Sports & Outdoors

Enjoy a break from the city in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

Tired of the hustle and bustle of life? Escape to the peace and tranquillity of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

Every now and then, all you want to do is escape and run to the hills! For a safe and relaxed holiday, deep amongst nature and some of the most beautiful landscapes in France, set your sat nav for Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.


First, a little history of this stunning place. The town of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine is a relatively new one, formed by imperial decree from Napoleon III on December 6, 1858. Sat at the confluence of the Rhône and Valserine rivers, and close to the Swiss border, Bellegarde-sur-Valserine opened up to major industrial developments once a railway station was constructed in the middle of the 19th century.

Numerous companies set up along the banks of the two rivers to take advantage of their hydropower, such as paper mills, spinning mills, and sawmills. Then, in 1883, Louis Dumont built a dam on the Valserine river, which generated enough energy to make Bellegarde-sur-Valserine one of the first towns in France with public electric lighting.

The river flowing through Bellegarde-sur-Valserine is just beautiful

Driving to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine from Calais

Bellegarde-sure-Valserine is in the Ain, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, taking around 6 hours 45 minutes by car from Calais via the A26.

The beauty of driving is you can set your own pace and plan stops along the way. You could try a city like Arras or plan a mini road trip to Reims before heading on south to the region of Burgundy where Dijon lies.

Places to visit in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

The area is popular with nature lovers, birdwatchers, wildlife spotters, and those just looking to unwind. Here are just some of the highlights of this area for you to experience.

Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Jura

No matter what time of year you visit, there’s something to keep everyone happy. In the winter, the Haut-Jura attracts snowboarders and skiers, particularly cross-country skiers, and during the summer months, walkers from all over the world come to ramble through the meadows and up and down the scenic hills. The area is also perfect if you fancy trying out water sports such as white-water rafting or kayaking, or even a more leisurely afternoon spent fishing.

There is seemingly no end to the ways in which you can explore the 1780-sq-km Haut-Jura Regional Park. Thousands of km worth of walking routes, can also, along some routes, be explored on mountain bikes or horseback. If you don’t have your own bike (or horse for that matter!), you’ll find plenty of places you can rent one, plus local stables which organise group horseback riding tours. Find out more at one of the local tourist information offices.

If after all that fresh air and exercise you’re in need of a hearty snack to keep you going, the Haut-Jura is also home to a thriving cheese-making industry. The region’s three most famous cheeses are Comté, Morbier and Bleu de Gex, and after a day of trekking up and down hills, you’ll have earned a plate of all three, with a side of fresh local bread and a glass of wine to wash it down, of course!

The Haut-Jura region is resplendent with rolling hills and glittering lakes

Cascades of Hérisson

These waterfalls are rather mesmerising, and can be easily seen from marked trails that are well connected to parking facilities. Perhaps the best way to experience the waterfalls is to drive into Hérisson Valley, stopping at the large car park closest to the camping area as well as La Maison des Cascades Visitor Centre. Pack your hiking boots as the trails are around 7.4km round trip and steep in places as you ascend to 250m.

Monts Jura

No matter the season, there’s so much to do at this family resort, from skiing and snowshoeing to golf and fishing. Luge fans take note! One special feature of the resort is the 4 seasons luge at the Faucille Pass, it’s one of the longest rail-type luge runs in Europe and is accessible for a large part of the year.

Col de la Faucille

This mountain pass connects the towns of Gex, Les Rousses, and Saint-Claude granting views of Geneva and Mont Blanc from its highest points. It has featured in the Tour de France, but there are paths for all abilities, plus a playground, zipwire, and free parking.

Le Jura

This mountain range provides endless opportunity for adventure. Ski, hike, or simply wander the trails at your own pace to take in the scenery. It’s not only the peaks that are impressive, caves such as the Grottes de l'Orbe, and gorges such as Taubenloch are ready to be explored too.

Mont d’Or

Mont d'Or is a mountain of the Jura, that extends across the French border into Switzerland. Its main summit is on the French side and an impressive 1,463 metres high. In winter, Mont d'Or offers a popular ski area within France, however the area is also famous for its cheese, known for its rich taste throughout the region. It is served in a circular wooden box, baked to perfection and just the thing for dipping hunks of local bread into.

Les Pertes de le Valserine

This canyon was shaped by the waters of the Valserine River and is a fantastic place to visit if you like your walks with a side of amazing views. A marked footpath leads you along the banks of the gorges, past limestone rocks carved into interesting shapes over time by the river.

Dairy farmers have been grazing their herds and making cheese in these hills for centuries

Camping around Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

If you want to pitch up under the stars for a night or two you have plenty of options. With spectacular views and friendly locals, you’ll enjoy every moment of your stay. Plus, these are great options for a socially distanced holiday.

Camping du Signal

35 pitches, across 1 hectare

Nestled between lakes and mountains, this little campsite has everything you need such as water, electricity, and internet access. The pitches at Camping du Signal are a decent size and separated by hedges for a little extra privacy. As well as the 35 pitches available for setting up your own tent or caravan, there are also 11 set up for you, which include little cottages and mobile homes. Dogs are permitted on site, but not inside the provided accommodation.

There are communal showers on site, as well as special areas for your baby and disabled access. Kids will be kept entertained with tennis courts, a slackline, indoor play area, Pétanque, and other outdoor games.

Camping Les 12 Cols

101 pitches, across 2 hectares

800m above sea level on a plateau of meadows and forests, is the Camping Les 12 Cols site. It has great facilities available, including a large common room with a fireplace, (particularly welcome in the winter months) as well as a library, bar, and computer area. Outside, you’ll find a swimming pool, playground, table tennis, and volleyball to keep the whole family happy.

The terraced campsite has 101 pitches, ranging from 90m2 to 130m2, all equipped with wifi, water and electricity, and separated with hedges and shrubbery. You can also rent accommodation on site, but as is generally the case, dogs are not permitted to stay inside.

Camping Les Gorges de l’Oignin

123 pitches, across 2.8 hectares

In terms of location, you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful spot than Camping Les Gorges de l’Oignin. Built on terraces at the edge of the Lac de l'Oignin, this is one of the most scenic and peaceful campsites in the area. There are 123 pitches, separated by hedges under dappled shade, with a beautiful view of the lake below. There are also some comfy chalets and mobile homes on site to rent, if you don’t have a tent or caravan.

There are the usual amenities such as water and electricity, as well as wifi around the bar and terrace. You can have fresh bread and pastries delivered, if you order them the day before, or pop to the shop where you can restock on all your basics. In the summer, there’s a lovely little water park, volleyball, football, boules, golf, and fishing. Keep the little one’s entertained at kids’ club for 6-12-year-olds, where they can learn crafts and make new friends.

Two people enjoying a climb among green hills with blue skies in the distance

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So, if life is getting a bit much for you, jump in the car and head for the idyllic escape of Bellgarde-sur-Valserine and the Haut-Jura.

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