Hidden away from the country’s busy tourist hubs, the capital of the district of Franche-Comté has an enthralling citadel and one of the oldest museums in France.
Originally a Roman settlement named Vesontio, the old town of Besançon lies almost totally surrounded by the River Doubs. The new town holds a plethora of fine restaurants and hotels. You will find real cultural and historical gems in old Besançon.
You can’t come to Besançon without making a trip to the grand Citadelle de Besançon. This 17th-century citadel was designed by military engineer Vauban for King Louis XIV and stands 328 feet (100 meters) above the town. Stroll along the outer ramparts and marvel at panoramic views of the river as it snakes its way through the lush foothills of the Jura Mountains.
Within the walls of the citadel you will find the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation. This is one of the country’s most comprehensive World War II museums and features a vast array of artifacts, documents and photos that vividly depict the role of Besançon during the war. For something to suit younger audiences, check out the Besançon Zoo directly behind the museum. See lions and tigers or head to the insectarium to get close to tarantulas, stick insects and scorpions.
Walk down the hill back to the town or take the frequent bus service that runs between the citadel and the center of Besançon. Here you’ll find the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie. This opened in 1694, making it one of the oldest museums in France. Browse the exhibits to discover rare artifacts including ancient Egyptian mummies and Roman mosaics. Explore the museum further to find paintings by acclaimed artists such as Titian, Rubens and Goya.
You won’t go hungry in Besançon, as the town features a superb range of dining options. Traditional French restaurants are abundant while international cuisine is also available. If you don’t need a full meal, sit in a riverside café in the shadow of the citadel and try the region’s distinctive white wines and cheeses.