36 Hours in the Jura
How to spend a weekend in the French countryside
Keywords France, Wine Country, Jura
It’s true that some people just never get over what Hemingway famously called the "moveable feast" of Paris — and too bad for them, because if they never leave the French capital, they’ll miss the pleasures of one of France’s true hidden pleasures, the Jura.
The relatively isolated part of the Franche-Comté region, east of Burgundy and abutting the Swiss border, is a peaceful stretch of rolling green fields, hills, and valleys punctuated by vineyards, dairy farms, and small honest-to-god medieval towns.
Although the Jura is a paradise for snowshoers and skiers in winter and hikers in summer, both of whom long to hit the Grande Traversée, a 186-mile hiking and cross-country ski trail, it’s important to know that this is rural territory. Roads came late here. Hence, the Jura remains one of France’s lesser-known tourist destinations, which is all the more reason to visit.
Paris’s café culture is one thing, but the rugged charms of the Jura, which include the local cheeses and wines that this particular soil, chunked with clay and limestone, produces, are equally addictive — if almost entirely less moveable than the stuff you find in Paris: The Jura is one of those places you can’t take with you; you have to be there, in the mountains, noshing on Comté and sipping vin jaune, to get it.
4 p.m.: There’s no better way to get your feet wet than to whet your appetite with Comté cheese. Mostly known in the U.S., if at all, as a cousin to Gruyère, Comté is a raw cow’s milk cheese in possession of an inimitably nutty and sweet flavor, which varies, depending in no small part on how long the cheese has been aged and from which season its milk derives, and can range from bracingly intense to mild and creamy.
The most fun, offbeat place to get your first taste is on a tour at the official La Maison du Comté, a handsome townhouse in Poligny. Here, you’ll learn about how and why the cheese has achieved the coveted P.O.D. label ("protected designation of origin") and get a proper introduction to the wonders of the grassy highlands from the bovine point of view. The end of the tour features a tasting of a variety of young and aged Comté cheeses. Tours are held in the afternoon and are open to, and encouraged for, the general public; they are easily booked in advance via the museum’s website. Tours are about €4 per adult.