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Franche-Comté

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Franche-Comté: 47.232998, 6.010620

Pasteur’s Chateau de la Cuisance

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Arbois, France

Arbois is a one street town. At least one main street, the Rue de Courcelles which becomes the Grand Rue at the city’s center. In fact, the term Courcelles perfectly describes this town of just over 3,000 inhabitants as it translates to “small garden” and is a popular surname as well as town name throughout France. But I digress. Arbois is the center of a tiny wine province by the same name. On the northern outskirts of town, however, is the home of the municipality’s claim to fame. Here, right along the banks of the river Cuisance, in fact overhanging the waters, is a three-story home that is a cross between a deserted abode and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Only the flowers blooming from the second floor’s balconette give the life to the structure. On second thought, the home is quite lovely. Masking what would otherwise be a typical hamlet house, the greenery provides the appropriate charm apropos in Arbois. It was here that the Pasteur family moved to in 1827. Young Louis was a mere 5 years old. He was born just up the road in Dole, the beginning of the 2017 Tour de France Stage 8, only 34 kilometers away. Pasteur did not show early signs of genius and even struggled in the sciences throughout his education. But his persistent efforts and tragic life events pushed him to press on. It was the death of three of his children due to typhoid that he worked to prove the germ theory. Along these lines, then, Pasteur worked to define fermentation and consequently the process to remove bacteria from natural products like milk and wine, a process of pasteurization. While following his work around France, Pasteur continued to return to this “Chateau de la Cuisance” as his eternal “home.” Today, this house museum is much like it was when Pasteur would come here to collect his thoughts and conduct rudimentary experiments. Just like Pasteur, the museum may come from humble beginnings, but it employs some interesting and advanced interpretation to keep visitors engaged in the life of this remarkable Frenchman.

Source de l’Ain is Paradise

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Conte, France

The beginning. Profoundly simple words. The start of something is always fascinating, exciting, and revealing compared to what it becomes, whether later in life or in nature. The River Ain is no different. That’s why we’re heading to l’Ain source near Comté Nozeroy and only a few kilometers from the 2016 Tour de France route. The Ain is one of the major rivers in France. Perhaps it lacks the name recognition of the Seine, Loire, or Rhone, but this 190 kilometer long river has it all. Just the stage before, the peloton crossed the Ain before its ascent of the Col du Berthiand. There, the Ain carved gorgeous caverns with its raging waters. Only some one hundred kilometers upstream, in the heart of the Jura, the Ain is little more than a stream. When the peloton crosses the Ain in Champagnole, it’s considerably larger, but near the source, the Ain is a peaceful and natural wonder. Taking the Rue de la Source de l’Ain, the beauty of le Saut de Maillys is a waterfall only a kilometer below the source. From here, footpaths lead the intrepid trekker up footpaths to the source. It really is a scenic and calming experience that puts the Ain in a broader context.

Abbaye Saint-Colomban

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The Romans took advantage of the Luxeuil-les-Bains thermal baths, making it a sizeable community in the Haute-Saone department. The barbarians laid waste to the city in 450 and left it in ruins. For one hundred years, Luxovium as it was known to the Romans, was deserted until an Irish missionary monk by the name of Columban settled here and founded monastic school in 590. Columban was devout and strict. He imported and demanded good habits of prayer, study, reading, and calligraphy, the latter conducted in the methods of his homeland. Thanks to his exacting expectations, Columban is remembered for his personality. While this may be appropriate, it should not be forgotten that his methods produced a renowned scriptorium at the Abbey where monks would copy books by hand. Over time, the school swelled into an Abbey with a large population, as evidenced by the size of the sprawling complex that now occupies “downtown” Luxeuil. Eventually, Columban’s inflexibility caused him to be banished from Luxeuil for practicing more Celtic traditions. Yet the Abbey grew. Even the Saracens’ pillaging of the Abbey in 732 could not slow the growth. Rather, Charlemagne instituted Benedictine monks to keep the missionary going. The current buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries and continue to house a pastoral center and secondary school. Without a doubt, Colomban’s work is ongoing.

Lac de Chalain Pile Dwellings

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Marigny, France

If there’s one thing history teaches us, it’s that basic human existence changes very little over time. This is what Lac de Chalain illustrates. At over 50 hectares (123 acres) in size, the pile dwelling community that occupied the western bank of the lake between Marigny and Doucier, is the largest of the 111 prehistoric sites across six countries that comprise the Pile Dwelling UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the collection of sites was added in 2011, this archaeological site at Lac de Chalain was discovered in 1904 and was occupied between 5300-600 BC. The sites are treasure troves of information that teach us how our ancestors lived in water-based communities in the Alpine regions as agrarian societies. Because the sites exist in or around lakes, wetlands, and rivers, the material left has been beautifully preserved but leaves little that can been seen by the public. Luckily there are numerous museums and archaeological parks dedicated to interpreting this history. One such site can be found at Pfahlbauten in Gletterens later along the Stage 16 route in Switzerland. Lac de Chalain continues to be enjoyed by families and vacationers seeking time in the sun in along this natural lake renowned for its bright blue water. With so many flocking to its shores, it’s clear that the ancient lakeside inhabitants were well ahead of their time.

The Jura’s Most Recent Test of Champions

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La Planche des Belles Filles is a short but brutal climb in the southern Vosges Mountains dividing the Haute-Saone Department and the Territoire de Belfort. Indeed, its 1,148 meter elevation is not the primary concern from riders, who are petrified of its steepness, consistently in low double digits and rising to 14% by the summit. Just past the town of Plancher-les-Mines, the climb begins its 6.5 kilometer run. Over the following four switchbacks, however, the climbers will rise nearly 500 meters. That’s an average of 7.6% rise. This year, the pundits have already begun to anticipate Chris Froome’s approach to the climb and whether he can repeat his breakout victory from 2012. During that year’s tour, as a lieutenant for fellow Brit, Bradley Wiggins, Froome surged ahead of Wiggins and Cadel Evan at the top to win the stage and boldly announce his arrival. While Froome would wait a year to take the leadership mantle of the prolific Team Sky, I distinctly remember the ballsy move and the stir it raised at the time – a little jab that perhaps he, rather than Wiggins, should be the leader of the team. It’s only fair, then, that fans should eagerly await the subtle Planche des Belles Filles for both Froome and Nibali have won the stage the only two times it’s been featured in the Tour. Lucky for us, this relatively new Tour climb packs a historical and sporting punch for us to relish.

Cascade du Hérisson

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Bonlieu, France

There are too many natural wonders to ogle and awe at in one’s Tour de France. The Jura offers some of the most spectacular sites but is often forgotten. The Cascades du Hérisson are just one of these natural beauties. This 4 kilometer stretch of the Hérisson River is listed as a natural heritage and is made up of some 31 waterfalls that meander, fall, stream over craggily rocks, and frame the surrounding landscape like a majestic symphony. Almost right along the D-39 road, the Cascades offer an easily accessible yet peaceful retreat from the outside world. In even a short 7.4 kilometer hike, an entire family can explore all the waterfalls as they drop 300 meters into the lower valley. The largest two waterfalls, le Girard Saut and L’Éventail, each plunge over 60 meters. As you might expect, the Cascades have long been a gathering place for humans, whether for sustenance or power. Without a doubt, this is one site that combines the ingenuity and richness of French history and culture with a complementary beauty unique to this nation of beauties.

Winter Fun at Station des Rousses

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Les Rousses, France

As we’ve seen throughout Stage 8, the Jura is a naturalists’ paradise filled with beautiful streams, cascading waterfalls, and delightful mountains. In winter, these highlights perhaps become even prettier. The finale at Station des Rousses is no different. Of course, this is a destination that offers excellent downhill skiing right on the Swiss border. In fact, the four different mountains that comprise Station des Rousses, operate across national boundaries to create 50 kilometers of slopes – this for only 26 euros for an adult, a ridiculously affordable price compared with prices in the U.S. and Canada. Thrill seekers, however, aren’t the only ones excited about Les Rousses. This is an area that, perhaps more than alpine skiing, specializes in cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, two ways that afford visitors more intimate experiences with the winter magnificence of the countryside. Snowshoeing for one has become a favorite annual activity for my wife and I as we make an annual trek to winter wonderlands. It’s remarkably peaceful and intoxicating. Les Rousses offers 22 kilometers of snowshoe trails through neighboring villages. And then there’s the cross-country skier’s paradise. The area is known as one of the best cross-country venues in France. The combination of snow quality and plethora of trails has made the area home to annual Transjurassienne. This world-class event the largest cross-country ski competition in France with some 4,000 participants, and is nearing its fourth decade in operation. As skiers meander their way through the grueling 68 kilometer (42+ mile) course, they pass some of the most striking scenery in the Jura and 11 of its most beautiful villages across the two countries. Whatever your winter fancy, even biathlon or dog-sledding, Station des Rousses has something for the ambitious athlete or the adventurous family. What’ll it be?

Driving on Peugeot in Vesoul

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Like Vittel, it is impossible to talk about Vesoul without mentioning the massive Peugeot (PSA) plant just to the west of town. The sprawling 130 hectares (321 acres) complex is PSA’s World Logistics Center for producing spare parts. That’s right, Peugeot has an entire plant dedicated to manufacturing, shipping, and keeping these French cars running worldwide. In total, the plant ships 650 tons of spare parts and accessories each day. The Peugeot brand started in nearby Valentigney and Sochaux as a coffee mill in 1810, then as a bicycle manufacturer in 1830. Finally, the family business expanded into the emerging horseless carriage in 1882. Over the years, Peugeot has won several awards for longevity, an effort that is made possible by the Vesoul plant. The PSA plant  has been a part of the Vesoul economic and visual  landscape for over fifty years. The current plant operates in what was originally a Dolle-Chaubey farm manufacturing plant, which opened in Vesoul in 1908. This historic plant building is even identified as a piece of cultural heritage. Thanks to the Vesoul plant, PSA is the largest employer in the Franche-Comte department and continues to be a major source of pride for local residents.

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