France: Jura

Around Lons-le-Saunier

Château-Chalon, l'Etoile and the southern Côtes du Jura
By Wink Lorch

This Guide was last updated on 25 June 2014
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Main towns and villages


The capital of the Jura department has a very pleasant old town centre, but does lack good hotels and restaurants. Shops and cafés, many under attractive arches, are commensurate with classic French medium-sized towns and there are a couple of interesting museums, but there is not much more, a reflection, perhaps, of the relative poverty of this area. Lons is famous as the birth-place of Rouget de Lisle, the composer responsible, amongst many finer works, for writing La Marseillaise. It is also home to the cheese factory that invented and still makes the cubes of processed cheese whose finest virtue is their distinctive packaging - La Vache qui Rit (The Laughing Cow). You will see a huge cow face logo up above you as you drive on the ring road around the town and in 2009 they opened a visitor centre (see ‘Other Attractions’).


One of the ‘most beautiful villages of France’, perched on a hill, below which stretch the vineyards, the enchanting Chateau-Chalon is extremely well-preserved. In good weather, at any time of year, the views are spectacular, and wandering around the narrow streets is a sheer delight. Do visit the classic church, Eglise Saint Pierre which dates from the 12th century and includes a recently-discovered fresco, just on the right behind the door. The village, which only has 165 inhabitants, can be very busy in the height of the summer and at weekends, but otherwise is a quiet little place. There are several wine tasting cellars and a couple of café restaurants open in season. Also open in summer, opposite the church is a new regional information centre ‘La Maison de la Haute Seille’, created out of one of the historic village houses; the cellar area includes wine information (see ‘Wine Attractions’). Don’t miss the view over the vineyards from several spectacular viewpoints including one just below the church, where a path leads down through the vineyards (see also ‘Vin Jaune Walk’).


The village is dominated by the Benedictine Abbey that dates back to the 9th century. However, it is the location of the village that is so stunning in the midst of three valleys, one of which is blind, with caves and the source of the river Seille at the end of it. The views are amazing and to make the most of it, you need to look down from one of several viewpoints on the roads on the top of the cliffs, as well as visiting the village itself, driving along the valley to the caves. See also ‘Other attractions’.

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