Worth a Trip: Route Pasteur
The Route Pasteur (www.terredelouispasteur.fr) meanders through picturesque wine and dairy country while tracking landmarks in the life of pioneering biochemist Louis Pasteur (1822–95), who developed the first rabies vaccine and, of course, pasteurisation. Driving the route end to end takes 90 minutes, but allow a day for museums, strolls and lunch.
Begin in the handsome medieval city of Dole, Pasteur's birthplace and former capital of Franche-Comté (50km west of Besançon along the A36). A scenic stroll along the Canal des Tanneurs brings you to Pasteur's childhood home, which now houses the Musée Pasteur, an atmospheric museum where you can see Pasteur's cot and first drawings, and play games based around life and work. Only 100m west you can ponder Pasteur's legacy over lunch at Restaurant Grain de Sel, whose ever-evolving menus make daring use of seasonal produce.
From here, the route wends southeast through Franche-Comté to Molain, and there are a few short detours worth your while: at Mont Poupet (851m), a walking trail marks where Pasteur performed experiments to prove that bacteria were air-borne. Marnoz is the village of origin of Pasteur's mother's family, and Aiglepierre is where he went to school.
The highlight (and a possible finishing point) is the major wine-producing town of Arbois, 12km shy of Molain, where Louis Pasteur's family settled in 1827. His laboratory and workshops can be seen at the Maison de Louis Pasteur, still decorated with original 19th-century fixtures and fittings.
Worth a Trip: Salty Sights
The Jura has salt to thank for its early wealth. The focal point of sleepy Arc-et-Senans, 35km southwest of Besançon, is an 18th-century former saltworks. The Saline Royale was conceived as an 'ideal city' by creator Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. A masterpiece of early industrial-age design with columns, neoclassical archways and elegant outbuildings, the saltworks has been preserved as a monument to industrial France and now houses museums, a cafe and three-star guest rooms.
Fifteen kilometres southeast of Arc-et-Senans lies Salins-les-Bains. The town owes its name and fortune to salt water, which fuelled a medieval salt trade and spa industry. The salt museum at the Grande Saline exhibits salt pans and pumps, and hour-long guided tours in French delve into salt-processing history (between two and 12 times daily, depending on season). English-language tours are at 12.15pm between July and mid-September.
Worth a Trip: Absinthe Route
If you think touring vineyards sounds tame, how about a road trip themed around the fée verte (green fairy)? The Jura has a long tradition of distilling the famously potent greenish liqueur. Baudelaire, Rimbaud and other decadent figures from French literary history were partial to a drop, helping absinthe to gain its reputation as a psychedelic nectar with the power to inspire…albeit in darkly creative ways.
The Route de l'Absinthe (www.routedelabsinthe.com) picks a path from Pontarlier across the Swiss border to Noiraigue, taking in distilleries, tasting cellars and cultural sights linked to the notorious liqueur. On the French side there are stops in Pontarlier, La Cluse-et-Mijoux and border town Verrières-de-Joux. Pontarlier's tourist office is a good port of call before setting out.
Worth a Trip: Republic of Saugeais
A perfect example of the département of Doubs' ironic sense of humour is its self-declared micronation, 12km northeast of Pontarlier.
The République du Saugeais began as a prank on an administrative official in 1947. Locals enjoyed the joke so much that there are still road signs marking the border of this so-called republic, though their novelty bank notes and postage stamps are a rarity these days.
While you're here, make time for the Abbaye de Montbenoît, whose Renaissance-style tower – emblazoned with a horseback knight – instantly impresses. Tours, run by the adjoining tourist office, lead inside the 800-year-old abbey. Explore the double-columned cloisters and admire a 12th-century church, whose wooden stalls bear ornate carvings. Sculpted in the 16th century, several of the decorations 'warn' monks against the temptations of women (look out for a humiliated Aristotle, being ridden like a pony).