Dole is a small, elegant town in the Jura department in eastern France where streets of 18th-century, neo-classical stone buildings surround the imposing collegiate church of Notre-Dame.
Designated a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (Town of Art and History), Dole is known as the birthplace of Louis Pasteur and for the buildings that use the local pink, white and black stone. Located just a couple of hours from Paris, Dole makes an excellent short trip from the capital and it's easy and compact to walk around. If you're visiting nearby cities like Dijon and Beaune in Burgundy, Dole makes a delightful addition to your vacation.
Dole is in the Doubs river valley, an area of forests, vineyards, rivers, and canals and is halfway between Dijon and Besançon, the very attractive capital of the Jura.
How to Get There
Why It's Worth a Visit
Dole is one of those pretty French towns that seem off the beaten track and reward you with a sense of discovery when you visit. It's also one of those French towns that make you feel as if you're living the life of the locals, with plenty of events, particularly in the summer months.
From 1380 onwards it was the capital of the powerful county of Burgundy. Unfortunately, the townspeople chose the wrong side in one of those interminable conflicts that divided Europe between the English, Dutch, Spanish, French and the Holy Roman Empire and anybody else who wanted to pitch in. Reprisal was swift: Louis XIV took the town and France-Comté into French control and promptly moved the capital to Besançon, leaving Dole to languish as a backwater.
The 17th-century's loss is our gain; with no strategic importance, the town kept its grand buildings, old streets and peaceful squares and today is a delightful town to visit.
What to See
Pick up a map and guide at the Tourist Office. A good starting point is the guided walk route, (Circuit du Chat Perché) which you follow with the map and with brass signs on the cat embedded in the pavement.
The guide takes you around all the major sites, but if you’re pushed for time, take the lower route near the river and these attractions.
- Start at the Prélot (près de l’eau, or near the water). You’re down by the old port where pleasure motorboats have replaced the old sailing ships. Here you can see the delightful Jardin des Chevannes, now a garden growing medicinal plants. It got its name from the chanvre (hemp) which was grown here and used to make the vital ropes and canvas for the shipbuilding industry. You’ll also see the only surviving bastion of the defenses built from 1540 to 1595 to protect the town.
- Between the port and the old city runs the Canal des tanneurs, once an extremely smelly channel used by the tanneries that occupied the cellars of buildings opening straight onto the water. It was in one of these tall narrow houses that Louis Pasteur, the scientist who discovered the food preparation process of pasteurization, was born in 1822. The house is now a museum, with the tanning exhibit at ground level and artifacts that include his cot, personal items and cover his research and discoveries in the adjoining museum, La Maison Natale de Pasteur.
- From here walk up to the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame. Built between 1509 and 1590, its high tower, used as a watchtower for fire and invaders, has become the symbol of Dole. It’s a large church with paintings hung in the nave and a magnificent German organ built in 1753 which is one of only 3 in the world. Its 3,500 pipes produce the sweetest sound, so try to make one of the many summertime concerts. Open daily and free admission. In July and August, you can climb the bell-tower for a great view. Contact the tourist office to reserve.
- Place Nationale. Right in front of the church, this was the heart of the old town from the 13th century onwards. At the other end stands a handsome covered market, built in 1883.
- From here, walk down the Grand Rue, typical of the streets of this once grand town with houses of the local pale stone. You pass the impressive Charité general hospital, built between 1700 and 1760 and the old convent of Cistercian nuns.
- The Hotel Dieu is another of the city's imposing buildings. Originally a hospital for the poor, it's now a media center which you can visit to see the small chapel, and on a guided tour, the apothecary.
- On a long walk, visit the house of Marcel Aymé whose novel Le Moulin de la Sourdine was inspired by the Grand Fontaine, just up from the port. The charming Place aux Fleurs looks down onto the old houses and the Fine Arts Museum, housed in the splendid Officers’ Pavilion is also well worth a visit.
Dole repays wandering through the old streets, camera at the ready. There is plenty of photogenic 17th- and 18th-century buildings such as the privately owned Froissard mansion at 7 rue Mont-Roland (you can enter the courtyard of this Renaissance house). Keep your eyes open for delightful carved details, heads, and balconies.
Where to Stay
- Au Moulin des Ecorces (14 allee du Pont-Roman) - In a former mill, the modern hotel has good-sized bedrooms and, located across the river from the main town, also has great views of Dole. The gourmet restaurant is the more formal and serves menus from 20 to 48 euros (60 euros with wine). The bistro is casual and bustling but the main restaurant offers better cooking.
- Outside the Center at La Chaumière (346 Av. Du Mar-Juin). Three kilometers outside the center of Dole, but very convenient for the airport, La Chaumière has comfortable, though small rooms, decorated in bright colors, and good sized bathrooms. The main attraction here is the restaurant, where owner-chef Joël Césari cooks up a storm. This is Michelin one-star cooking at its best, using local seasonal ingredients and with inventive touches that lift your meal above the usual one-star restaurants.
Where to Eat
Central Dole has a good range of restaurants, from La Romanée, a charming restaurant at 11 rue des Vieilles Boucheries, offering traditional cooking, to the gourmet Le Grain de Sel at 67 rue Pasteur.