On Martin’s tracks
An original way to discover twenty emblematic town locations, the foundations of a comic whose strips are scattered around the historical town centre providing for an unusual visit.
1 - Railway viaduct
Opened in 1858, the railway viaduct was one of the three main large-scale works carried out in the town during the mid-19th century, alongside the train station and the tunnel. The viaduct, which is said to have been a remarkable feat for its time, towers 50 metres above the Valserine. It was built by a large number of foreign workers, most of which were Italian (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
4- PLM Station
On the Lyon-Geneva line, the first Bellegarde station was opened in 1858. Destroyed on several occasions due to fires (1867, 1904, 2003), the materials once used and the station’s appearance have evolved from small wooden and brick buildings to the more robust building that stands today. It was recently rehabilitated as a cultural centre with the launch of the high-speed railway line (TGV) which required that a new station be built (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
3- The Customs visitors’ room
A necessary stop for travellers coming from or going to Geneva, Bellegarde was also the train station on the Swiss border. Passengers and their luggage were taken to this “Customs visitors’ room” with visible metal framework, massive bay windows, joinery and wall paintings, an underground covered in ceramic, etc... Smuggling was also very common, and many stories and legends give life to this time. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
5- Louis Dumont secondary school
The first Town Hall/School in Bellegarde, built in 1878, was quickly followed by a second school, for boys’ education. The town hall had planned to set up in the central body of this new larger building, built in 1893, which had two lateral wings. However, as the role of municipal powers grew, cohabitation between the two bodies became problematic. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
7- Louis Chanel area
The “telemecanique” system was ingenious (system explained at point 9), and with the presence of the duty-free area, many companies were drawn to Bellegarde. However, with the development of electricity, this system was surpassed and many companies closed. The remnants of the Darblay paper factory (Telemecanique pillar and arches) are now a part of heritage. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
8- Embarkation quay
9 - Telemecanique pillar
Telemecanique was the process of drawing power from the Rhone’s waters, using its waterfall to action turbines and to transfer this mechanic energy to user factories via cables. This system required the construction of six cut-stone pyramid-shaped pillars, which supported one or more wheels, built into the upper part. However, their difficult and costly maintenance soon gave way to hydropower plants. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
11- Military pillbox
This small military pillbox, or customs check-point, was built when the duty-free zone was established in 1815, authorising the import of farming and industrial products between Geneva and the Pays de Gex. The borders of this area were determined by the Valserine, which was closely monitored by customs.
10- Dumont factory
This former electric factory built by Louis Dumont and opened in 1884 provided enough energy to light up Bellegarde, which was one of the first provincial municipalities to have electric urban lighting. The hydropower facilities and good railway service attracted new industrialists, most of which were from Switzerland. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
12- PLM pavilion
In the very hierarchical and social world of the Compagnie de chemin de fer PLM, some railway workers and their families were housed based on their responsibilities and qualifications within the Compagnie. These individual houses were usually built according to standard blueprints, as were the watch houses and some technical buildings (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
2- Les Dombes train station
The regional Bourg-Bellegarde line, which was originally created and managed by a private company (the “Compagnie des Dombes”), was completed in 1882. Through the Dombes train station, to the north of the main station, Bellegarde became linked to the capital of the département, and later, to Oyonnax, Saint-Claude and Morez. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
Bellegarde, an industrial city, appeared during the 19th century as a result of the financial opportunism of Swiss and “foreign” investors. Its proximity to Switzerland, the tax advantages, the new techniques to use hydraulic power and later hydroelectric power attracted a multitude of small factories operating in various industrial fields. The architectural diversity of the town’s public and private buildings are testaments to these social and economic changes, which contributed and still contribute today to shaping the particular appearance of this ever-evolving town. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
13- Hôtel de la Belle Époque
Built in 1909, the former “Hôtel de la poste” was renamed “Hôtel de la Belle Époque” in 1979. Atop the hotel’s corner tower is a dome with a pinnacle, supported by decorated wooden consoles. On the front of the dome is a dormer window depicting a caduceus. The awning over the main entrance is made of wrought iron and glass. (Source: (Pre-inventory, 2000, PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
14- Place Carnot
During weekly markets, this large town centre parking lot surrounded by iconic buildings turns into a showcase for local products.
15- Jeanne d’Arc theatre
Built in 1935 by members of the Société Catholique de Gymnastique, “l’Alerte”, the building originally served as a cultural, sports and educational location. For Catholic societies, sport and culture were the two main pillars of popular education. Since 1979, the Jeanne d’Arc theatre is a municipal theatre (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
16- Notre-Dame church
At the end of the most commercial road in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church’s bell tower rises high above the surrounding roofs. With its neo-gothic style, it was built in 1853.
17- Town hall
The municipality only decided to build a town hall in 1929. Completed in 1932, opinions on the facade diverge. Inspired by Art-deco shapes, the architecture of this municipal building is quite surprising (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
18- “Les Variétés” cinema
Initially built to house plays, the building first opened its doors in 1925. Bought by the municipality in 2007, the small cinema called “Les Variétés” was redeveloped and re-opened to the public.
19- The post office
Completed in 1935, the “Hôtel des Postes” completed the municipality’s public service facilities. At the time, the building did not please all inhabitants. The use of concrete for the seven “columns” creating “six identical vertical rectangles with glass panes over two stories” (Pre-inventory, 2000), and the rooftop terrace (one of the five precepts of modern architecture) give the building an austere look (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
6- Building at 57 rue de la République
On the last floor of this building on the main road, the roof overhang is supported by seventeen wooden pillars. The balcony passageway, protected by this overhand, recalls the houses with galleries in the lower Valserine valley or in the Pays de Gex. The supports, under the passageway, are of a unique shape and have the refined style of the 20th century. (PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”)
20- The Savoie house
This house was once home to the manager of the La Lorze spinning factory, a subsidiary of the cotton spinning mill in Baar (Switzerland) and which settled in Bellegarde in 1896 to be closed to its silk clients in Lyon. This house’s style - built in 1908 - features eclectic architectural details: half-timbering, a turret on the rear facade as well as a “scalloped gable with three bull’s-eye windows” and “an advanced front panel” (source: pre-inventory, 2000, PNRHJ - Un tour en ville, “A tour of the town”).
On Martin’s tracks follows the story created by Gregdizer with town’s remarkable structures inspiring the author to write the tale. The strips from this comic are attached to each edifice and are read in the order of the landmarks visited. This means that you may pass through the same place more than once.
From the starting point (1), head up avenue de la Gare until you come to the bridge. From here, head to points 2, 3 and 4 and back before heading down rue Joseph Bertola. At the Louis Dumont secondary school (5), turn right onto rue Lamartine, before heading down rue Jean Charcot. Head to point 6 and back, located at the corner of rue Brazza and rue de la République.
Go to the Louis Chanel area (7), via rue Joseph Bara and the passageway located in rue Ampère. From here, head along the banks of the Rhône (8 and 9) until you reach Coupy bridge. Do not cross it, but return to your starting point by heading up rue Paul Painlevé.
Reach points 10 and 11 by heading down the trail that leads to the banks of the Valserine, and head to point 12, located rue du Dépôt. Go to the current train station using the pedestrian pathway, and head through the underpass to reach avenue de la Gare.
Head to the Hôtel de la Belle Époque (13) that you will notice to your left and go down rue Parmentier to reach place Carnot (14). From here, reach the Theatre (15) through rue des Arts, and continue straight to reach Rue de la République.
The last strips (16, 17, 18 and 19) can be found in succession on the facade of the buildings on the road’s right-hand pavement, and the last strip (20) faces Maison de Savoie at the end of the road.
This discovery trail unfolds in an urban environment and carries hikers along pavements and pedestrian crossings.
Take care at points 10 and 11 located on the banks of the Valserine. The descent, although equipped, can be slippery during rainy weather.
Most parking spaces in the town centre are in the blue zone, you will therefore need to obtain a parking disc. Don’t forget market days, on Thursday from 8am to 1pm all year round at place Carnot.
Do not hesitate to head to the town’s Tourist Office, 13 rue de la République, where foldouts are available on visiting Bellegarde.
The Bellegarde-sur-Valserine TGV train station is on the Paris-Geneva line.
To visit and get about in the High-Jura, visit www.reshaut-jura.fr, the eco-mobility portal listing all means of transport within the Park.
Access and parking
After reaching the town of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, which can be accessed via the A40, park at place Carnot, in the town centre, or nearby.
From place Carnot, head up rue Parmentier to reach place Gambetta (roundabout). The starting point is on the raised pavement, at the foot of the railway viaduct.
Report a problem or an error
If you have found an error on this page or if you have noticed any problems during your hike, please report them to us here: