Photo: St-Ursanne old town.
This isn’t a must-do hike. I wouldn’t travel far across the country for it, but if you are somewhere well connected to it like Basel or Biel then it is a nice way to spend a day. It has clearly stuck in my mind if I am writing about it almost 7 years later, but it was one of my first hikes back in the early days when everything was special and amazing.
Route: Porrentruy – Seleute – St-Ursanne. Follow signs for Stage 1 of the Trans Swiss route.
Length: 17km, +600m, -600m (+1km and 60m to St-Ursanne station).
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Season: Year round (assuming there isn’t any snow).
Arrival/Departure: Train to Porrentruy / Train from St-Ursanne. Both villages sit on the train line with regional train connections to Biel and Olten (via Basel). Not a fast connection, but nice scenery at least.
Supplies: Porrentruy and St-Ursanne have shops/restaurants/etc but there wasn’t much else along the way. The tiny hamlet of Seleute about 5km out of St Ursanne has a restaurant (‘Ma Fontaine’), but otherwise it is just forests and fields.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: I haven’t done this route again (when I go back around Porrentruy it will be with a bike), but I have been back around St-Ursanne and the Doubs valley many times. Other routes I have done; Stage 2 of the Trans-Swiss route between St-Ursanne and Soubey follows the Doubs river and has a postbus connecting both ends (15km, +/- 240m), taking the Postbus to La Motta by the French border and walking back to St Ursanne (10km, +/- 100m), and following the Doubs upstream to Tariche then climbing up the valley to Montenol before dropping back into St-Ursanne (12km, +/- 400m). Thinking about it, I haven’t been there in a few years now (something I will have to correct this spring).
I did this on a nice Sunday at the start of August and hardly saw anyone along the way. St-Ursanne will usually have at least a few other visitors on a nice day. You see it on tourism promotions, but it is so far out of the way of the usual tourist sites and routes that all the visitors will likely be from the region.
St-Ursanne has a slightly famous mediaeval festival which takes place in July every odd year – I have not managed to attend myself yet though. The trout from the river is meant to be very good there too (again another ‘always meant to but never got around to it’ thing).
Notes along the route
Starting in Porrentruy it is worth spending a few minutes exploring the old town. The castle is impressive, but it is closed to the public.
Porrentruy occupies a strange blip sticking out north of the Jura mountains This must be the least Swiss feeling bit of Switzerland. Gentle farmland slowly climbing up to the low first ridge of the Jura. The Alps are as far away as they get in Switzerland and hidden behind the Jura. The most impressive mountains are the Vosges off to the north in France. It reminded me a bit of my childhood being dragged around the Trent valley in England.
Not a whole lot to say about the route. A gentle climb up the first ridge in the Jura, following it along with some nice views, and then slowly dropping down into the Doubs valley. Nothing exceptional, but a pleasant enough way to spend a day in a very quiet and rural area.
St-Ursanne is really beautiful, sitting on the little river Doubs and tucked inside a winding valley, it would be perfect if there weren’t a few factories nearby in the valley…. The first time I entered there was a market and someone playing the accordion making it feel like just the cliche french speaking village. Like most villages you will see the whole place in 15 minutes, 30 if you explore the abbey and walk by the river for a minute.
The station itself is 10-15 minutes walk up the hill outside of St-Ursanne, keep that in mind when timing your connection home.