While you ski, I’ll slope off to the vine­yards…

The Jura abounds with un­ex­pected plea­sures, for both thrill-seek­ing fam­i­lies and wine-lovers, dis­cov­ers Nina Ca­plan

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

No, I said. I don’t want a hol­i­day in the cold. I haven’t skied since I was 17. It’s ex­pen­sive. And there’s noth­ing de­cent to drink ex­cept hot choco­late. But, said my part­ner, Craig, the chil­dren love win­ter sports. And as for noth­ing to drink… I have an idea.

This is how we ended up in the Jura. This moun­tain range on the FrenchSwiss bor­der is just two hours’ drive from Geneva, or less than three from Lyon, and while the lat­ter is fa­mous as a gas­tro­nomic des­ti­na­tion, the Jura isn’t ter­ri­bly well known for any­thing. Yet this is the home of Comté, Mor­bier and Mont d’Or cheese, with del­i­catessens where the per­fume of cured meat hits you when you walk in the door, and is be­com­ing known as a re­gion mak­ing lovely wine from indige­nous grapes – the light, cher­ry­ish reds, poul­sard and trousseau – and from the bet­ter-known pinot noir and chardon­nay. There is also the de­li­cious vin jaune, a style of wine made only here, from the lo­cal sav­agnin grape. I’d al­ways wanted to come and taste th­ese wines in situ, as Craig well knew. I just hadn’t planned for his four chil­dren, none of whom had any in­ter­est what­so­ever in wine, to ac­com­pany us.

But above the vine-car­peted low­lands, there’s snow, and while the high­est peak is just 1,720m – much lower than the Alps – there is snow dur­ing Fe­bru­ary half-term, and an amaz­ing range of child-friendly ac­tiv­i­ties, from down­hill to crosscoun­try ski­ing, snow­board­ing or snow­shoe­ing. There is also hik­ing, which the chil­dren, aged be­tween nine and 16, dis­like al­most as much as vine­yard vis­its.

We’ll need snow tyres, said Craig, as we ne­go­ti­ated with Sixt for a car big enough for six. I rolled my eyes and mut­tered about snow­bound drama queens, then had to re­tract ev­ery­thing when we ended up on an ice­bound over­pass on our drive from Lyon.

Fresh snow had fallen when we ar­rived at our 16-suite ho­tel, Les Rives Sau­vages, in Mal­buis­son, on the lake­side with fab­u­lous views and a spa, just 10 min­utes’ drive from the re­sort of Méta­bief.

Thierry and his staff at Mé­taski found us the kit we needed and stored it for us be­tween ses­sions on the slopes; the shop’s lo­ca­tion meant we could ski to the door. The Jura is cheaper and friend­lier than the Alps, and if the runs are fewer and the snow less deep, the ski­ing is still ter­rific, with in­cred­i­ble views down to the low­lands full of winer­ies I was try­ing hard not to think about.

The sun shone; the snow sparkled. And I grew grumpier and grumpier. I couldn’t even buy great wine, much less or­gan­ise a tast­ing: the best wine shops would be near the vine­yards. Just an hour down the hill… and here I was, stuck in an ad­mit­tedly ex­cel­lent ski re­sort.

Then the weather helped me out: it rained. Cosy in our nine-seater van, snow tyres and all, we headed south along the moun­tain­tops, par­al­lel with the Swiss bor­der, a scenic if scary 90-minute drive south-west, to La Pesse. This was the wrong di­rec­tion for my pur­poses – I wanted to head west, to Ar­bois, wine cap­i­tal of the Jura – but none­the­less, I felt op­ti­mistic. We wanted to try to­bog­gan­ing – the Jura is proud of its year-round to­bog­gan runs, claim­ing to have the long­est in Eu­rope and slopes with a gra­di­ent of up to 37 per cent.

There is to­bog­gan­ing at Col de la Fau­cille, a moun­tain pass used by the Tour de France, and at Mi­joux, where the slope is lit up at night un­til 9.30pm (week­ends only out­side school hol­i­days). But we were dis­tracted in the shop by snow-tub­ing: over­grown in­flat­able rings, like posh tyres (“it ac­tu­ally was tyres when I was a kid,” mut­tered Craig, who is Cana­dian). Each whoop­ing child (or, ahem, adult) whirled in turn down a slide carved out of the snow: not fast enough, was the ver­dict from Reuben, 16, but every­body else en­joyed them­selves de­spite the te­dious as­cent, haul­ing the tubes back to the top of the slope.

At last, said the chil­dren, lunch. At last, mut­tered the adults, wine. At L’Au­berge des Érables we tried a fon­due – a melted pool of the lo­cal Comté, served over a por­ta­ble stove – matched with a glass of pleas­ant, cherry-ish poul­sard. It was a wel­come op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand my knowl­edge of Jura wines, if with some re­straint, since the af­ter­noon’s ac­tiv­ity was dog-sled­ding. Part of the Jura Moun­tains Re­gional Nat­u­ral Park is ex­clu­sively re­served for dog-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties: you can ski with dogs, sled with dogs, or learn to be a musher – mas­ter of the dog-sled.

Two full teams of huskies pranced and panted in the traces as we glided through the park, dog’s height from the ground. It was mag­i­cal, the only sound the shush­ing of run­ners in snow, the pant and yelp of the dogs and the shouts and whis­tles of our mush­ers, two sturdy young women.

The Jura main­tains its tra­di­tion of truly su­perb food. I sus­pect this is partly thanks to its rel­a­tive re­mote­ness: the hy­per­mar­kets haven’t got the crit­i­cal mass here, and so butcher shops and lo­cal mar­kets can still make a liv­ing. The ex­cel­lent wines don’t hurt ei­ther: peo­ple who love wine tend to love good food, and there are fan­tas­tic restau­rants at ev­ery price point, from fon­due joints up to Miche­lin-starred tem­ples. There is also the re­gion’s an­cient sta­tus as a pur­veyor of salt. We vis­ited the salt fac­tory at Arc-et-Se­nans, an im­pos­ing com­plex that’s now a mu­seum. What res­onated with our lot was the salty wa­ter in the pool at Salins-les-Bains’ 19th-cen­tury ther­mal baths.

The next day, the weather im­proved but the vine­yards were call­ing me. “Wine-tast­ing again?” said Reuben,

ICE WINESA young snow­boarder hits the slopes of the Jura, above, where vines, right, yield the grapes used for light cherry-ish red wines, be­low

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