We were travelling with a company called Headwater, who make all the bookings, provide the bikes and transport your cases from A to B as you move on every second day. We've been with them before, but not for some years.
The cheery young rep took us through how to mend a puncture on the road ( a skill we did not need, thankfully) then he set us on our way by loading the bikes into his van and running them, and us, up to the top of the escarpment to the south of Besancon. This killer hill apparently takes fifty minutes walking, pushing the bike, so we were pleased to be spared it. There was plenty of uphill nonetheless. Any mention of the term "Cycling for Softies" induces a hollow laugh in us.
Eventually we arrived at Ornans, freewheeling down the course of an old railway line and over a viaduct into town.
There is a large industrial estate to get through, but the centre of Ornans is focused on the river, not the road, and must be one of the most photographed places on earth.
Note the limestone cliffs above the town.
On our free day we went first to the Musee Courbet. Gustave Courbet, a mid nineteenth century artist and revolutionary, was born here and returned here to live. He painted the landscape around Ornans again and again, but is most known for "A Funeral at Ornans". We learnt just how revolutionary it was to depict a gathering of ordinary townspeople on such a scale. Courbet was later involved in real-life revolution and had to make a dash for the Swiss border. We had a thoroughly informative morning.
Then we chose our lunch spot in order to be able to enjoy the clear water of the River Loue and the spare limestone exterior of the Courbet house. As I sat eating a cheese omelette on a shady terrace, I reflected on how different this lunch was from that of any Friday in September that I can remember.
Legend has it that those who found themselves having committed involuntary homicide(!!) could seek sanctuary in Ornans while awaiting royal judgement, and hopefully pardon, by touching the foot of this pillar. I wonder what the townsfolk made of the new arrivals while they waited?