The city of Besançon keeps itself to itself, which makes discovering its pretty squares, fine galleries and belle époque bars all the sweeter
In November 1885, a New York Times journalist set out to introduce his readers to a city which, despite its “delightful” attractions, remained almost unheard-of outside France. “I have called Besançon an unknown capital,” he wrote. “But [of] those who pass it by, three out of four, I dare say, are bound for less interesting places.”
Today, more than 120 years since those words were sent across the Atlantic, his conclusion remains as valid as ever. When I mentioned to some Francophile friends in Paris that I was heading to Besançon for a mini-break, I was met with blank stares. They weren’t able to find it on a map, let alone recognise it as the capital of the eastern Franche-Comté region or the birthplace of Victor Hugo.
For Andrew Eames the Mecklenburg lakes near Berlin offer peace and beauty – and the chance to take up the locals’ nude bathing habit
In the late 19th century, a certain H M Doughty, an East Anglian aristocrat, set off in his Norfolk wherry, along with his family, his butler, captain and pilot, to sail “through the Mecklenburg lakes to Bohemia”. In those days the journey sounded improbably romantic, and he believed he was the first Englishman to explore a European lake system that was far, far larger than anything that could be found on home shores.
H M Doughty’s book, Our Wherry in Wendish Lands, is still in print. In fact its German edition was prominently displayed in the booking office at Hafendorf Müritz, where we (the Eames family: two adults, two teenagers, no butlers) picked up our boat for that very same lake system. And for several days thereafter we found ourselves unwittingly following his route, comparing our experiences with his. His book was illustrated by his daughters, but when I suggested to Rhena, 13, that she might put pencil to paper for this article, the answer was uncompromisingly teenager-enfranchised. Her plan was to lie in her bikini on the cabin cruiser’s roof, and her iPod required all her attention.