Balancing on a limestone ridge above the River Doubs, Dole is a lovely old city in north of the Jura Range.
Holy Roman Emperors and Counts of Burgundy stayed in Dole, and it was under their control under Louis XIV annexed the region in 1678. Dole’s old centre is a confusion of alleyways edged by Renaissance homes with turrets and courtyards.
It’s great fun to explore and was also the birthplace of Louis Pasteur, raised in poverty in the tannery quarter by the Canal du Rhône au Rhin.
France’s second largest forest, the Forêt de Chaux is Dole’s back garden and resonates with bygone trades like pottery, charcoal burning and wood-cutting.
Lets explore the best things to do in Dole:
1. Old Dole
The best thing about Dole is the town’s disorganised jumble of stairways, fountains, passages and tight, winding streets.
The tall stone houses pressing in from the sides date back as far as the 16th century, and around 20 are official French historic monuments.
Keep your eyes peeled, because every so often you can peek through an archway into an interior garden, or find a secret curiosity like the Fontaine aux Lepreux on Rue Pasteur.
This canal-front street, where Louis Pasteur is born, may be the prettiest in the city, with a cute footbridge over the water, covered passageways and a riverfront path decorated with flowers.
2. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dole
Dole’s fine arts museum assembles archaeological finds from in and near the city, combined with painting and sculpture from France, Italy and the Low Countries.
The archaeology galleries are in the basement where you can ponder Roman sarcophagi, Merovingian stone carvings and far older artefacts going back to the Palaeolithic Period.
Further up is the historic art collection, which gives you an idea of the kind of wealth flushing around Dole in the early modern age.
There’s are works by Baroque painters like Francesco Albani, Simon Vouet, Pieter van Boucle, the Master of Saint-Gilles and Vaalerio Castello.
On the top floor there’s contemporary art, mostly from the Nouveau Réalisme movement founded in the early 60s.
3. Maison de Louis Pasteur
The world-changing microbiologist was Louis Pasteur was born at this house by the canal in 1822. This was the tanning district, and his father’s old leatherworking tools are down in the basement as if he’d just quit for the day.
Over eight rooms, the displays inside try to flesh out Pasteur’s background, and approaches his work via art and symbolism.
You’ll get to know the advances he made in immunology, fermentation and crystallography.
There’s also a small cache of items belonging to Pasteur, including letters and instruments donated to the museum in the 20th century by his grandson.
4. Forêt de Chaux
If you’re in need of some unblemished nature, Dole opens out on to the second largest forest in France.
This unfurls over 25,000 hectares and has existed in harmony with Dole and the other towns and villages.
The forest fuelled all sorts of trades in the city, including ironwork, glassmaking and ceramics.
If you’re planning a hike in the forest it’s relatively easy to get around as in 1826 eight Doric columns, each five metres high, were installed on the main trails to help woodcutters find their way around.
If you’re in Dole in summer call in at the tourist office to arrange a tour of the 17th-century Hôtel-Dieu.
This former hospital was built in the Renaissance style, and was the last major building completed in Dole before the city was annexed to France.
It was a hospital up 1992 and now houses the city’s archives and library.
But there are thrilling traces from the early years of the hospital at the kitchen, bakery and fermenting room.
Best of all is the apothecary, in vaulted rooms with wooden cabinets and marble fireplaces.
There are more than 150 Dole-style earthenware pots for all manner of weird medicines.
6. Collégiale Notre-Dame
The bell-tower of this church climbing above the Doubs is one of the classic images of Dole.
It was built throughout the 1500s following Louis XI’s destruction of Dole in his attempt to conquer Franche-Comté.
During this century Flamboyant Gothic architecture gave way to the Renaissance, so the church has a blend of the two styles.
No expense was spared on the rich interior, and the region’s top artists and craftsmen were hired to work on it.
See the series of paintings in the nave by Laurent Pécheux, the polychrome Madonna and Child by Jean de la Huerta and the marble and wrought iron lectern from 1765.
7. Les Baraques du 14
On a trek in the Forêt de Chaux you could set a course for this hamlet hidden in the woods for hundreds of years.
The forest supported a lively lumber and charcoal industry that powered various traded in Dole.
And you can see how lumberjacks would have lived at this a small hamlet of four homes, two bakeries and an apiary, dating from the 16th century.
The hamlet is open every afternoon except Monday.
When you get to Dole check in with the tourist office to see if there’s anything going on at the hamlet, because in summer time there’s a calendar of demonstrations, talks, workshops and musical evenings.
8. Grotte d’Osselle
Unusual for a cave network, the Grotte d’Osselle was discovered as long ago as the 1200s and people have been coming in to look around since the 1500s.
This puts it among the oldest show-caves in the world.
Around 50,000 years ago prehistoric cave bears were using these chambers and tunnels, leaving behind some 3,000 skeletons.
These have gone to a host of museums, but there’s a set on show in cases at the caves.
The system has a “wet” section where water has trickled through and formed tortuous and colourful concretions.
But there’s also a dry chamber, where people like Voltaire would have attended parties in the 18th century and where clergy sought refuge in the French Revolution.
9. Les Halles de Dole
Just opposite the Collegiate Church at the top of the city is the marketplace where people have been trading since the 1200s.
The covered market had been rebuilt several times up to 1883 when its current Baltard-style iron and glass hall was completed.
There are four markets a week inside, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, and also on Friday evenings from 17:00. The morning markets are accompanied by outdoor stalls on Place Nationale selling homewares, clothing, handicrafts and flowers.
Inside you can sample the best of the fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, charcuterie, freshwater fish and pastries local to Dole.
10. Saline Royale – Arc-et-Senans
On the other side of the Chaux Forest is a fantastic remnant from the final years before the French Revolution.
Dating to the 1770s, the Royal Saltworks is a symbol of an onerous tax on salt, which forced people (including children ages eight and up) to buy a certain amount of salt a year at a fixed price.
The building and its complex are stunning, showing the influence of the Enlightenment in its rational geometry and arrangement of the different edifices on the site.
On summer evenings the complex is illuminated with magical projections for the Lux Salina sound and light show.
11. Water Activities
The waters of the Doubs and the Canal du Rhône au Rhin are sure to catch your eye, especially on hot summer days.
Luckily there are a couple of companies based in Dole that can set you up with a canoe or kayak in the summer.
You can hire a vessel and arrange pick-up later or paddle off with a guide for more insight about the city and its countryside.
If you don’t fancy getting wet Floméga is right on the Canal du Rhône au Rhin and provides hour-long boat tours full of details about Dole.
Your guide will point out spots related to the many personalities like Barberousse (12th-century Holy Roman Emperor) and Louis XIV who lived in or passed through Dole.
12. Aquaparc ISIS
If you’re holidaying with youngsters in a landlocked place like Jura an attraction like this can be a godsend.
Aquaparc Isis is a small water park run by the Dole municpality.
There’s a 64-metre-long flume and a five-laned slide for kids to attack.
And these are accompanied by a variety of pools, among which is a 50-metre Olympic pool if you’re up for some serious swimming.
Out of the water there’s a bar and fast food stand, a green space for picnics, volleyball courts, a playground for kids and a mini-golf course.
13. Le Musée Joseph Martin
Trace the Doubs back to the village of Étrepigney on the northern lip of the Chaux Forest and there’s a likeable little museum for the local pottery trade.
Joseph Martin was a potter here who gained a high standing in the 18th century and his descendants continue to craft handmade earthenware at the Poterie de M. Fumey Joël.
The museum meanwhile opened in 2002 in the village’s former wash-house and has a neat seat of ceramics, both for everyday use and decoration, dating from the 1700s.
A 343-metre-high hill north of Dole, Mont-Roland has been a pilgrimage site on the way to Compostela for almost 1,700 years.
A chapel was founded here in the 300s, and this was the first of a long line of chapels, monasteries and churches.
For hundreds of years there was a large 11th-century church on the site, but this was damaged and looted in various conflicts including the Ten Years’ War in the 17th century during an attack by the King of Sweden.
The current church is for the 19th century and merits a peek.
But you should also be here for the unobstructed vistas of the Doubs and Saône river-plains.
15. Local Cuisine
In the past beekeeping was a big local industry, and there are still a few honey merchants around Dole.
And honey is the key ingredient in pain d’épices, a historic local speciality.
This dense loaf is baked with rye flour, and flavoured with honey and spices like clove, aniseed, nutmeg and occasionally cinnamon.
It’s such a part of the local food culture that it is sometimes paired with savoury dishes like foie gras at restaurants.
Also superb in Dole is the freshwater fish caught in the Doubs like trout, carp or pike slathered in butter and herb sauces.