OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH FRENCH-SWISS Itinerary
Arrive in Besancon, the Regional Capital
AFTERNOON: Upon arrival, you have time to settle into your comfortable room in the charming boutique hotel Le Sauvage*. While other guests are still arriving, you can relax at the hotel or start exploring the city as you please.
RECEPTION & DINNER: At 6 pm, you will join your guide and the rest of the group in the hotel to celebrate the beginning of the tour French-style with a typical apéritif and a laid-back dinner catered by the hotel.
*A similar hotel may be substituted if room availability is low: reserve early to help secure a room.
Le Sauvage Hotel
The Local Wine Country
(Very light physical challenge: Over the course of the day, you will walk 2-3 city miles.)
MORNING: You will head to the “wine capital” of the region, Arbois, nestled in a valley surrounded by vineyards. You will visit the local wine co-operative to learn about the area’s locally beloved grape varietals and the ancestral methods used to make some of these unusual wines. The visit will climax with a tasting of these unique wines, including the region’s distinctive “yellow wine”.
LUNCH: You will enjoy a gastronomic meal featuring regional products in a small gastronomic restaurant amidst the ochre-stone buildings of central Arbois.
AFTERNOON: After lunch, you will choose between two options:
OPTION: Have free time to explore the winding streets, museums and vineyards on your own (note, if you want to visit the Pasteur house you should go with the group and then break off on your own as they only offer guided visits to sizable groups). Things to do include, among other things: browsing in typical French specialty shops; doing more wine-tasting, exploring the winding back streets lined with ocher-stone buildings.
OPTION: Take a guided walking tour of the town starting at Louis Pasteur's house museum, walking along a river bank through the pastoral countryside skirting the town center, re-enter the town at the Cathedral then see some of the remaining fortifications from the time when this was a walled city as you make your way to the regional wine museum.
We will meet at the chocolate shop owned by one of France's best chocolate makers, a third generation chocolatier. You will be back toBesançon early enough to explore a bit before dinner or relax at the hotel.
DINNER OPTIONS: You will eat at the hotel. Alternatively, you may opt out of the group meal to pick your own dining option or to enjoy a more private experience.
Riverside Biking on the Great EuroVelo 6 Path
(Strenuous physical challenge: during the day, there will be about 25-30 miles of biking along an essentially flat bike path -approximately 4-5 hours.)
MORNING: This morning gives you opportunities to either get to know Besançon better or have an active adventure in the countryside:
OPTION: Your guide will give you an itinerary for a self-guided tour of the religious district where you are staying so you can discover the clock-making history of the town. It includes stops at the 19th century Astronomical Clock and the Museum of Time housed in the handsomely renovated Granvelle Manor, with its colorful mosaic roof tiles. You'll pass by the city’s Roman Triumphal Arch and other Roman remains located next to the cathedral, Victor Hugo’s birthplace and museum (author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) and the Theater designed by the famous architect Ledoux. LUNCH: You will be free to choose your own restaurant. You may enjoy eating in a popular restaurant with a terrace in a public square just behind the Time Museum or try an eatery specialized in regional recipes.
OPTION: Take a long, flat, leisurely bike ride to a riverside village 25 miles away (choose a regular or electric assisted bike). The ride will take you along the banks of the river that encircles Besançon’s city center and heads out into the neighboring countryside. The bike path, known as the EuroVelo 6, stretches from the French Atlantic coast to the Black Sea in Bulgaria via three of Europe's greatest rivers. Your half-day riverside ride will offer you a unique view of the fortifications of the historic city-center. You will ride along the flat path that winds along the river valley until you reach your destination: a small village where you will have lunch. LUNCH: You will dine in a small typical village restaurant where tourists rarely set foot. After this, you can visit the village's Benedictine monastery before returning to Besançon by train.
OPTION: Explore Besançon at your own pace: visit the citadel, take a hike up to a fort overlooking the city, stroll around the river. Your guide will provide maps.
LUNCH: You will be free to choose your own restaurant.
AFTERNOON: You'll enjoy free time for the rest of the afternoon. You may want to explore Vauban’s Citadel (a UNESCO World Heritage Site); France’s oldest Public Art Museum; the Astronomical Clock; the Museum of Time; marked walking routes in the historic city center; or do some shopping.
DINNER: You will be free to select your own restaurant for dinner (your guide will be happy to make recommendations).
Getting to Know your Basetown
MORNING: Tour Besançon’s historic city center and wander through the centuries as you encounter Roman, medieval, Renaissance, 18th & 19th century buildings, and learn about the city’s unique blend of German, Spanish, and French heritage. You will begin your guided visit of the historic heart of the city of Besançon with the ancient cathedral located a stone’s throw from the hotel. You will then head to the former gate to the city where your guide will teach you the convivial outdoor game of pétanque. Very easy to learn and play, it is a beloved summer game that all French people know. You'll continue into town to discover the upscale shopping district and market square.
LUNCH OPTIONS: You will eat sophisticated French food served in a rustically decorated restaurant that pays tribute to the mountain dairy farmers. This is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Alternatively, you may opt out of the group meal to pick your own dining option or to enjoy a more private experience.
OPTION: You can continue to explore Besançon at your own pace. You'll be near the two main shopping streets where a lot of cafes are located.
OPTION: Continue the guided tour which will take you across the river to the district called "Battant" where you will stroll uphill to the 17th century Vauban-designed "fort Griffon" from which you'll enjoy a panoramic view over the read-tiled rooftops of the city.
DINNER OPTIONS: You will have dinner in one of our favorite eateries in the city. Alternatively, you may opt out of the group meal to pick your own dining option or to enjoy a more private experience.
Mountains & Cheese-makers
(Light/Moderate physical challenge: during the day, there will be about 2-3 miles of rocky mountaintop hiking.)
MORNING: Traveling through lush green mountainous landscapes and pine forests, you will drive toa mountainside village. Your van will climb up the mountain where you'll have a breathtaking view from atop a limestone cliff with sweeping views over Switzerland. This is one of local people’s favorite hiking spots.
OPTION: Stay on the mountaintop to hike along the cliff, through the alpine pastures and over to the mountain chalet where you'll have lunch. This hike will take you along a tiny portion of the famous GR5 hiking route, one of the longest and most beautiful routes in Western Europe, which begins in Holland on the North Sea and ends in Southern France at the Mediterranean. Hiking the whole route takes about three months, but your hike will just take a couple of hours.
OPTION: Head back down to the village by van to visit a family creamery that makes alpine cheeses and welcomes tourists. See the equipment used to make the cheese, watch a video about the process, taste cheese samples, and shop in their boutique. Then hop back in the van to head back up the mountain to join the hikers for lunch.
LUNCH: You will have lunch in a nearby rustic mountainside farmhouse beloved by hikers for their locally sourced meats grilled over an open flame. This restaurant was chosen for its character, secluded location and local popularity.
AFTERNOON: Following lunch, everyone will head back down the mountain. You will take a tour of a nearby 19th-century fortress that has been turned into a maturing cellar for the pride of the region: Comté cheese. Those who visited the creamery in the morning will be able to tell the hikers how the cheese-making process begins as everyone learns about the aging process together. Then you'll continue by car to an “eagle nest” medieval castle perched near the Swiss border. You will take a guided tour of this historic monument to visit its fortifications, towers, and dungeon. The guide will bring color to the unfurnished castle with explanations on its defensive features and stories about the famous prisoners who were interned there.
DINNER: Back in Besançon, you will be free to select your own restaurant for dinner (your guide will be happy to make recommendations).
MORNING: Your first destination is Dijon, the affluent capital of Burgundy, famous for its mustard and escargots. The lively outdoor market will be in full swing when we arrive.
OPTION: Start with a 30-minute guided stroll through the medieval city center to admire the half-timbered buildings as well as Romanesque and Gothic churches, before ending at the Palace of the Dukes.
OPTION: Head out on your own right away to discover the city at your own pace.
Everyone will have an extra two hours of free time to continue to explore the city center, its museums and shops. This will be the time to visit the exceptional art museum or buy some Dijon mustard!
LUNCH OPTIONS: You will enjoy a light lunch in a restaurant honoring the late great local chef Loiseau who famously committed suicide due to the pressure of maintaining his Michelin Star status. His legacy and star has been kept alive by his family and apprentices. This restaurant, just off the stately square of the former palace of the Ducs of Burgundy, is run by an exceptional chef from the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Alternatively, you may opt out of the group meal to pick your own dining option or to enjoy a more private experience.
AFTERNOON: After lunch, we will drive down the most prestigious section of the Grands Crus Wine Road, the Côte de Nuits. We will stop at two old-fashioned family owned wineries to sample the world famous Bourgogne wines (notably Pinot Noir varietals and Chardonnay).
DINNER: On our way back to the hotel, we will stop at an 18th-Century manor house to have an exceptional treat for dinner. Our restaurant has one Michelin star and the chef/owner, Romuald Fassenet, holds a M.O.F. title for being one of the best chefs in France.
Breakfast at the hotel.