and hall was over, the volunteer firemen had finished dousing each other as they practised using the power hoses, drawing water from the stream below the monastery. It struck very cold – indeed there was still a dusting of snow on the north slopes of nearby peaks and, although we had intended to spend the night here it was still early and the height of the campsite, at 750 metres, promised a very chilly night.

Kaiserstuhl, Black Forest. Winding through the vineyards.

Kaiserstuhl, Black Forest. The perils of rural driving in Germany. A convoy of segways passes a group of bikers.

Sankt Peter, Black Forest. The Benedictine abbey.

So we continued a long and winding 25 kilometers to renew our acquaintance with Titisee and are encamped on a terrace overlooking the lake.