Located in the east of France and part of the Franche-Comté region, Doubs is a true haven for lovers of the outdoors, with some of the most remarkable vistas anywhere in the country.
Doubs is quite sparsely populated, with approximately half a million inhabitants situated across a land area of 5,234km². The largest city is naturally the prefecture of Besançon, but there are a number of other significant communes:
One of the 83 original departments established in March 1790 during the French Revolution, Doubs has always possessed a distinctive culture due to its situation on the border with Switzerland and its history as part of the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, even today you can hear the dialects of Franco-Provençal and the Swiss-French hybrid of Franc-Comtois.
However, although Doubs is the birthplace of men like Victor Hugo and the Lumière brothers, the department's strong appeal to tourists is derived from its exceptional countryside. Named after the Doubs river and dominated by the Jura mountain range, Doubs is truly in touch with nature. Therefore, whether it's skiing, watersports, hiking or just beautiful scenery you want, you'll always be satisfied by Doubs.
Doubs has both an oceanic and continental climate, meaning dry, fairly warm summers evened out by hard winters characterised by prolonged bouts of frost and snow (during January 1985, temperatures fell to –20.5°C). Besançon is typical of average quarterly temperatures:
Average temperature in Besançon
Besançon is generally one of the most beautiful cities in France, particularly around the old town (la Boucle). However, there are a few specific sights well worth checking out, such as St. Jean Cathedral. Built in the 12th century, its reserved façade masks a staggeringly beautiful interior, highlighted by the Virgin and saints altarpiece by Fra Bartolomeo. Also within the city walls is the impressive 16th century Palais Granvelle, built by the Habsburg chancellor Cardinal Granvelle, and the Porte Noire triumphal arch, recalling Besançon's Roman past.
Perhaps the most important edifice within Besançon is the Citadel. Built between 1674 and 1711 by the Marquis de Vauban, Marshal of France, the Citadel is situated in the mountains and subsequently provides magnificent views. Moreover, it is home to a series of museums and exhibitions, most notably the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation.
In a similar vein, the Fort de Joux in the vicinity of La Clue-et-Mijoux is another popular location for tourists. First constructed in the 11th century in the Jura mountain range, its present incarnation is again the product of the Marquis de Vauban and testifies to the Fort's past as a prison in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today it holds a number of monuments to its most illustrious inmates, including the German poet Heinrich von Kleist and the Haïtian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture.
Beyond the two military-minded structures, Pontarlier also contains some notable points of interest such as the Porte Saint-Pierre, a triumphal arch constructed in the 18th century, and the Church of Saint-Bénigne. A trip to Montbéliard is also advisable to see both the 18th century Château des Ducs de Wurtemberg (containing a museum of local history and archaeology) and the neo-Renaissance mid-19th century Church of Saint-Maimboeuf. Even in the smaller commune of Arc-et-Senans, you can find the Salt Works, a World Heritage site, which testifies to the depth of culture in the department.
Watersports dominate as far as family days out go, with Doubs being home to the Vallee de La Loue and the Saint Point lake in Pontarlier, providing opportunities for canoeing and other activities. However, there are alternatives like the Espace Victor Hugo theme park in Montbéliard and the small zoo in the Besançon Citadel.
Museums, galleries and culture
The premier spot for culture in Doubs is the outstanding Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon, one of the best galleries in the country. The collection started in the late 17th century and now contains works by Tintoretto, Rubens, Titian, Goya, Matisse and Picasso to name but a fraction, as well as an excellent archaeology department with exhibitions on ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Even the building itself is remarkable, constructed by Miquel, a pupil of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, in the 1960s.
If that's not enough, Besançon also contains the Museum of Time, reflecting the city's connection to the French watch industry, and the Museum of Natural History. Outside of Besançon, you will find plenty of excellent municipal museums and a few esoteric choices such as the Espera Automobile Museum in Pontarlier.
There are a number of festivals and events in Doubs during the year. The most famous of these are the Jazz en France-Comté Festival in June and the Besançon Franche-Comté Music Festival in September (specialising in Classical music), both in Besançon. Should you not happen to visit in those months, try out a show at Besançon's Opéra Théâtre.
Doubs is not exactly a shopping mecca, but the streets of Besançon and Montbéliard have a range of decent local cheeses such as Edel de Cléron. If you're visiting Pontarlier and you fancy something a little different, the local absinthe is something of a speciality.
The Jura mountain range is generally known for its gentle slopes, meaning cross-country skiing is the most popular activity. However, Doubs does have probably the largest downhill skiing area on the Jura, so there are alternatives available. Pontarlier is one of the best areas but you will find some good stations wherever you go, like Metabief Mont d'Or.
Remarkably, almost half of Doubs is covered by forests, reflecting just how fruitful the area is for walkers. Besançon is an obvious starting point, regarded as the greenest city in France due to its excellent parks like the Parc de la Citadelle, the Parc Micaud and the Place de la Rèvolution. Montbéliard is another good option, being home to the Parc de Près la Rose.
Hikers will also find plenty of marked out routes throughout the many caves and waterfalls, such as the trail of the forts of old Besançon, an annual event held in May.
The whole district between Arbois and St-Amour contains some very impressive vineyards, particularly those around Besançon such as Henri Maire. The quality of wine is generally excellent, but the local sparkling wine is particularly good.
Doubs enjoys some four courses within its borders. These are Golf Pontarlier les Etraches in Pontarlier, Golf de Prunevelle in Dampierre-Sur-Le-Doubs, Golf de Besançon in Besançon and Golf du Château de Bournel in Cubry.
Food and drink
The gastronomy in Doubs is not the most reputable, but the Besançon town centre contains a number of excellent places to eat. Befitting the region itself, the cuisine is remarkable diverse, ranging from Turkish to Thai.
Ease of access
Surprisingly, there is no airport in the department for foreign visitors. However, Lyon's Saint-Exupéry International Airport is just two hours away. Alternatively though, you can choose Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris and take the TGV high-speed train line to Besançon. Indeed, the TGV line connects Doubs to most other major cities in France, facilitating quick travel.
Once inside the department, the autoroute links join the department together, making car travel considerably easier for tourists.
Value for money
The choice of accommodation is wide in Doubs, with campsites, gites, hotels and apartments all available, particularly around Besançon and Montbéliard. For further information, contact the Besançon Tourist Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Strong tourism in the area has ensured prices are on the up, but it's still relatively affordable.
If you're looking to escape the bustling city life, Doubs is one of the best places you can visit. Replete with natural beauty and enjoying a surprisingly rich level of culture, it's the perfect option for anyone wanting a relaxing holiday. However, if you want to stay active, you can also take advantage of the terrain, strap on either your skis or your hiking boots and have some fun.