Welcome to Pontarlier, France

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Pontarlier is located near the Swiss border, at the foot of Jura mountains and is known to be the second highest town in France. Its industrial dynamism and its numerous activities and year-round sports also make it the "Haut Doubs" (High Doubs) region's economic and touristic capital.

It is a convenient base into the outdoors, with access to countless ski runs, both downhill and cross-country. 18km (11 miles) from Pontarlier, six villages got together to create the resort called "Métabief Mont d'Or". This resort lies at the foot of the Mont d'Or mountain (altitude 1,463 meters) and offers many winter and summer activities.

In the 19th Century, Pontarlier was the capital of "absinthe", an aperitif drink with a very high alcohol content, and it was an important industry here until it was banned in 1915. The town keeps the distillery tradition alive by producing the "Anis of Pontarlier", a drink to which water is added.

Pontarlier (pont means in French "bridge") is located on the river Doubs (in Latin Dubius, "dubious", because of its complicated course) close to the border with Switzerland. It is located at an elevation of 837 meters above sea level and is the second highest French city after Briançon (in the Alps). A city of some 20,000 inhabitants, the residents are known as Pontissaliens.

In the XIIth century, Pontarlier was already an important city on the ancient road linking Northern Italy to Champagne and Flanders. In the middle of the XIIIth century, Pontarlier and eighteen neighbouring villages constituted the Baroichage, an administrative and ecclesiastic community ruled by the bourgeois of Pontarlier. Due to its strategic location and its four yearly fairs, Pontarlier increased in size and wealth until the XVIIth century. During the Ten Years' War, Pontarlier, then a Spanish possession, was seized on 26 January 1639 after a four-day siege by the Swedish mercenaries of Bernard of Saxe-Weimar. The city was looted and burned down.

Pontarlier was definitively incorporated to France in 1678 by the Treaty of Nijmegen. The Porte Saint-Pierre (St. Peter's Arch) was built at the entrance of the city to celebrate this incorporation. Its design is similar to the Porte Saint-Martin built in Paris the same year to celebrate the incorporation of Franche-Comté. During the XVIIIth century, the city, mostly built with wood, was often damaged by fire. On 31 August 1736, half of the city was destroyed. The city was rebuilt according to the plans of engineer Querret. In January 1871, the army commanded by General Bourbaki was defeated by the Prussian army and ran away to Switzerland to avoid capitulation. This was made possible by the heroic defense of the defile of Pontarlier, upstream from the city, by General Billot's corps.

In 1797, Henri-Louis Pernod founded in Franche-Comté the first absinthe manufacture. Two centuries later, Pontarlier was the world capital city of absinthe. The golden age of the "green fairy" ended in 1915 when absinth production was forbidden because of the neurological toxicity of this alcohol. Pernod went over into production of less dangerous aniseed beverages, including the famous Pernod 45.

The Fort of Joux (located 5 km (3 miles) south of Pontarlier, at an altitude of 940 meters) was built in the XIth century to watch the defile of Pontarlier.

The defenses of the fort were improved by Vauban in 1678 and by Joffre between 1879 and 1881. The fort was mostly used as a state prison and had a few famous guests such as Mirabeau in 1776; Toussaint-Louverture, the hero of the Haitian independence, who died in the fort in 1803; and the German romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist believed to be a spy and briefly jailed in 1806.

The flag of Pontarlier is horizontally divided red-white with the municipal coat of arms placed in the middle of the flag. The municipal arms, showing a bridge protected by a tower, reflect the strategic importance of the city.

Pontarlier is found the following distances from these major centers:

Paris............... 456 km
Besançon....... 59 km
Belfort........... 120 km
Lyon.............. 199 km
Dijon............. 135 km
Neuchâtel...... 51km
Lausanne....... 60 km
Berne............ 100 km
Genève.......... 119 km

The TGV Train is available from Paris CDG Airport to Pontarlier, or you may take the train from Geneva or Zurich to Pontarlier. Other convenient connections are also available. Please check your local train schedule for further options.

For more information, please visit:


Tourist Office: Tel: (33) 03 81 46 48 33
Fax: (33) 03 81 46 83 32
E-mail: info@pontarlier.org

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