Freedom is the name of the game in Franche-Comté, as evidenced by the English translation of the name of this province, which literally means “Free County”. From an administrative point of view it is a long-standing province in the eastern half of France, encompassing the departments of Doubs, Jura, Haute-Saône, and Territoire de Belfort. Covering an area of over 16,000 square kilometres, this administrative province known in the past as the Free County of Burgundy is home to a population of about 1,168,208 people (as per a 2009 estimate), concentrated mainly in such urban areas as Montbéliard, Belfort, and Besançon. In fact, the latter also constitutes the capital city, closely followed in terms of size and development by the other two above-mentioned cities. Among other urban establishments of note it’s worth mentioning Dole – which was actually the historical capital of the province up until the end of the 17th century, Vesoul, Arbois – famous for its wine-making – and Lons-le-Saunier.
Historically, the region has been inhabited since literally forever, but it didn’t reach its current shape and gain its actual name of Franche Comté until 1366. Possibly the most interesting aspect of its history was the fact that its economic life relied heavily on serfs and, as such, it ended up being one of the last parts of France to abolish serfdom, which only happened in 1787.
In terms of geography, landscape and culture, Franche Comté has quite a lot in common both with the neighbouring French provinces of Rhône-Alpes, Burgundy, Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace, and with its eastern neighbour, Switzerland. The most striking feature of the landscape is the Jura mountains which, while dwarfed by the nearby Alps, are still attractive to locals and tourists alike due to the fact that they are easier to reach and they provide a wide array of places to ski or hike. The rural landscape that is predominant in this province is a genuine treasure of picturesque views, including such rare feats as the timber houses in the Doubs and Loue valleys, built upon wooden stilts in the actual river, and the renowned Région des Lacs, an area of tiny villages spread between spectacular gorges and waterfalls. Other points of interest are the famous “yellow wine”, as well as the wide array of delicious-sounding and definitely delicious-tasting cheeses, such as Cancoillotte, Comté, Metton, or Munster, to name but a few.
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Author: Ludovic Péron