I just finished hiking sections of La Vy aux Moines, the Way of the Monks, or Sacred Route, to get background flavor for my next Hardy Durkin travel mystery, which is set in Franche-Comte along the French-Swiss border.
La Vy aux Moines is an ancient trail dating back to the Middle Ages (1385-ish), snaking through the Swiss Val-du-Travers, La Brevine, and over the Juras into France. The entire trail, from Motiers, Switzerland to Montbenoît, France (location of the L’Abbaye de Montbenoit, 12th century), is about twenty miles long. The trail crosses dairy farms, pastures, forest land, and mountains with a fairly easy gradient, and ranges from a wide grassy path to single-file track littered with dry leaves, pine needles, and pine cones.
Centuries ago the valleys of La Brevine, nicknamed the Siberia of Switzerland (for a very good reason!), and the neighboring Val-du-Travers, were settled by monks who founded religious communities in these remote Jura valleys. The monks used La Vy aux Moines footpath to travel throughout the valleys and into France, and also used it to flee Switzerland after the Reformation.
The trail was further used by smugglers for moving contraband across the Franco-Swiss border unnoticed, particularly salt, which was heavily taxed in France for centuries. During World War II, it is thought the trail was used to smuggle refugees (downed Allied pilots, Jews), and microfilm out of Nazi-occupied France.
Not only is La Vy aux Moines a pleasant trek through incredibly beautiful country, it is also a walk through history.