Geneviève is on Stage 15 of our Tour de France.
Lure is a small town nestled between mountains and where lakes dot the rolling landscape. It dates back to 610 when Saint Desle founded an oratory in a chapel dedicated to Saint Martin. Lure grew into a powerful Benedictine Abbey. Over the centuries, the agricultural industry was replaced by the textile industry. The town was largely destroyed by a fire in 1720. What emerged from the ashes is pleasant on the eyes.
A stone’s throw from Lure is the town of Ronchamp, best known for its iconic La Chapelle de Notre-Dame-du-Haut. The church was built by the Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965). It revolutionised religious architecture in the 20th century. It was built in 1955 and became a listed monument in 1967. Over eighty thousand visitors flock to the church each year.
North West of Lure is the town of Le Thillot. In former times, the Dukes of Lorraine owned the copper mines here. Today it is possible to visit the Rouge Montagne mine. Equipped with a helmet and a mining lamp, you descend into the heart of an underground network. The mine was excavated in granite rocks between 1560 and 1761. This is complemented by a small exhibition.
While you are in this area, you will come to the Plateau de Milles Etangs, the plateau of a thousand lakes. In actual fact, there are “only” 850 lakes but enough to give the region the nickname “Little Finland”. The whole area covers a vast 220 km² and is an absolute must for nature lovers. About 12 000 years ago, as the Moselle glacier began to recede, small basins appeared. It also became a place to extra peat. In the middle ages, the local population further developed the ponds to use for fish farming. A large amount of water also favoured the development of the textile and paper industry.
The Ballon des Vosges natural park and the Ognon River is a mixture of woodland, pastures, wetlands, farmlands and plenty of monuments. Despite it being a protected nature park, some 238000 people live in this area. There are also many typical “flowered” villages with charming churches, old-styled “franc comtoises” houses, fountains and washing areas.
About 35 km south-east of Lure is the charming town of Montbéliard with its Château de Montbéliard, owned by the Dukes of Württemberg who came from what is now South-Western Germany. It reiterates the idea that European history is closely linked to the activities of a handful of monarchies, all somehow connected and influential. The connection lives on today with Montbéliard being twinned with the town of Ludwigsburg, just north of Stuttgart in Germany. Unsurprisingly, Ludwigsburg also boasts an impressive palace.
We are now in the Territory of Belfort and in the Route des Fleurs. Here, let us focus on the Route des Fleurs. Seventy per cent of all towns in the Territoire de Belfort participate in the prestigious “Flower Competition”, the “Concours des Fleurs”. In essence, the population of a village to a town volunteer and get together to win the coveted and precious label of “Village Fleuri”. They do this by decorating houses, gardens, public places, anything which can store, hold, shelter to nourish flowers. Every town in France can enter the competition, but it is particularly popular in Belfort.
The competition was introduced in 1959. Within the Ministry of Tourism is a special committee dedicated to this project. Any commune can enter, and the “reward” is a sign at the town entrance displaying between one and four flowers. In 2018 just under 5000 towns had such a sign, with 257 of them boasting the highest recognition of four flowers.
About 90 minutes north of Montbéliard is the town of Gérardmer. Here, drop by the “Atelier Cuir Vosges” an artisanal leather manufacturer. What makes this place interesting is the willingness to share leather crafting in countless workshops.
This stage of the tour ends in a ski resort with the curious name of La Planche des Belles Filles, which translated means “The board of beautiful girls”. This is quite misleading. Originally it was “belles fahys”, an old way of saying “nice birch trees”. But stories abound, and there is one story dating back to the thirty years war. Young women fled from Swedish mercenaries, escaping definite rape and massacre. They committed suicide by jumping into the lake far below. A soldier is reported to have taken a wooden board and engraved an epitaph for the “beautiful girls”. Today, a wooden statue reminds us of the legend.