Besançon is a place to set time aside for. Although it hides its secret well behind a seemingly never-ending wall of industrial and commercial estates, it is well worth the persistence, because at the centre, and of course above – the Citadel – there is an absolute treasure trove to be discovered. And where to start? Of course there are the well highlighted museums and so on, but alongside all of these there is quite simply Besançon - large, open squares, street markets, alley ways weaving in and out of teetering houses and an indefinable atmosphere that leaves Paul and I feeling inexplicably elated – and on Paul’s part compelled to sing ‘and I’m feeling good’ at perhaps just that bit too much volume in a public place.
Good news for pilgrims – there is a clear route alongside the river. From here it is climb, climb, climb and for us (but hopefully not our followers) a frustrating interlude of route finding, but even here the surrounding countryside seems to make it an experience I would not miss for the world.
Besançon is surrounded by tumbling vistas of wooded highs and lows, speckled with villages, loudly clanging cows and people generously coming out to ask us if we need help in finding our way, which of course we always do. In short, we have had a good day, completed by the gem of a place to stay … over to Paul.
The Citadel in Besançon is wonderfully positioned to protect France from the marauding Swiss gnomes. It sits high on a bluff that acts as a stopper in the throat of a bottle formed by the steep hills on either side. This leaves very little space into which to squeeze the river Soane and the highways to carry all the traffic. Our searches to find a safe and attractive route for the pilgrims that follow ends in the inevitable compromise between road and path, gentle slope and sheer climb. In the end we decide on a route following the river for a few kilometres before a long and quite steep climb up a quiet road. This takes us a little way away from our planned route, but we join the historic route again after le Petit Soane.
In the information that we have there is no mention of accommodation in Etalans, but there is an all purpose restaurant, tabac, bar and hotel. I decide that a bed in the hand is worth a couple of nights in the bush and suggest we call it quits for the day. We stay in the Bar Tabac Champ de Foire for the princely sum of 27 Euros, with a fair meal thrown in with a bottle of 6 etoiles rouge for a few euros.
The other bar patrons, local farmers with a clear thirst from a hot day in the fields, but are very welcoming, though maybe a bit too much towards BB. This is probably the first option we have found that comes within our idea of what pilgrim accommodation should be. Let’s hope we encourage the establishment of far more.