The Via Francigena climbs towards Switzerland for a distance of 104km, passing the fortified city of Besançon, on a loop of the river Doubs. There is a short alternative approach to Besançon. (14km).

The province slopes from the Jura (highest point 1463m) in the east towards the west. The Doubs river makes a wide channel through the mountains. Close to Switzerland and at the foot of the Jura Mountains, Doubs is in summer a land of charming villages and in winter a ski centre. It has the Upper Jura Regional Nature Park and the Consolation rock formations, a riverside area with many waterfalls. At Arc et Senans is a complex of buildings that was once the Royal Salt works, now a museum and World Heritage Site. Until the 13th C, the inhabitants of Doubs spoke either Franc-Comtois, a dialect of the Langue d’Oil, or the Arpitan language; they are still spoken occasionally today. Peugeot is headquartered in Doubs.

History of Doubs

Originally inhabited by a Celtic tribe called the Sequane, after Roman rule ended, it became eventually part of the Count of Burgundy’s lands. Besançon, the capital, became a free city under the Holy Roman Empire in 1184, but a century later it became independent again. By royal marriage, Burgundy was merged with France in the 13th C, but Besançon remained a free city protected by Spain. It only became part of France in 1678; Vauban had drawn up plans for the citadel a few years earlier and these were implemented along with plans for 6 forts in the surrounding hills. Since this department adjoins the Swiss frontier, and controls the important pass at Joux, the boundaries were not fixed for many years.

In 1793, and 1816, independent mountain provinces called Mandeure and Montbeliard were annexed and added to the department. At the same time, land around Neuchatel was ceded to Switzerland. The Austrians occupied this area after the Battle of Waterloo, but Verdun’s citadel was successfully defended during the Franco-Prussian war. The Germans occupied the area for 4 years during the second world war, setting up an internment camp for women and children with British passports; many died from poor conditions. The citadel is now a possession of the town and so open to visitors.

Interesting Places in Doubs


The town was militarily important since Roman times as it guarded an important waterway with access to the Rhine. The town citadel was built by Vauban in the 17th C and is now a World Heritage Site. The town surrounding the citadel is situated in a meander of the river Doubs and so itself is almost surrounded by water.

Ornans (Commune d’Ornans)

A tiny town where the route joins a river, with houses along the banks and distinctive cliffs around the valley sides. The Hotel de Granvelle is the oldest building and birthplace of a cardinal (1517).

Mouthier Haute Pierre

A picturesque village, it began with an ancient Benedictine priory founded around the year 800. The streets are narrow, lined with mills and winegrowers’ houses.

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Ouhans / source of the Loue river

The river issues from a cave in a grand waterfall close to Ouhans village and flows towards Mouthier – there are waterfalls and woodland between the two.


The winter skiing centre Pontarlier also produces the liqueur absinthe. On a steep hillside with forests and mountains behind, it is on the main route to Switzerland. It was once the Roman town of Ariolica.

Chateau de Joux

Chateau de Joux is a fortified castle on a high rock, defending the route to Switzerland. Built in the 11th C, Vauban rebuilt it in the 17th C as an up-to-date military construction. It now has a weapons museum in the keep.


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