Ornans, Franche-Comté

Click for location

Ornans at dusk, Franche-Comte, photo burgundytoday.com Ornans in the Doubs, Franche-Comte, photo burgundytoday.com

Ornans is a charming small town in the beautiful setting of the Loue valley, made famous by painter Gustave Courbet. Many French and Swiss visitors come to the town to the Courbet museum and to enjoy the spectacular valleys and mountain scenery he loved so much. Canoeing and kayaking, scaling up the Via Ferrata, canyoning, mountain biking, fishing and hiking are very popular in the area.

Huge limestone crags clad with forests form the backdrop to Ornans. The river banks are particularly attractive with houses dating back to the 16th and 17thC which have been built on piles to accommodate the dramatic rise and fall of the river Loue through the seasons.You can follow the leaflet  'Path by the Loue' , available from the tourist office, highlighting the old tanneries and mills, churches and buildings along the way.

The bar on the shady town square is a favouite meeting place, particularly for bikers, and an ideal spot to relax with a glass of absinthe, made in nearby Pontarlier.

The Courbet Museum

Gustave Courbet Museum, Ornans, Franche-Comte, photo burgundytoday.com

Gustave Courbet was a French Realist artist born in Ornans in 1819, famous for his landscapes, figurative compositions, seascapes and still life. Much of the inspiration for his work came from the local people and scenes such as the view from the Charles de Gaulle bridge (above centre) which became his famous picture 'Miroir de la Loue'. In the generation following on from the school of Romantic artists who depicted grand society scenes through rose tinted glasses, he challenged convention and believed in showing things as he saw them and experienced them, warts and all. There was outcry for example when he painted a local man with an ugly, bulbous nose. One of his most famous works is 'A Burial at Ornans', a massive canvas painted in 1848, which portrays the town people at the funeral of his uncle. Dignitaries were keen to be included in the picture including the local notary, recording the social history of the day. 

Courbet became outspoken, writing essays and  dissertations with anarchic tendancies. Social issues feature strongly in his paintings from the working conditions of the poor to the rural bourgeoisie and  he was heavily criticized for his portraits of nudity. He became involved politically in the Paris Commune and was put in prison for six months for his outspoken ideas, before going into self-imposed exile in Switzerland where he died at the age of 58 as a result of heavy drinking. His body was returned home to Ornans for burial in the cemetery.

Courbet was a hero of the avant-garde artists of the time. He was admired by James Whistler and an inspiration to Edouard Manet, the Impressionist artists and later, the Cubists. The house where he was born (above left) is now part of the museum and this has been expanded with a contemporary frontage where 75 of his paintings are exhibited.

Mouthier-Haute-Pierre and the Source of the Loue

The drive from Ornans on the D67 is spectacular as the road winds up and up to 700m. In April the cherry trees are in bloom in what is known as the Loue orchard. The cherries make the liqueur kirsch.  

At Vuillafans there is a popular where you can rent canoes and kayaks for half a day or more. The river has formed a canyon through the limestone cliffs and there are weirs to be wary of. Usually the water is crystal clear.

Continuing up the mountain in the car or by bike, stop at one of the viewpoints to admire the pretty village of Mouthier-Haute-Pierre clinging to the rock above the river. The Source of the Loue is well sign-posted and here there is a car park with a cafe. The walk down to the source takes about 30 minutes there and back on a concrete or stone surface under the shade of the trees.  The water rises from a vast cave at the bottom of a tall cliff, a most spectacular site, featured in Courbet's painting and Ledoux's imagination.


Popular with walkers, climbers and cavers, this little village on the river Lison is surrounded by outstanding beauty. The Grotte Sarrazine, the Via Ferrata, Source of the Lison and Creux Billard are of note. Taillanderie, close to the village, is a 19thC sharp-edge tool workshop which used hydraulic power, now a museum and historic monument.

See Also:


La Saline Royale Arc-et-Senans


A-Z Franche-Comté - some highlights at a glance

Wi Fi on the move
Unlimited internet access wherever you are. More...

Pam Elson