The valley that inspired Courbet

The region where painter Gustave Courbet grew up and produced some of his masterpieces is rich in spectacular scenery and picturesque villages. A newly renovated and expanded museum traces the artist’s career from its beginning.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
440 km from PARIS on autoroutes A6, A31 and A36 till exit N°4, then on N57 and D67 till Ornans.
- By train
TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Besançon or TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Dijon then TER till Besançon. The journey takes between 2 h 30 and 3 h.
Bus from Besançon to Ornans situated 25km away.
- Hotels
Hôtel de France
Hôtel de la Vallée
- Chambres d’hôtes
Le Jardin de Gustave
Au Miroir de la Loue
Le Courbet
La Table de Gustave
Le Pêcheur
Ferme auberge d’Ully
La Terrasse sur Loue
Musée Courbet
- Address
Place Robert Fernier, 25290 Ornans
- Opening dates and hours
From October to June from 10am to noon and from 2pm to 6pm
From July to September from 10am to 6pm
- Rates
6 €
- Information
Tel : 0381862288
Ferme de Flagey
253330 Flagey
- Opening dates and hours
From October to May, Wednesday to Sunday from 2pm to 6pm
From June to September, every day from 11am to 7pm
Admission free
Night from €70 per double room
- Information and bookings
Tel : 0381530360
- Doubs Tourist Office
Tel : 0381212999
- Pays d’Ornans-Loue-Libon Tourist Office
Tel : 0381622150
One of the most beautiful rivers in France, renowned for its excellent fly fishing, the Loue can be seen in worldwide museums in the works of foremost realist painter Gustave Courbet. When living in Paris, he returned there often as this area was is native homeland and many of his major works were inspired by the landscapes of the Loue valley or by the people and their way of life. And he used to say : "To paint a country, you must know it well. Go and see it, and you will recognize my paintings”.

Loue's source © T.Joly
 Spectacular site
So let’s follow his advice and let’s go discover this region of Eastern France located in the Doubs department. Let’s start with a visit to the Loue’s source where Courbet painted no less than thirteen canvases depicting this truly spectacular site. Gushing out from the bowels of the earth from a vast cavity at the feet of a 100 m high cliff, the river has from its very first beginning a flow rate that can reaches 100 cubic metre per second. In addition, it passes right away over a series of small rapids and waterfalls. Adding to the savage and endearing nature of the place, building ruins are scattered along its banks. These are the remains of flour and oil mills, sawmills and forges that were once installed there to take advantage of the driving force of the water and in the mid-19th century nearly 50 persons worked there.

Loue' valley © T.Joly
 Picturesque villages
Actually it’s not a spring but the re-emergence of three rivers – including the Doubs – whose part of the waters seeps into the karstic subsoil and gives birth to the Loue. Hence its importance when it emerges to the open-air. More details about the source and the industrial past are provided by a documentary film screened in a small visitor centre.
Then, the river makes its way through deep gorges dotted with picturesque villages for a dozen kilometres. Nestled around a 15th century church boasting nice wooden sculptures, the first one, Mouthier Haute Pierre, occupies the top of a rocky promontory offering a great view over these gorges. It’s possible to reach it by hiking along a path recently created to discover the land of Courbet. Quite demanding, it makes a 13,5 km long loop starting from the Loue’s source and passes by several places where the painter set up his easel to make canvases that are now on display in worldwide museums.

Ornans © T.Joly
 Fly-fishing haven
The group of rocks facing the Faux Monnayeurs cave, the Syratu waterfall, the village of Mouthiers, the Renédale panorama and the 881 m high Rocher de Haute Pierre.
A little bit further along the gorges, Lods is the most picturesque of these villages. Built into the side of a cliff and overlooking the river, it comprises a pretty church and former vintners’ homes that witnessed a winemaking past. The next one, Vuillafans, is also worth stopping by for its old wealthy and stately houses and the ruins of two feudal castles. Moreover, a superb viewpoint is located along the winding little road leading to the village of Echevannes.
Then, the valley broadens and the Loue becomes a haven for fly-fishing. Soon after, it reaches Ornans, Courbet’s official birthplace. But, actually, he was probably born before his mother get there, along the road coming from the village of Flagey where is parents had a farm.

Ornans © T.Joly
 The little Venice of Franche-Comté
Having said that, he started his career and often lived in this town sometimes nicknamed “the little Venice of Franche Comté” because of its wooden houses with loggias built on the banks of the river. Besides, the gray cliffs characteristic of the Jura region and ubiquitous in Courbet’s landscapes can be seen from almost everywhere. But these are not the only charms of Ornans that also boasts many interesting buildings : a 16th century stone bridge, 14th century private mansions, a church built from the 12th to the 18th century. In addition, a signposted path through allows visitors to follow in the painter’s footsteps, to discover the places where he lived, his tomb, the spots he painted and the Chavots statue depicting a young fisherman that was donated to the town by the artist. Within few years it will be also possible to visit his studio that been recently fortuitously rediscovered and now under restoration.

Courbet museum © T.Joly
 New museum
So, at the moment the main attraction of Ornans is the museum devoted to him. Originally limited to the family home, the Hotel Hébert, it has been recently renovated and expanded through the purchase of the two adjoining private mansions, the Hotels Champereux and Borel. Now covering 2000 sqm, this museum addresses all the periods of the artist and his career on a chronological way and thus shows how his style has evolved over the years. It also explores his life and his works in relation to the political, artistic and social aspects of his time through drawings, prints, letters and personal objects. In total, the museum presents forty-one paintings and four sculptures by Courbet including great works such as the Self-Portrait in Sainte-Pélagie Prison, the Portrait of Grandfather Oudot and the Miroir d’Ornans, with its reflections of houses in the Loue.

Flagey © T.Joly
 A night in Courbet’s bedroom
However, his main masterpieces are not there but on display in worldwide museums. They are nevertheless evoked through photographic reproductions and three major missing pieces are featured in a documentary film. As a complement, two other signposted paths allow deeper discovery of the land of Courbet. One passes through the Lison valley and the Ravin du Puit Noir where the painter organized workshops with his disciples while the second one goes around the village of Flagey where stands the farm that belonged to his father. Surrounded by a pretty garden where flowers, fruits and vegetables are grown, it was transformed into a literary café and a venue for temporary exhibitions. It also comprises three bed and breakfast rooms including the former Courbet bedroom that keeps 19th century furniture. A place not to be missed for the painter enthusiasts.

April 06, 2012
Thierry Joly