CHAPTER VIII. SALINS, ARBOIS, AND THE WINE COUNTRY OF THE JURA.
Hardly has the traveller quitted Besancon in the direction of Lons-le-Saunier ere he finds himself amid wholly different scenery; all is now on a bolder, vaster scale, desolate sweeps of rocky plain, shelving mountain sides, bits of scant herbage alternating with vineyards, the golden foliage lending wondrous lustre to the otherwise arid landscapes, the rocks rising higher and higher as we go - such are the features that announce the Jura. We have left the gentler beauties of the Doubs behind us, and are now in one of the most romantic and picturesque regions of all France. Salins, perhaps the only cosmopolitan town that the Jura can be said to possess, since hither English and other tourists flock in the summer season, is superbly situated - a veritable fairy princess guarded by monster dragons! Four tremendous mountain peaks protect it on every side, towering above the little town with imposing aspect; and it is no less strongly defended by art, each of these mountain tops being crested with fortifications. Salins bears indeed a formidable front to the enemy, and no wonder the Prussians could not take it. Strategically, of course, its position is most important, as a glance at the map will show. It is in itself a wonderful little place from its "assiette," as the French say; and wherever you go you find wild natural beauty, while the brisk mountain air is delightful to breathe, and the transparent atmosphere lends an extra glow to every feature of the scene.
At Salins too we find ourselves in a land of luxuries, i.e., clean floors, chamber-maids, bells, sofas, washing basins and other items in hygiene and civilization not worth mentioning. The Hotel des Messageries is very pleasant, and here, as in the more primitive regions before described, you are received rather as a guest to be made much of than as a foreigner to be imposed upon. This charming bonhomie, found among all classes, is apt to take the form of gossip overmuch, which is sometimes wearisome. The Franc-Comtois, I must believe, are the greatest talkers in the world, and any chance listener to be caught by the button is not easily let go. Yet a considerable amount of volubility is pardoned when people are so amiable and obliging.
Mendicity is forbidden in the Jura as in the Department of the Doubs, and there is little real pinching poverty to be found among the rural population, though of course a laboriousness and economy unknown among our own. In the most part, the vine-grower and fabricator of Gruyere cheese, so called, is well-to-do and independent, and here indeed, the soil is the property of the people.
The Salins season ends on the 15th of September, when the magnificent hydropathic establishment is closed, and only a few stray visitors remain. The Salins waters are said to be much more efficacious than those of Kreuznach in Prussia, which they much resemble; and the nature of the soil is shown by its deep crimson hue. If the tonic qualities of these mountain springs are invaluable, it must be admitted that they are done ample justice to, for never surely were so many public fountains to be found in a town of the same size. A charming monograph might be devoted to the public fountains of Franche-Comte, and those of Salins are especially meritorious as works of art. How many there are, I cannot say, but at least half-a-dozen are interesting as monuments, notably the charming life-size bronze figure of a Vintager, by the gifted Salinois sculptor, Max Claudel, ornamenting one, the fine torso surmounting another, and of which the history is mysterious, the group of swans adorning a third, and so on; at every turn the stranger coming upon some street ornament of this kind, whilst the perpetual sound of running water is delightful to the ear. I shall never recall the Jura without this cool, pleasant, dripping noise, as much a part of it as its brisk air and dazzling blue sky.
There is a good deal to see at Salins; the salines, or salt-works, the old church of St. Anatole with its humorous wood-carvings, the exquisite Bruges tapestries in the Museum, the ancient gateways of the city, the quaint Renaissance statue of St. Maurice in the church of that name - wooden figure of a soldier-peasant on horseback - and lastly the forts and the superb panoramas to be obtained from them. This little straggling town, of not more than six thousand and odd inhabitants, possesses a public library of ten thousand volumes, a natural history museum, and a theatre, and other resources. It is eminently Catholic, but I was glad to find that the thin edge of the Protestant wedge is being driven in there, a Protestant service being now held once a month, and this will doubtless soon develop into some regular organization. Protestantism means cleanliness, education, and domestic morality, and Catholicism the reverse; so no wonder that the more enlightened mayors and municipalities are inclined to look upon these quiet invasions with favour. As I narrate my progress through the Jura, it will be seen that I found Protestantism everywhere making head against the enemy.