The capital of Franche-Comté, Besançon, is an attractive town of handsome stone buildings that sits between the northern edge of the Jura mountains and a loop of the wide River Doubs. It is this natural defensive position that has defined the town’s history. Besançon was briefly a Gallic fortress before Caesar smashed the Gauls’ resistance in 58 BC. Strong outer walls were developed during the Middle Ages and the indefatigable military engineer Vauban added the still-extant Citadelle in the seventeenth century in order to guard the natural breach in the river, and a large French army presence remained in the area until well into the twentieth century.
For the most part, visitors are unlikely to stray far from the Old Town which is squeezed into a tight loop of the Doubs. Its pedestrianized streets and narrow walkways conceal a wealth of good museums and cosy cafés.