The verdant city of Besançon is not only home to a UNESCO-listed citadel, the oldest public museum in France, and countless other cultural gems, but it is also surrounded by an exceptional natural environment — making it the perfect getaway for nature lovers and culture vultures alike.
 
Folded into a crook in the River Doubs, picturesque Besançon delights visitors with its 18th-century town houses, charming streets and splendid squares. Domineering the city from Mt St-Etienne, more than 100 vertical metres above the old town, is the 17th-century Citadelle de Besançon, which was designed by Vauban for Louis XIV and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. “It is considered to be one of the finest citadels in France, and boasts spectacular views from its ramparts,” smiles Christine Bresson, head of communication for Grand Besançon.

Besançon

Maison Victor Hugo.

 
World-class museums

Other must-sees in the city include the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie (Museum of Fine Art and Archeology), which was founded in 1694, earning it the accolade of France’s oldest public museum. Known locally as the ‘Little Louvre’, it boasts an impressive collection of local Gallo-Roman archaeology, as well as a vast collection of drawings and paintings from the likes of Rodin, Goya and Matisse. Also well worth a visit is the Musée du Temps (Museum of Time), which showcases the history of local watchmaking in a former palace with amazing city views.
Meanwhile, just outside Besançon, on a 37-acre hilly site in Nancray, Christine recommends a visit to the Musée des Maisons Comtoises (Museum of Franche-Comté Houses), which is home to 35 buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries from the Franche-Comté region, including farms, workshops, chapels, and much more.

Literary heritage

Besançon boasts a cultural agenda that is bursting at the seams, with unmissable annual events including the Besançon International Music Festival in September, and the Grand Besançon Métropole book festival, also in September. “The city has a long literary tradition, having been the setting for Stendhal’s 1830 masterpiece Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black),” says Christine, adding that the novelist Colette had her second home here, and the great Victor Hugo was born here. In fact, no trip to Besançon would be complete without a visit to the Les Misérables author’s childhood home, which is open to the public, and you can learn more about his extraordinary literary and political heritage.

Besançon

Boosting happiness

“This area offers a wonderful marriage of nature and culture,” enthuses Christine. Whether you come to enjoy the historical hotspots or make the most of the various outdoor activities on offer, there is plenty to entice you. The popular EuroVelo 6 cycle route passes through the region, while the River Doubs offers the opportunity for activities on water.

“From walking or cycling in the beautiful forests to paragliding or kayaking, you can truly make the most of the great outdoors, whatever your level of fitness,” enthuses Christine, pointing out that Besançon and its greater region boasts all the ingredients for happiness.

“There’s space, inspiring nature, and so many great events taking place throughout the year,” she concludes, adding that the area also has a hip foodie scene with many great local restaurants. “We have everything you need for a ‘zen’ weekend away!”

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