With estimates of 89.4 million international visitors in 2018, France again claims the title of the world’s most visited country. Is it possible that there are still a few secrets to uncover in this ever-popular destination? A meander into the scenic Jura region, in the eastern part of the country, shows that oui, c’est possible!
Officially a department in the greater region of Bourgogne–Franche-Comté, the Jura is stitched in roughly between Bourgogne, or Burgundy, to the west and the Swiss border to the east. Thanks to an economy that revolves around producing renowned wine and cheese amid rolling vineyards and mountain meadows, the Jura is a bucolic buffet for lovers of French food. But it also draws outdoor adventurers with its stunning lakes, waterfalls, valleys, limestone cliffs, and more than 4,000 caves. Add historic villages and UNESCO World Heritage sites, and you may start to wonder why the Jura isn’t better known. Of course that’s part of its appeal. Here’s how to explore this under-the-radar area.
Sample the local cheese
Of the four AOC-designated cheeses made in the Jura, pale-yellow Comté may be the most beloved. (The others are Morbier, Mont d’Or, and Bleu de Gex.) To learn more about the coveted curds, bring your curiosity—and your appetite—to the Maison du Comté in the village of Poligny. Here you’ll get an interactive overview of the traditional production methods and the distinctive influence of terroir on the cheese’s aroma and flavor. The visit ends with a tasting of two varieties.
Pick up picnic fare at Badoz Vins & Fromages, a boutique run by a family of award-winning cheese makers, then drive one of the Routes du Comté that wind past dairies and farms. Some of the latter offer overnight accommodations, such as Ferme de Fleurette, where the pastures are full of bell-jingling Montbéliarde cows, one of only two breeds whose milk is allowed in the production of Comté.
Many of us could live on cheese alone, but for a more varied splurge, head to the town of Arbois and its two-Michelin-starred Maison Jeunet, a longtime pilgrimage stop for gourmands. Rustic tavern La Finette is another local favorite, known for its rich fondue of bubbling Comté. On the storybook main square of Arbois, several cafés and brasseries offer perches to fill up and take in the scene. For dessert, don’t miss the shop of fourth generation master chocolatier Édouard Hirsinger, whose cakes, tartlets, and chocolates are considered among the best in France.
Try unusual wine varieties
What to pair with all this cheese and chocolate? The local wine, naturally. Though the Jura is France’s smallest wine region, it produces acclaimed and unexpected varieties. Vin jaune (yellow wine), a late-harvest white made entirely from the Savagnin grape, ranks as the elixir of note. In most wine production, the barrels are filled to the brim, but vin jaune makers leave an air gap that allows a layer of yeast, called the voile (veil), to form on the liquid’s surface. This prevents further oxidation and advances the wine’s nutty flavor over the six-year aging process. A vin jaune bottle is easily identifiable—just look for the squat vessel, called a clavelin, which is smaller than a standard wine bottle.