Welcome to Besancon
Besancon is the hidden city of France- it may be the birthplace of celebrated French writer Victor Hugo, and the capital of Franche-Comte, but somehow, this jewel has slipped from the gaudy necklace of tourist destinations. But even if Besancon is only visited for an hour or two, its elegant historic buildings and wide river flowing past the 17th century Citadel on the hill, can’t fail to charm the weariest traveller. Once ruled by the Spanish, the 17th Century fortifications around the Citadel are still visible.
By the 19th century, Besancon was a hub (or fob) of clock and watch-making. The city is also full of music-lovers, and hosts a series of festivals from June to September. Most of the restaurants are clustered around the Roman-era Grand Rue, and
little squares, shady trees and a sunny, spacious feel about its centre add to the sense that the city is invisible to tourists- the restaurants are full of locals, sitting back with a café au lait to watch the passing street life, and the centre is lively without ever being crowded, even in the height of Summer.
If you have time for sightseeing, visit Pont Battant and the 17th century quays on the banks of the Doubs River that borders the town, or save your feet - take a bateau-mouche and admire the Citadel from the river.
If there’s time for a gallery, the Musee des Beaux Arts is considered to be the 'Little Louvre,' with a world class permanent collection.
Also worth seeing is the Palais Granvelle, a Renaissance mansion which features a ‘time museum’ (of clocks, rather than confused time travellers), and the 12th century Cathedrale St. Jean. Beside the cathedral is the sadly damaged Porte Noire, a 2nd century Roman Arch of Triumph.
If the children are less than impressed by Roman ruins, head to the Museum of Natural History, by the Citadel, which contains an insectarium, a zoo and an aquarium.
For a languid and luxurious lunch, go to the restaurant of the Chateau de la Dame Blanche hotel, within for a high level of regional cooking overseen by locally celebrated chef Anthony Serra. If time and money are less free, though, visit Le Café Café, or if your stop includes dinner, Brasserie 1802 has a wide, shady terrace and an innovative menu of regional specialities.
If you decide to stay the night in Besancon, the Hotel le Sauvage is an ideal choice. Set in a former monastery, close to the Citadel, the rooms have views across the valley , and the decoration is subtly luxurious. Breakfast is served on the lovely sunny terrace and there is private parking. Or stay outside the city to avoid any parking issues- Chateau de la Dame Blanche is just seven miles away, a few minutes from the motorway, and close to the train station. An excellent restaurant, free wifi, comfortable, cosy rooms and views across the chateau’s park make this an ideal place to break the journey overnight.
Car: There are five car parks in the centre of Besancon, all charging varying rates for hourly or daily stays – they are marked by a blue ‘P’ and are easy to spot.
Public Transport: There is an affordable, efficient bus service that runs through the city and further out – tickets can be bought from the driver for less than€2.
Bike Hire: There is also a bike rental service, affiliated with the bus network.
4 Rue Gabriel Plançon Besançon 03 81 25 08 08
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