Saturday, January 7, 2012

Living in the magnificent Jura Mountains

From 2009 to 2015, Lis and I were blessed to live at Les Coteaux, a hillside on the lower slopes of Mont Chaubert, a 1,000 plus metre peak in the southwest of the 360 kilometre-long Jura Mountains. With our home literally built into the limestone cliffs of the Jurassic arc, and needing to do no more than to merely step out of our back door to enter the beautifully forested world of the Parc Jurassien Vaudois nature reserve, we couldn't think of any reason why it shouldn't be our preferred playground in the land of endless opportunities. (Especially if you're into the great outdoors - like walking, hiking, trekking, rambling, climbing, snow-shoeing, mountain-biking, skiing (especially cross-country skiing) and lots more).

I wrote this blog to document our rambles in the Jura .... which were really catalyzed by a tongue-in-cheek 2012 New Year's Eve resolution "to climb the seven highest peaks ....... of the Jura Mountains". And, although it's all about us and our experiences, I've tried to make the trip reports sufficiently useful for anyone else who'd like to hike in the Jura ... and are looking for information and guidance for all of the Jura's highest peaks.

By the time we left Switzerland (in February 2015), we'd hiked to the top of the highest 58 named Jura peaks, and to the top of 70 in total. It had been a blast ... a lot of fun, a lot of adventure, absolutely memorable. Were we the first to hike to the top of the Jura's highest 50 named peaks? Who knows? We had fun doing it! So what's so special about the Jura?

The Jura Mountains form an arc of ancient folded mountain ridges, running in a northeast-to-southwest direction along the France-Switzerland border, from the Rhine River valley in the northeast to the Rhone River valley in the southwest. These folds - an inter-locking mesh of some 150 ridges in about 15 parallel-ish lines - are mostly within Switzerland, and are at their highest (rising above 1,700 metres) in the south, along the eastern-most ridgeline overlooking Geneva and Lac Léman. The highest peak is Crêt de la Neige (1,720m), followed by (the remainder of the "seven highest"): Le Reculet, Grand Crêt, Roche Franche, Colomby de Gex, Mont Tendre - the highest peak in the Swiss Jura - and La Dôle (the second highest en Suisse).

 Near the top of La Dôle in September 2010.

"Jura" is derived from the Celtic/Gaulish word "jor", which was Latinized into "juria", meaning forest, or land of the forest, and hence, literally "forest mountains". It is also thought to have been derived from an old Slavic word "gora" - which means "mountain", so could be some kind of combination - the forested mountains. It is apparently the largest patch of "middle-mountain" natural forest in the whole of western Europe. Its characteristically forested landscape is a haven for walkers and climbers, with its multitude of cloud-topping peaks and ridges, and its frequently-hidden valleys (called "combes"), gorges, grottos, waterfalls and caves. Not surprisingly, it was also a haven for French resistance fighters during the Second World War, who took advantage of the thousands of places where one could disappear if so desired. "Getting lost" in the Jura is still a popular past-time, especially for those of us lucky enough to live among the folds and foothills, especially in the south in the vicinity of the 1,600 square kilometre regional natural park: Parc Jurassien Vaudois (which, fortunately for Lis and I, is right at our back door).

Composed of stratified deposits of sponge and coral reefs which thrived in the warm Jura Sea 190 to 130 million years ago, the Jura Mountains were formed at the same time as the nearby Alps, about 200-145 million years ago. They were crushed-up during the Jurassic period - which got its name from the mountains, due to the first discovery of fossils from this particular geological era in the Jura Mountains. A former seabed, the mountains are composed of fossil-rich calcareous limestone (termed "the Jura Limestone" by pioneer geologist/paleontologist Alexander von Humboldt), creating a "karst" landscape full of sink-holes and some 4,500 caves (including the largest in Switzerland) - some of which contain underground glaciers.

 At home in the Jura overlooking St George.

Here's ten other things you always wanted to know about the Jura:
1. It's the spiritual home of the Swiss watch-making industry, with many of the most famous brands established in small towns throughout the region.
2. Wormwood is cultivated in the region, from which absinthe is made (it was banned from 1905 to 2005 after a Swiss labourer murdered his wife and children after drinking two glasses of the stuff). On a brighter note, the Jura is also a distinctive wine-growing region, with vin jaune, vin de paille and macvin the local specialities.
3. In addition to forestry, the other principal primary industry is dairy cattle, mostly using a local breed called Montbeliard - which are piebald red/brown and white.
4. It is inhabited by lynx and wolves (not that you'll ever see these two unless you're really, really lucky), along with foxes, deer, chamois, capercaillie, hazel grouse and a host of other critters that you will see while rambling.
5. There really is a Jurassic Park (Parc Jurrasien) and, like in the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name, the region was once the home of dinosaurs ... about 200 million years ago - during the Jurassic period.
6. It has a marvellous (and popular) 310 kilometre walk trail running along its ridgeline called the "Chemin des Crêtes du Jura" or "Chemin des Crêtes Transjurrasien" (Jura Crest Trail). The trail is also called the "GTJ" (Grande Traversée du Jura).
7. Like all of Switzerland, it's famous for its cheeses - particularly Vacherin Mont d'Or, Comté, La Vache qui Rit, Morbier and Bleu de Gex.
8. The Jura offers the best views of the Alps in all of Switzerland. From the Jura summits and ridges one can see Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and a thousand other peaks along the jagged alpine horizon across the waters of Lac Léman.
9. It's where you'll find the imposing "Toblerone Line" ... not the delicious chocolate unfortunately, but a line of some 3,000 16-tonne concrete anti-tank blocks (built in the late 1930s to repel potential invaders and originally called the Promenthouse Line) which snakes its way for about 15 kilometres through the Jura and down to Lac Léman.
10. Louis Pasteur was born there - in the French town of Dole, on 27 December 1822. He owned a vineyard near Arbois that is still producing wine today. Another famous "local" was Louis Vuitton, who was born in the French Jura town of Anchay, on 4 August 1821.


  1. I have just found your blog which I found very interesting as my family come from the Jura and I have many childhood memories in the Chaumont area. I see no recent posts so I guess you have moved on elsewhere.

    1. Hello, thank you for the comment and kind words. Yes, we haven't made any blog entries for a couple of years on account of having moved back to Australia. We miss the Jura, but hope to get back in the not too distant future to do a few more hikes. Best wishes, Richard

  2. Hi Richard, I've loved reading your blog. I'm off to trek in the Jura for a few days at the back end of this month. I plan on arriving on Le Pont trekking up Dent de Vaulion and making our way to Nyon via La Dole. We have about 4 days to do it and plan on wild camping.

    Just wondering if you think snow shoes will still be needed at this time of year?



  3. Hi Rob, thanks for the kind words. Enjoy the Jura, it's such good hiking country! No, I don't think you'll need snow shoes, but worth checking-out one of the webcams from the Jura. I think there might even be one at Dent de Vaulion. Happy rambling. Cheers, Richard