Home to a monumental Vauban citadel and France’s first public museum and birthplace of Victor Hugo and the Lumière Brothers, Besançon has an extraordinary background and yet, remarkably, remains something of a secret. Straddling seven hills and hugging the banks of the River Doubs, the cultured capital of Franche-Comté remains refreshingly modest and untouristy, despite charms such as its graceful 18th-century old town, first-rate restaurants and happening bars pepped up by the city’s students.
It wasn’t always that way. In Gallo-Roman times, Besançon was an important stop on the trade routes between Italy, the Alps and the Rhine. This role came full circle in December 2011 when the new TGV station opened in the village of Auxon, 12km north of the centre, putting Besançon firmly back on the global map where it belongs.