Lac des Brenets, Jura
Tuesday was one of those unexpected summer days when no guests were scheduled to arrive at A l’Ombre du Chateau, our B and B. My conscience and the coast were clear, so to speak, for an impromptu road trip; everything was ready for the unexpected room request and the sun was shining. Since David and I started the business five years ago, I find that those days are few and far between. I was up early and ready to go and so was Diane, our friend from California who, along with Jim, her husband who writes books and teaches people about the structure of story, has spent several summers here with us. In the absence of my daughter Katy, she is my traveling buddy because like Katy and me, Diane is usually up for going almost anywhere, anytime. However, before we could set off, I had to take Nora, one of our two cats, to the vet. I should have done it days ago, but we had been so busy around here that I hadn’t taken the time to do it. Today, I could put it off no longer. So, at 10:30, a little later than I had hoped to leave but with Nora properly attended to, we set off.
It’s rare for me to be a tourist in my own region of France. Not because there’s nothing to discover, but like most people, when I travel, I think of all those alluring, unknown but far away places. With a day trip, one must be a little bit reasonable. We wanted to go somewhere we had never been before, but where? I needed to narrow the choices and quickly. Starting out at 10:30, I was already fretting about the lunch hour. Lunch only happens between 12:00 and 2:00 in our part of France and we definitely wanted to have lunch.
After a quick discussion, we decided to head for Les Rousses, which is south of us on the French – Swiss border, several hours away. It has a restaurant, complete with terrace and a panoramic view, much recommended by friends who can’t believe that we’ve never been there. I decided to take a new route on small departmental roads also recommended by the same friends, who swear that it’s a much faster way to get there than the larger route Nationale. As we were rolling along, carefree and blazing new trails, we came upon the dreaded “DEVIATION” sign. The deviation, or detour, is the bane of motorists everywhere. Hoping that it won’t be too lengthy or inconvenient or worst of all, make us miss lunch, we take our chances. Besides it is our only option unless we turn around, go back the way we came and start over. Actually, had we really wanted to get to Les Rousses that day, turning around would have been a better choice. After driving for a while, it was quite obvious to me that we had gone in a huge time-consuming circle that put us only about 15 miles from our house and that we were definitely headed in the wrong direction.
Admitting that we were already fairly peckish, and that Pontarlier was our best and probably only opportunity to find somewhere to eat in a timely fashion, we were fortunate to be seated at the small but delightful Café Pont, where we had long planned to have lunch one day. That was a new experience even though Pontarlier wasn’t. It’s one of our well known shopping towns about 40 minutes from home.
Lunch behind us, what shall we do next? We certainly weren’t willing to give up and head for home. With our long summer days, we still had lots of daylight left. So, we set off once again into unknown territory – in the direction of Morteau and perhaps beyond.
I am continually delighted by France in her history, her diversity, her nature, beauty and manageable size. Here we were, driving through more beautiful countryside, but quite different than what we had left just a few kilometers ago. Shortly, we came upon Montbenoit with its small but exquisite 12th century Abby and Cloister that we didn’t even know was there. Of course, we had to stop and take the tour. It was worth it. Back on the road, I spot a sign for the Saut de Doubs.
The Saut de Doubs (the waterfall of the River Doubs) is one of many natural wonders in our region that in my 17 years of living in the Franche-Comte, I haven’t visited. Suddenly, our trip’s goal became clear. But where is it exactly? Checking the map, we see that we need to go past Morteau to Villiers-Le-Lac, not that far away, but far enough. Shortly we whiz through Morteau, famous for it’s delicious sausage but there’s no time to sample that today I’m afraid, if we want to see the Saut de Doubs which, I believe, involves getting on a boat and going down a river.
Not too many people are on the stretch of road between Morteau and Villiers-le-Lac which is good because now we are in a hurry. Suddenly, we are entering town but where does one find the boat? Will we be too late? In my haste, I go shooting past the embarkation point and tell Diane, “Oh, well, we will just have to find a place to turn around and go back” which we do, turn around that is. Then we see another place with boats right there across the street. After a two second consultation, we decide to go for this one – no time to waste going back. As we wheeled into the parking lot, I saw a sign saying last boat at 4:00. Diane is always the one who wears her watch so she tells me that it is already 4:10! Oh, no!! All this way and we’re too late! I rush up to the girl at the ticket booth anyway and she says, “Oh, no need to hurry – look, your Captain is just coming”. As I’m buying the tickets, I sneak a look at our Captain and I have to smile.
Our Captain, tall, lean and lanky and the young man with him, who is shorter, darker and wearing glasses, are dressed in matching attire: smart white short sleeved shirts with epaulettes, complete with gold braid, navy blue shorts and deck shoes without socks. Both are considerably younger than my 30 year old son. I am smiling as we board the boat and check out our fellow passengers – two older French couples with their well-behaved dogs in tow. When our Captain hears Diane and me speaking to each other in English, he apologizes that the commentary will be in French (which one would expect, since we are in France) and proudly produces a written version in English. Then, we’re off! The Captain is piloting the boat and his colleague is giving the spiel. Later I find that their roles will be reversed on the way back.
This 7 kilometer stretch of the river Doubs is on the border between France and Switzerland making one bank of the river French and the other Swiss. The scenery is beautiful, the feeling is tranquil. I could feel stress I didn’t know I had leaving me as we glided along.
Our boat, we were told, is the only electro-solar energy powered boat on the river….maybe that’s why it was so quiet. We saw wild swans, blue cranes and other water birds, fanciful rock formations and cliffs, majestic trees, and now and then, a charming cottage or two on one bank or the other. Before it was time to dock for the hike to the waterfall, the river becomes a large lake called Lake of Chaillexon by the French and Lake of Les Brenets by the Swiss. It freezes in the winter making it the largest outdoor skating rink in Europe. The 30 minute outward bound trip was over all too quickly.
We get off the boat with the other passengers including the dogs who now seem to be best friends. Dutifully, we follow the signs to the waterfall, which turns out to be a nice little hike, quite civilized in it paths and scenic outlooks with opportunities along the way to buy souvenirs, drinks, and snacks. There are even little cafes where one can have lunch (if you’re there between 12:00 and 2:00). Over on the Swiss side, I see a small and inviting old hotel right on the water and wonder how does one get there from here? Swim? We have an hour to check things out. Even in this region of rivers, sources, cascades and lakes, the Saut de Doubs is impressive. Diane has remembered to bring her camera as well as her watch and takes lots of photos…memories in the making.
Walking back to the dock to wait for our boat, the last boat of the day, taking in the splendor of the site, I thank the gods for having had different plans in mind for our trip. As always, they were right. What a great way to spend a glorious summer day, out discovering nature that had been there waiting all along and so close to home.