|Saignelégier and Franches-Montagnes|
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The stretch of the Jura range within Canton Jura itself is called Franches-Montagnes. Following wars between local lords in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Bishop Imier de Ramstein granted tax exemptions (franchises in French) to the whole area as a way to encourage repopulation, thus giving the area its name. It’s a gorgeous landscape of rolling green hills and wide meadows flanked by fir trees, and is fiercely loved by the locals: one writer commented, “A Franc-Montagnard who sells off the land for profit is considered a traitor.” In the 1960s, when the Swiss army proposed creating military installations and storehouses in the beloved hills, the locals got together and ensured (by voting) that such philistinism didn’t get off the drawing board.
SAIGNELÉGIER is the main – indeed only – town in the region, just a shop or two larger than a village. The tourist office for the canton is opposite the train station (Mon–Fri 9am–noon & 2–6pm, Sat 9am–noon; July & Aug also Sun 9am–noon & 2–4pm; 032/952 19 52, www.jura.ch and www.franchesmontagnes.ch), and has an array of information, as well as local crafts and bottles of the delectable local firewater – a plum-based eau-de-vie called Damassine – for sale. Bikes are available for hire at the station. On the second weekend in August, the Marché-Concours National de Chevaux rolls into town (www.nti.ch/MarcheConcours), a giant horse market and show occupying an arena south of town with parades, races and celebrations.
There are limitless possibilities for hikes and cycle routes through the countryside around and about: aim southeast to the idyllic Étang de la Gruère lake, or southwest along the ridge to the ancient village of Le Noirmont, or north, down into the Doubs valley for plenty of riverside forest trails around the border hamlet of Goumois.
You can camp at Sous La Neuvevie (032/951 10 82; May–Oct), 2km south of Saignelégier beyond the arena, or at the municipal site in Goumois (032/951 27 07; April–Sept) – both are basic, spartan sites; the Saignelégier–Goumois bus runs four times daily. Hotels and pensions abound, in every hamlet and scenic spot. The friendly Café-Hôtel du Soleil, two minutes south of the station in Saignelégier (032/951 16 88, fax 951 22 95, www.cafe-du-soleil.ch) has seven rooms and a dorm (Fr.22), and doubles as a local arts centre, with some concerts and exhibitions. Hôtel du Doubs, 10m from the riverside border crossing in Goumois (032/951 13 23, fax 951 14 89; b), offers comfortable, rustic rooms as well as excellent cuisine. For those with their own transport, Le Theusseret (032/951 14 51; closed Wed), just uphill from Goumois, is an outstanding restaurant in an idyllic old mill beside a weir, specializing in fresh local produce and melt-in-the-mouth fish (menus from Fr.17).
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