Tuesday, June 26, 2007

FRANCE - The Jura

As it is getting into summer in Britain, we decided to do what all brits do at summertime. Head to warmer climates. Our choice was to do a week of trekking through the Jura vineyard district of France (near the Swiss border). After getting some cheap Eurostar train tickets to Paris, and a connecting train to Mouchard, we arrived about 6 hours after leaving London.

We did 5 days of hiking, doing between 12-20kms each day. You would have thought that doing that much exercise would be good for your health, however we also managed to eat an abundance of local food and think we actually put on a few kilos!

For the vast majority of the trip we were following a marked track known as the Grande Randonneee - the 'GR'. The GR tracks are quite famous and go through France, Italy, Belgium & Holland. It was a really simple yet effective way of marking out a track (Australia could learn something here). All you do is follow a series of red & white flashes on trees/posts/buildings. They also have some other markings for local tracks, as well as for mountain bikers.

Directional markers

We started at les Planches-pres-Arbois, and managed to do a bit of exploring of the surrounding area when we arrived on the first day. Most notably lots of waterfalls, including at our hotel - a converted watermill.

Claire at Cascade le tufs, just behind the hotel We began our first day of walking with a trip to the nearby Grottes des Planches (caves), where we took the guided tour. A bit more understanding of the language would have been helpful for us, but the formations inside were quite stunning anyway. The rest of the day was spent travelling through the quaint and picturesque villages of Mesnay, Arbois, and Pupillin on our way to Poligny (18kms). There are many opportunities to sample the local wine and cheese but little in the way of supermarkets for food!!
Bridge at Arbois
On our first 'rest day' we decided to get up into the hills behind Poligny. The area is surrounded by limestone cliffs and while Claire elected to remain at the bottom of the ladder Steve headed up with the camera and found a cave.
We also took the chance to find out about cheese making with the focus being on the local Comte which is only produced from the high fat milk of the local Montpelier cattle. We had noticed during our walk that there were a lot of pastures but hardly any cows grazing. Each cow has to have at least 1 hectare of land to itself to graze on!!! No wonder they all wear bells, the farmer wouldn't find them otherwise. It was also interesting to discover that the farmers of each village unite to produce their own cheese.
The landscape that we were walking over changed all the time from vineyards as far as the eye could see, to pastures, to forests to rocky cliffs. The villages all had building that were hundreds of years old and covered with bright flowers. Many of the windows had a thermometer hanging as well as the window box. One notable area was Chateau-Chalon which has been recognised as 'un des plus beax villages' (We think this means a really pretty village).
View of Chateu-Chalon as we left through a vineyard
Apart from the musical cows we came across hundreds of these big fat orange slugs. At times it was tough to avoid standing on them.
Another notable feature of the entire area were the religious shrines alongside the roadside or just popping up along the track deep in the forest. While walking around the village of Passenans we found this altar in a cave with the stations of the cross weaving there way up the mountain behind. There are regular services held there as well.
Grotte Notre Dame de Lourdes
The weather was pretty good for the most part, (storms most nights), until the last day. With about 2hrs of walking still to go the rain set in. Not only that, but the 2 big black dogs protecting the farm we were walking through decided to make their presence felt. A few nervous moments, but they were only interested in playing and accompanied us down to the next village when they proceeded to attack cars driving back towards the farm.

The investment in trekking shoes and hiking pants was definitely worth it and something we will consider doing again, maybe in Italy or Spain or Scandanavia or...... Oh and just so no one forgets what we look like we have included the self portrait as well.

Au revoir