Points of interest

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

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

City life is great. There’s always something to see or do, and it’s a melting pot of different cultures from around the world. But every now and then, all you want to do is escape and run to the hills! If that sounds like your idea of heaven, then set your sat nav for Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.


Where in France: Ain, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
Drive from Calais: 778km / 6h 45m

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 in close proximity to the Swiss border, Bellegarde-sur-Valserine opened up to major industrial developments once a railway station had been 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
The river flowing through Bellegarde-sur-Valserine is just beautiful.

Today, the town’s main attraction, as well as its proximity to Switzerland, is that it is an ideal base for exploring the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Jura, or the Upper Jura Regional Natural Park. The perfect setting for getting back to nature and leaving the stresses of city life behind.

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 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.

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

There is seemingly no end to the ways in which you can explore the 1780-sq-km Haut-Jura Regional Park. There are thousands of km worth of walking routes, which 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, and local stables who organise group horseback riding tours. You can 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!

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

Camping around Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

If you’re planning a visit in the warmer months, there’s no better way to experience this stunning little corner of France than by camping. There are a number of great campsites in the area, so you’re spoilt for choice really, but we’ve put together this brief guide to point you in the right direction.

Camping du Signal
35 pitches, on 1 hectare

Located 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, on 2 hectares

Nestled 800m above sea level on a plateau of meadows and forests, is the Camping Les 12 Cols site. There are some lovely new 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, on 2.8 hectares

In terms of location, you couldn’t really 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 lovely 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 also have fresh bread and pastries delivered, if you order them the day before, and there’s a shop where you can restock on all your basics. In the summer, there’s a lovely little water park, as well as volleyball, football, boules, golf, and fishing. There’s also a kids’ club for 6-12-year-olds, where they can learn crafts and make new friends.

So, if city 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. Just remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.