CHAPTER IX. LONS-LE-SAUNIER.
Lons-le-Saunier, capital or chef-lieu of the Department of the Jura is charmingly situated amid undulating vine-covered hills, westward, stretching the vast plain of La Bresse, eastward and southward, the Jura range, dimpled heights changing the lofty mountain ranges into distance. The town known to the Romans as Ledo Salinarius and fortified under their auspices, also a fortified town in the Middle Ages, is dominated by four hills, conspicuously rising above its undulating environment, and each of these offers a superb view from the top. My first walk was to the height of Mont-ciel, Mons Coelius of the Romans, north of the town, and a delightful walk it is, leading us upward between vineyards to a broad open space planted with fine trees, and sufficiently large to afford camping ground for soldiers. From this summit we gain a wonderful prospect, vineyard, hill, and valley, with villages dotted here and there, picturesque mediaeval castles crowning many epochs, and far away the vast plain stretching from the Jura to Burgundy, and the majestic mountain ranges bounding on either side the east horizon. This walk is so easy that our little companion of four years old could make it without fatigue, and there are many others equally delightful, and not more fatiguing. We rested for awhile on the hill top eating grapes, then slowly descended, stopping on our way to enter the chapel of the Jesuits and school-buildings, both commanding a splendid site on the wooded incline. There were of course women in the confessionals, and painted images of saints and miracle-workers in abundance, before which people were kneeling with tiny images hugged to their breasts, like the pagans of old. Image worship, indeed, idolatry in the purest form, is carried on to a tremendous extent here, witness the number of images exposed for sale in the shop-windows.
But the excursion to be made from Lons-le-Saunier is that to the wonderful rock-shut valley and old Abbey of Baume, Baume-les-Messieurs, as it is called, to distinguish it from the town of Baume-les-Dames, near Besancon. This is reached by a delightful drive of an hour and a half, or easily on foot by good pedestrians, and is on no account to be omitted. We, of course, take the former course, having two little fellow-travellers, aged respectively four and two and a half years old, who, perched on our knees, are as much delighted as ourselves with the beauty of everything. We soon reach the top of the valley, a deep, narrow, rock-enclosed valley or gorge, and, leaving our carriage, prepare to descend on foot. At first sight, the zig-zag path along what appears to be the perpendicular side of these steep, lofty rocks, appears perilous, not to say impracticable, but it is neither one nor the other. This mountain stair-case, called the Echelles de Baume, may be descended in all security by sure-footed people not given to giddiness; our driver, leaving his quiet horse for a time, shoulders one child, my companion shoulders another, I followed with the basket, and in twenty minutes we are safely landed at the base of the cliffs we had just quitted, not yet quite knowing how we had got there! These rocky walls, shutting in the valley, or combe, as it is called, so closely that seldom any ray of sunshine can penetrate, are very lofty, and encircle it from end to end with majestic effect. It is, indeed, a winding little islet of green, threaded by a silvery stream, and rendered naturally impregnable by fortress-like rocks. We rest on the turf for a while, whilst the children munch their cakes and admire the noise of the mill opposite to us, and the dazzling waters of the source, pouring little cascades from the dark mountain-side into the valley. The grottoes and stalactite caverns of this combe are curious alike within and without, and in their inmost recesses is a small lake, the depth of which has never yet been sounded. Both lake and stalactite caves, however, can only be seen at certain seasons of the year, and then with difficulty.
The tiny river issuing from the cleft is called the Seille, and very lovely is the deep, narrow valley of emerald green through which it murmurs so musically. The mountain gorge opens by little and little as we proceed, showing velvety pastures where little herdsmen and herdswomen are keeping their cows; goats, black and white, browse on the steep rocks as securely as flies on a ceiling, and abundance of trees grow by the road-side. The valley winds for half a mile to the straggling village of Baume, and there the stupendous natural fortifications of cliff and rock come to an end. Nothing finer in the way of scenery is to be found throughout the Jura than this, and it is quite peculiar, being unlike any other mountain conformation I have ever seen, whilst the narrow winding valley of soft gold-green is in beautiful contrast with the rugged grandeur, not to say savageness, of its environment.