France Unknown: Introducing You To Besancon

posted on November 30th 2014 in Blog & City Guides & France with 18 Comments

Never heard of  Besançon before? Frankly, me too till I’ve actually moved here around a year ago.


The Guardian named it- one the secret France’s cities that tourists pass by. (But if you are in France, do take your time to visit!)

Meet incredibly warm and friendly people: quoting my reader Bill who spent a few days in the are this fall “As an American, it feels like being and giving heartfelt hugs every time I entered somewhere

Mouthwatering Comtoise cuisine and Jura wines (recently read a post about them, again with the word “secret” in title) and loads of amazing sights to explore out and around town!

I have already written a lot of post about why you should see Besançon including a huge post about why you should visit Franche-Comte region for France Today, yet I barely spoken a word about Besançon here, at my blog.

Today, I’d like to show you around this adorable Eastern France town, hidden between emerald green sloppy that I have been calling home for now


Besancon France

A tiny bit of history

The City of Besançon is one of the most ancient places I’ve actually visited! Being settled by the ancient Gaulus and the first written records were made by Julius Caesar in 58 BC referring to the city as Vesontio.

Remainings of the Roman presence are still scattered all around the city today and you can’t miss seeing the Roman Amphitheater sight made into a small park near Grande Rue.

During the 16th century, Besançon has been under Spanish control after a wicked twist of the royal marriages, till the city has been regained under the by the French influence again in late 17th century.

Today, the Spanish influence can be still spotted in some architectural details like inner patios and balcony design.

Let’s go for a walk around the streets.

The Old City center lies in the gorgeous oxbow of river Doubs reminding me of a horseshoe. There are six bridges crisscrossing the river and three huge green parks stretching along the banks. You can see a lot of runners here in the evening and picnics on sunny weekends.


One of my favorite pastimes since I’ve moved here became taking long leisurely strolls in mid-afternoon and feeding the duckies.

My boyfriend and I have this joke between us: “Stop feeding them! Do you realize how quickly it will become someone’s else foie gras?

Besancon nature

Besançon is…

Narrow cobblestone streets, Renaissance buildings and loads of chimneys on orange tile roofs with occasional high peaks of cathedrals interrupting the skyline. That’s how Besançon actually looks like from the top.

And, of course, you cannot help noticing the Grand Citadelle overviewing the city from Mount Saint-Etienne.

– All petite squares with adorable street cafes to enjoy your espresso and indulge in people watching.

– Tiny family owned shops specializing in selling a single product – postcards, antiques, flowers etc.


– A place where you’d rarely here a world of English, yet dozens of “Bonjours” from random people you cross eyes with on the street.

– For literature geeks: Hometown of Victor Hugo –his family mansion has been turned into museum. Everything is in French though.

Julien Sorel, the main character of “The Red and The Black” novel by Stendhal has been spending a while in Besançon at the beginning of the book and here all the events take place in Balzac’s Novel Albert Savaron

– Franche-Comte is often called the French Switzerland and yes, you can find fantastic cheese here (obviously) and a quirky astronomical clock – it provides 122 indications including years, seconds, moon phases and so on.

Moreover, there are 21 animated wooden-carved figures in the clock performing various biblical scenes each hour. Check out the Clock Tower at Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon!

Plus, a whole museum dedicated to time with quirky clocks and watches of all shape and size.


 A Few More Reasons Why You Should Visit!

To Try the Local Food

Of course, the French food would be gorgeous no matter which part of the country you try it! But did you know that Lyon is considered the culinary capital of France (and even the whole world), not Paris?

Yet, Besançon and Franche-Comte region have some authentic local food specialties you can’t miss trying!

Morille mushrooms, served on toasted bread or with croutons.
Fondue made of local comte cheese
Bresse Chicken in yellow wine with mushrooms
Salade Comtoise of lettuce, smoked ham or bacon, Montbéliard sausage, potatoes, tomatoes, croutons, nuts and yummy dressing sauce.
Coq au Vin Jaun – chicken served in extremely delicious wine sauce.

More food suggestions: Best French Food Series Franche-Comte 

Afterwards, head to one of the small boulangeries to grab the best pastry and sweets in the world! (ok, I really need to admit my addiction to it).

To Wander Around The Glorious Citadel of Besançon

Besancon Citadel

Listed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, this place captivated my imagination since the first time I’ve seen it late at night all lit with golden backlighting. It huge, glorious and a huge fun to explore!

Built by the local military architecture genius Vauban, who has renewed and created over 300 fortifications around France in the 18th century, the Citadel of Besançon is the city’s postcard and main attraction. There’s even a special bus circulating between the Citadel and city center from April to October in case you don’t feel like walking up by foot.

Wander around lengthy ramparts, peek out of towers and explore the inner yards and a small church. The view, opening from the walls is more than stunning – a 360 degrees perspective on the City, nearby villages, greenish hills and sparkling river Doubs circling the city.

 Bonus: Besançon City Zoo is here too with over 60 different species of animals.

To Hike and Explore nearby lands

Discover magnificent scenery, enjoy gorgeous views from the top and discover all forts hidden around the Besançon hills. (I have seen just 3 so far).

Weekend randonnées is one of the most popular local activities that we quickly became fans of too! It’s cool, free and you can get rid of all the calories you’ve gotten from going gourmet.

My personal recommendation is Forêt de Chailluz route – over 1500 hectares of splendid nature to enjoy. There are route marks everywhere, so you won’t get lost. Here’s a map to guide you.

To Bike


I’m shy to admit that I have learned to bike last year here when I was already 22. I lived in the city center when I was a kid and there wasn’t much space to bike anywhere or store it.

Anyway, biking in France (and Besançon including) is immensely popular! Only in France you can see someone biking from the supermarket with 3 baguettes, put under a half-zipped jacket or popping out a backpack.

On May the 31st – June 1st there have been a huge Fête du vélo with hundreds of people biking throughout the city. Some of weirdest, cutest and funniest participants.

There are numerous routes going out and around the city and you can easily cycle to nearby tiny villages along the beautiful bank of river Doubs. Besides, renting a bike here is dirty cheap and there are over 30 stations spread all around the city.


– First 30 minutes are free. In case you’ve used the bike a few times during the day for less than 30 mins – it’s still free.
– An hour and a half ride will cost you 1 euro.
– For 3+ hours you’ll have to pay 2 euros.
– And in case you’ve decided to rent a bike for the whole day it will cost you just 4 euros!

To See The Gorgeous Region Still Unknown To The World.

There are over 100 castles, ruins and fortifications around France-Comte to check out!

Pretty impressive for a small and unknown region, huh? Here’s my top ten castles in Eastern France in case you’ve missed it.

Ever heard of Lac Chalain?

Lac Chalain

A perfect weekend getaway in 80 km from Besançon to reunite with the nature and find a bit of serenity. Stunning all year round!You can stay in a family B&B hotel for around 30-40€ per room – a lucrative price you’d rarely find somewhere else in France.

Or Grotted’Osselle?

Grotte d'Osselle

Miles of caves with stunning formations of all colors and shapes that once used to be home to a huge population of prehistoric bears.

Ornans – the French Venice.


The town lies low on the river Loue, making it seem that all the colorful houses float on the water. (some actually do!). Ornans is one of those charming villages you imagine when thinking of rural France. Yet, with hardly any crowds. Ever.

There’s lovely Dole, the local wine capital – Arbois and many more tiny rural towns in Franche-Comte staying off the beaten track in France.


So, what do you think of Besançon? Would you like to meet in person one day?

Thanks Etienne Valois for Grotte d’Osselle picture, Dim Dim for gorgeous view of Besançon skyline via Flickr! My lovely boyfriend for amazing film photos. You should check out his gallery  (he’s amazing and not just because I love him!).

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  • Michele

    I’m moving to Besançon in September 2015. I’m coming from Helsinki after a year, having moved from New Orleans. I’m enjoying my “tour” of Europe!

    • Hehe :) Well, it’s warmer than Helsinki and not as much jazz as in New Orleans, but they had a small local jazz fest in June this year. (sorry if that’s a terrible cliche :) )

      Besançon isn’t that big, but I hope you’ll find your reasons to like it there!

  • Awww it looks simply enchanting!! I’d love to visit some day – I love laneways and quaintness – it looks like a photographer’s paradise :)
    Tim UrbanDuniya recently posted…My first overseas adventure: Egypt part twoMy Profile

    • Absolutely and perfect for people watching too, which is probably one of my favorite pastimes ever!

  • This looks gorgeous! I definitely need to add exploring more of France to my bucket list!
    bevchen recently posted…Le Dernier Bar Avant La Fin du Monde, ParisMy Profile

    • Ha, yes. France has soo much incredible and pretty unknown destination to explore. I tend to discover new and new places nearly each day! Just found out there’s a self-republic just within a few hours drive from Besancon.

  • I had never heard of Besancon before until reading this. Funnily enough I just looked up where exactly it is on a map and turns out I drove around the edge of town when I was travelling around France. It looks really beautiful. Next time I’ll have to make a stop!
    Jen Seligmann recently posted…Things to Do in SingaporeMy Profile

    • Yep, Besancon isn’t particularity popular, but it’s still so worth to spend some time in!

  • Hi Elena, this is a great review for a place I’ve not heard of before.

    I love the idea of the Roman and Spanish influence still being present and the UNESCO recognition for the Citadel makes it sound intriguing. I’ll keep this in mind if I’m every that side of France in the future.

    I like the idea of bikes being free for the first 30 minutes. Can you just swap them out after every 25 minutes then have free cycling all day? 😉
    The Guy recently posted…A Moment Of Reflection Away From A HolidayMy Profile

    • Yep, if you plan your biking route among all rental stations, than you can spend the whole day ridding for free :) However, you still need to pay a small fee for getting your bike card at the 1st place.

  • What a lovely city! How did you end up living there if you’ve never heard of it before?
    Kate @ Nonstop from JFK recently posted…Day Trip from Lisbon – Sintra, PortugalMy Profile

    • I’ve happen to meet someone special during my trip around Indonesia and got to know he’s moving to Besancon in a month :)

  • This looks so lovely and I haven’t heard of it before! Much larger than I expected from the beginning of the post too. I’m so happy to have discovered your blog as I’m in the midst of planning a trip to France.
    Tamara Gruber recently posted…Win a 2 Night Stay in Sunriver OregonMy Profile

    • Cool, where are you heading in France? 😉 Yes, Besancon may seem pretty compact first, yet there are a lot of things to do and explore on the edge of the city too and in the nearby communes.

  • Absolutely gorgeous. It’s funny, I was actually looking for lesser-known but beautiful European towns and cities today. I’m glad you posted this! One more to add to the list :)
    Marie @ Marie Away recently posted…Hiking NZ’s Rob Roy Glacier TrackMy Profile

    • Let me know if you happen to visit any time soon, I’d be glad to show you around a bit :)

  • Wow i had no idea Besancon was so lovely. A long time ago wheni was very young i remember spending a day there but not much more. No wonder you like it so much there.
    Jameela Deen recently posted…Photo Visit of Cairo, EgyptMy Profile

    • I couldn’t expect that I will like living here that much when I first came too. But those narrow lanes, delicious food and amazing randonnee tracks charmed me a lot :)