Exploring Besançon

By | Category: travel, Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

night at the citadelle

The citadelle at night

I hadn’t been back to Besançon since I was a student. And that was in the last century! So with a friend, I decide it was time to return.

The city fortifications, designed by the foremost military engineer in France, Vauban’s work include the citadelle and two urban fortresses in Besançon. Since I had been there, the walled city in Besançon had been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008
The citadelle of Besançon, which took nearly thirty years to construct is located high up on the crest of an anticline and is the main focal point of the city. The walls remain up to fifteen metres high and a couple of metres thick. Being so well preserved is a strong draw for visitors with about 300,000 visiting the city every year. And inside the walls is a collection of museums which illustrates the diversity of life. For example there is a zoo which works to preserve particular endangered species; a noctarium so that visitors can follow the habits of animals normally only seen in the dark as well as an insectarium- the largest in France.

Needless to say, part of the complex is given over to the achievements of Vauban.
But you cannot leave without visiting the museum devoted to the occupation of the area in WWII. Pats can be quite harrowing for it was in the city that a hundred resistance fighters were executed during the war. The stark memorial of four stakes to them will leave you moved.

About ten miles from Besançon is the the Osselle cave (Grottes d’Oselle.) As long ago as the early part of the fifteenth century, this was one of the first caves of its kind to be open to the public.

oselle Grottes

The Oselle Caves


It is the most impressive cave of its kind that I have ever visited: The impressive assortment of stalactites and stalagmites, geological phenomena and prehistoric remains, coupled with its size (the main cave is over 1200 meters) make it a must see!
Astonishingly, in addition to the geological features, the Grotte boasts a discovery of 15 complete skeletons of giant bears, making it one of the most important cemeteries of the creatures in the world!

Besançon is also the birthplace of Raymond Blanc and, by now, inner me was screaming for food. There are many good restaurants offering the local cuisine and, in particular, the cheese and wines of the Doubs – the name of the area in which Besançon is. My tip is a tiny restaurant “Le Coucou” (the cuckoo). Run by Tony it may be situated in the city centre but it is still hard to find. Overseas visitors don’t often find spot it in rue Luc Breton. By and large, you’ll just find locals in Le Councou, a good sign as locals always know where the best food is to be found. Tony introduces you to the best of the local, franc-comtoise cuisine and, unlike many places, vegetarian dishes are available (often difficult to organise in a country where “lardons” are “flavouring”) This is where you go to eat with friends! Just tell Tony “Cathrene” sent you and order “une galette de pommes de terres au Mont D’Or” in winter and “Pommes de terres sautés avec du cancoillotte” in the summer. I wasn’t disappointed and neither will you be.

Now, for the lake and the waterfalls…

For more information about Besançon, click here

images © http://www.citadelle.com, Grottes d’Oselle

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