Besancon is city of art and history that is nestled right in the curve of the Doubs River in France. The city won the honour of being France’s “greenest city” and remains committed to keeping their city clean and conscious of the environment and the natural surroundings—which isn’t hard to do when everywhere you look is green and leafy.
While the city remains relatively unknown among tourists and French natives alike, there is a growing population of people who are making the short jaunt to see what Besancon has to offer and it seems they never come back disappointed by what they’ve found. Quiet, reserved, cultured and affordable—all the makings for a future hot-spot in France. Make the journey now, beat the crowds and get a taste of the real France.
Brief History and Overview
Once controlled by the Spanish, Besancon still displays extensive fortifications built by the well-known architect Vauban. Besançon is the capital and principal city of the region of Franche-Comté in eastern France where it was, and remains, the economic and cultural centre of the region. In the 19th Century, the city became the center of France's clock and watch-making activities which has continued to influence the economy of the city. Now Besancon is a major European centre of the precision industries sector, plus the city boasts an impressive university and a rich cultural life.
Besancon has a population of about 237,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area and is located close to the border with Switzerland. Thanks to its rich historical and cultural heritage and its unique architecture, Besancon has been labeled a 'City of Art and History' since 1986, and has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 2008.
Top 5 Things to do
- La Citadelle de Besancon – The Citadelle is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the famous architect Vauban's 17th century masterpiece. It is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of his work throughout all of France. The fortifications cover 11 hectares and lie more than 100 metres above the old town sitting in a loop of the River Doubs. The walls are up to 20 metres high and 5 to 6 metres thick. The Citadelle offers visitors spectacular views over the old town of Besancon and the surrounding hills.
- Cathedrale Saint-Jean – As you wander through old town Besancon, you will undoubtedly come across this massive cathedral. The Saint-Jean Cathedral is often open to the public for free concerts and for general perusal. Check out the stained glass windows and incredible paintings housed within. There is some impressive architectural work done and is absolutely worth the half hour it takes to see it.
- Astronomical Clock - Housed in the 18th-century Cathedrale Saint-Jean, this incredible astronomical clock has 30,000 moving parts, 57 faces, 62 dials and, among other things, tells the time in 16 places around the world, the tides in eight different ports of France, and the time of the local sunrise and sunset. It is a perfect example of the complete mastery of watch-making skills that Besancon has achieved.
- Dino Zoo - Located in the village of Charbonnieres-les-Sapins, 20 km from Besancon and 4 km from the Gouffre de Poudrey abyss. This 10 hectare park, in a splendid site, traces the evolution of animal life over 500 million years and tells the story with the help of life-size models of the brontosaurus and other dinosaur species. As you may have guessed, this prehistoric park is the only one of its kind in eastern France. It’s a perfect activity for younger children who are interested in dinosaurs and may need a break from the adult-centric tours and activities on offer in Besancon.
- Boat Tour of the Doubs River – Glide along the Doubs River and take in all the scenery of the area from the water. The guides on board most tours will speak English and you’ll pass a number of important attractions and get an overview of the city, its history and its crowning achievements. During your stay in Franche-Comte, you need to take advantage of the boat tours on the Doubs River where you’ll see Besancon and maybe even venture out to the waterfall where the views and scenery are unmatched.
Besancon is known for harsh cold winters and warm dry summers so, depending on which you prefer, you can adjust your travel plans accordingly. In terms of precipitation, the wettest month is in May and the driest month tends to be August. On average the temperatures hover around 11.5 degrees Celsius in Besancon.
Convinced that Besancon is the French city for you? Make your travel plans, figure out what you want to do from the list above, and go for it! Don’t forget to consider travel insurance as a part of your planning as it’s an easy and affordable way to cover your trip against unexpected events that can occur. Check out Cover-More’s international travel insurance for your next French holiday abroad.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Steve Haddock.