If Montbéliard in Doubs doesn’t look like a French town at all, it’s because it wasn’t really a French town before the Revolution. Until then, it had been in the territory of the Principality of Württemberg, and this German flavor is still evident today. When the population swelled in the early 1600s, Montbéliard was renewed by the Swabian master architects, and many of the project’s houses, churches and works still exist.
Meanwhile, if you’re a car fan, you might be happy to hear that Sochaux next door is Peugeot’s home. There’s a great museum that takes you back to the brand’s humble origins, and its factory, the largest and most high-tech car factory in France, is open for tours.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Montbéliard:
1. Montbéliard Castle
Since the 900’s there has been a castle on the cliffs above the confluence of the Ellen and Lizain rivers.
Needless to say, things have changed a lot over time and the building is now a labyrinth of interconnected rooms, mostly from the 1700s.
The oldest elements of the exterior are the two massive circular towers, dating from the 1400s, crowned with lanterns.
But the building’s value lies in what it symbolizes, being the seat of the Dukes of Württemberg and the residence of historical figures such as the Marquis Frederick of Brandenburg-Schwetter.
She is the ancestor of several reigning monarchs, such as the current Queen of England and Denmark and the kings of the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Spain.
2. The Museum of Montbéliard Castle
The castle also has two museums to visit: the larger of the two is the Cuvier Museum, named after George Cuvier, who was born in Montbéliard and was one of the pioneers in the field of paleontology.
You’ll visit his office and begin working on his work, studying the finds from the many archaeological sites in the area: fossils include fragments of dinosaurs, mammoths, prehistoric bears, and Neanderthals.
There are also Gallo-Roman artifacts, including jewelry, figurines, and fragments of mosaics and frescoes.
Meanwhile, the Montbéliard Pays Museum deals with the complex history of the area and introduces you to Heinrich Schickhardt, who expanded the castle and town at the turn of the 17th century.
3. Montbéliard by Schickhardt
Heinrich Schickhardt was an architect and polymath working at the turn of the 17th century, known as “Swabian da Vinci”. In the early 1600s, with the arrival of Huguenot refugees, the population of Montbéliard mushroomed.
Schickhardt was hired to develop new urban plans and numerous construction projects in the Italian Renaissance style.
Much of this legacy is still visible, and he is one of the reasons why Montbéliard earned the coveted “Art and History” label.
The tourist office has set up a three-kilometer walking trail around the town, and information boards explain his role in building the castle, church and Ferme de la Souaberie mansion (now a school).
4. Musée Beurnier-Rossel
Housed in a splendid 18th-century mansion, Hôtel Beurnier-Rossel is a three-story museum of art and artifacts that showcases the history of Montbéliard and the Principality.
You’ll find many personal items belonging to the aristocratic Beurnier-Rossel family, including portraits and furniture in their private suites.
You can admire ornate 18th century inlaid furniture (desks, drawers, cabinets) made by the highly regarded Couleru studio.
There are also toys, a tiled stove, a music box, a library and Protestant religious objects that outline the wealthy life of Montbéliard in the past.
This 10-hectare park is located at the end of the peninsula on the banks of the Allen and Rhône rivers and is used for scientific work.
Près-La-Rose is not only a tree-lined, soothing “green lung”, with its waterside paths, it is also dotted with installations that stimulate your mind: among 100 different tree species, there are sundial, Foucault Pendulum and giant insect sculpture.
But of the many cool things here, Fontaine de Galilee is probably the most notable.
It’s a 1,500kg sphere of polished granite that can be turned by hand when placed in a small layer of water, eliminating friction.
6. Science Museum
The journey of discovery continues at this scientific site in Près-La-Rose.
In partnership with the Paris Science City, the attraction hosts temporary exhibitions on a variety of topics, including food chemistry, renewable energy and light and shadow.
There are also fun labs a few times a year in case you have a kid who is interested in science.
There are also two permanent areas in the pavilion: La Forêt Mystérieuse, to explore the flora and fauna of the Franche-Comté region, and L’Ile de la Découverte, an educational play area for the youngest family members, encouraging them to find one by using Every sense of theirs to cherish.
7. St. Martin’s Church
If there is an easy way to say that Montbéliard was separate from the French Republic before the Revolution, it was the existence of Protestant places of worship.
The Temple of St. Martin is also important because it is another building designed by Heinrich Hickhardt.
Built in the early years of the 17th century in his preferred Tuscan Renaissance style, it is the largest Protestant church in France.
Take a moment to admire the exterior, which blends white Alsatian limestone and Alsatian pink sandstone, with pilasters and pediments reminiscent of antiquity.
The interior is understated, but you can see the 18th century organ, gilded altar and Good Shepherd ceiling frescoes painted in the 1600s.
8. Musée de l’Aventure Peugeot
One thing that may impress you about the Peugeot Museum is that the company dates back to 1810, long before the invention of the automobile.
While you may know that Peugeot is a bicycle manufacturer, you may not know that they started out making coffee factories! You will find all information about these origins.
Some of these early grinders are on display, along with about 130 bicycles dating back to the 19th century.
There are also about 130 cars, including several very old models, such as Type 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10 houses, in Belle Époque style glass pavilions.
9. Sochaux-Montbéliard FC
It was Peugeot who founded the homegrown football team that was all the rage in the early days of professional football in France.
Sochaux was one of the founding members of the French Serie A and spent more time in the top flight than any other club.
Their last run in Ligue 1 ended in 2014 when they were relegated to Ligue 2, where they remained a solid mid-table side.
Games at the Stade Auguste Bonnard are never sold out, so you won’t have any problems getting your tickets during the season.
You have a chance to see the next big thing: Sochaux has produced French international stars like European champion Bernard Gengini, and current Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu comes from those ranks.
10. PSA factory tour
The Tourist Office of Pays de Montbéliard organizes a tour of the PSA Sochaux factory.
This is an experience not to be missed, as the Peugeot Citroën factory is the largest in France and one of the most technologically advanced in Europe.
Currently, the factory assembles 308s, 3008s and 5008s. But what’s even cooler is that the Sochaux factory is also the company’s research, development and experimentation center, so you can get a glimpse of what’s to come.
The tour is multilingual, Monday through Friday, and lasts two hours, 90 minutes of which are on the factory floor.
11. Théâtre Gallo-Romain de Mandeure
Not far south of Montbéliard, on the banks of the Dubes River, there is a Gallo-Roman theatre built in the 1st century.
Originally belonging to a port town on the river, it was hidden for hundreds of years until 1819. The scale of the site is almost astonishing; the theatre is 142 meters in diameter and can accommodate up to 18,000 people. This makes it one of the largest Roman theatres in France.
The terraces take advantage of the natural slope of the hill and are partly laid on bedrock and partly with their own masonry foundation.
12. Église du Sacré-Cœur d’Audincourt
There is also an unmissable 20th-century church on the River Doubs, southeast of Montbéliard.
It was built in the 1940s in a neighborhood that grew with the rise of the local auto industry.
This church is not to be missed thanks to the contribution of artist Fernand Léger, who designed 17 beautiful stained glass windows.
Using abstract symbolism, these depict the different stages of the Passion and appear on French postage stamps.
Glass master Jean René Bazaine used Léger’s plans to create these windows and to create colourful mosaics at the entrance.
13. Église Saint-Maimbœuf
Montbéliard’s main Catholic church is newer than it looks, with mid-19th century Neo-Renaissance architecture.
It is on the site of an old church that has stood here since at least the 1000s, and Pope Leo IX visited the wedding of his cousin, the Count of Montbéliard.
The new building is now an official French Historic Monument and is known for its tall, slender bell tower.
You can wander for a few minutes to see the barrel-vaulted ceilings, oak altars, decorative organ boxes and paintings of the Annunciation and Martyrdom of St. Membuff.
14. Marché de Noël
Bringing warmth to the notorious winters of eastern France, Christmas is a special time of the year in Montbéliard: the lights are one of the brightest in France, with whimsical decorations and up to 60,000 individual bulbs Light up the street.
And in the grandest part of town, in front of the stately San Martín Shrine is the best Christmas market in the area.
The market is set for November 25th and December 24th and invites more than 160 artisans from the Franche-Comté region and the rest of France.
There’s a children’s village, a mini farm and different aisles serving sustainable produce, local delicacies and old-time Christmas favorites like mulled wine and pain d’épices (gingerbread).
15. Cover markets and local produce
When you shop at Les Halles in Montbéliard, you will follow in the footsteps of generations of citizens, as the market has existed since the 1300s.
The present hall is a historic monument, built between the 16th and 17th centuries, and shares the same Renaissance mullioned windows as other buildings in town.
You should go to the deli counter and buy some saucisse de Montbéliard, smoked and seasoned with cumin.
For those with a sweet tooth, there is the tutsché cake, a buttery brioche topped with a mixture of eggs, sugar and crème fraîche.
If you want to sample local delicacies at the restaurant, choose fried carp or petit salé aux lentilles (marinated pork belly with lentils).
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Montbéliard, France
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