CHAPTER X. CHAMPAGNOLE AND MOREZ.
On quitting Lons-le-Saunier for Champagnole, our way led through rich tracts of vineyard; but no sooner were we fairly among the mountains than the vine disappeared altogether, and scant culture and pastures took its place. We also soon perceive the peculiar characteristics of the Jura range, which so essentially distinguish it from the Alps. These mountains do not take abrupt shapes of cones and sugar-loaves, but stretch out in vast sweeps with broad summits and lateral ridges, features readily seized, and lending to the landscape its most salient characteristics. Not only are we entering the region of lofty mountains and deep valleys, but of numerous industrial centres, also the land of mediaeval warfare and legend, whence arose the popular saying:
Nenni, ma foi."
Our journey, of four hours, takes us through a succession of grandiose and charming prospects, and lonely little villages, at which we pick up letters, and drop numbers of Le Petit Journal, probably all the literature they get. Gorge, crag, lake and ravine, valley, river, and cascade, pine forests crowning sombre ridges, broad hill-sides alive with the tinkling of cattle bells, pastoral scenes separating frowning peaks, all these we have to rejoice the eye and much more. The beautiful Lake of Challin, we only see in the distance, though most enticingly inviting nearer inspection, and all this valley of the Ain might, indeed, detain the tourist several days. The river Ain has its source near Champagnole, and flows through a broad beautiful valley southwards, but the only way to get an idea of the geography of the place is to climb a mountain, maps avail little.
On alighting at the Hotel Dumont, the sight of an elegant landlady, in spotless white morning gown, was re-assuring, and when I was conducted to a bedroom with bells, clean floors, proper washing apparatus, and other comforts, my heart quite leapt. There is nothing to see at Champagnole but the saw-mills, the "click, click" of which you hear at every turn. Saw-making by machinery is the principal industry here, and is worth inspecting. But if the town itself is uninteresting, it offers a variety of delicious walks and drives, and must be a very healthy summer resort, being five hundred yards above the level of the plain. I went a little way on the road to Les Planches, and nothing could be more solemnly beautiful than the black pines pricking against the deep blue sky, and the golden light playing on the ferns and pine-stems below; before us, a vista of deep gorge and purple mountain chain, on either side the solemn serried lines of the forest. The good pedestrian should follow this road to Les Planches, as splendid a walk as any in the Jura. No less delightful, though in a different way, is the winding walk by the river. The Ain here rushes past with a torrent like thunder, and rolls and tosses over a stony bed, having on either side green slopes and shady ways. Those travellers, like myself, contented with a bit of modest mountaineering, will delight in the three hours' climb of Mount Rivol, a broad pyramidal mountain, eight hundred yards in height, dominating the town. A very beautiful walk is this for fairly good walkers, and though the sun is intense, the air is sharp and penetrating. On our way, we find plenty of ripe wild mulberries with which to refresh ourselves, and abundance of the blue-fringed gentian to delight our eyes.
So steep are these mountain sides, that it is like scaling a wall, but after an hour and a half we are rewarded by finding ourselves on the top; a broad plateau covering many acres richly cultivated, with farm-buildings in the centre. Here we enjoy one of those magnificent panoramas so plentiful in the Jura, and which must be seen to be realized. On one side we have the verdant valley of the Ain, the river flowing gently through green fields and softly dimpled hills; on another, Andelot with its bridge and the lofty rocks bristling round Salins; on the third side, the road leading to Pontarlier amid pine-forest and limestone crags, and above this, a sight more majestic still, namely, the vast parallel ranges of the Jura, deepest purple, crested in the far away distance with a silvery peak whose name takes our very breath away. We are gazing on Mont Blanc! a sight as grandiose and inspiring as the distant glimpse of the Pyramids from Cairo! We would fain have lingered long before this glorious picture, but the air was too cold to admit of a halt after our heating walk in the blazing sun. The great drawback to travelling in the Jura, indeed, is this terrible fickleness of climate. As a rule, even thus early in the autumn, you are obliged to make several toilettes a day, putting on winter clothes when you get up, and towards mid-day exchanging them for the lightest summer attire till sunset, when again you need the warmest clothing. Winter sets in very early here, there is no spring, properly speaking; five months of fine warm weather have to be set against seven of frost and snow; yet in spite of the bitterness and long duration of these winters, little or no provision seems to be made against the cold. There are no carpets, curtains, and generally no fire-places in the bedrooms, all is cold, cool, and bare as in Egypt, and many are approached from without. The people must enjoy a wonderful vigour of health and robustness of constitution, or they could not resist such hardships as these, and what a Jura winter is, makes one shudder to think of. Snow lies often twelve feet deep on the road, and journeys are performed by sledges, as in Russia.