The Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains was active for at least 1200 years, until stopping activity in 1962. The underground galleries and hydraulic pumping system are the last remains of the system used for the extraction and channelling of the brine. On the surface, the Boiler Room demonstrates to the difficulty of the saltworkers’ labor. Visiting the saltworks helps to understand the history of salt and the techniques for extraction and production obtained by artificial evaporation, unlike techniques used in the salt marshes. Wood was used for combustion before being replaced by coal in the 19th century for economic reasons. The salt produced by this process is called granular salt (brine evaporation by fire).
The Great Saltworks would extract its last tons of salt in 1962 before its closure. A visit of the Saltworks isn’t complete without a visit to the Salt Museum, which traces the history of the site and the extraction of salt, from the Neolithic period to the present day.
La Grande Saline de Salins-les-Bains
Place des Salines, 39110 Salins-les-Bains
Website - tel : 03 84 73 10 92
Full price / reduced price: €7.50 / €6.50 / 12 to 18 years old: €4 / 6 to 12 years old : €3.50. Free for children under 6 years old.
Open every day, only by guided visit. Several departures between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. In July and August, visits in English and German.
Guided tours last 1 hour. Tours are followed by free access to the Salt Museum.
During the visit of the saltworks, vestiges from last millennium are shown through :
The Underground galleries, dating from the 13th century at their oldest, connect two wells. One of them, the “puits Amont”, is equipped with a functioning hydraulic pump from the 19th century. The ground on which it is now running is the direct result of the accumulation of coal ash used for heating.
In the Boiler Room, the last stage of the salt extraction process, one can imagine the difficult work of salt laborers.
At the end of the visit, the Salt Museum allows visitors to learn about this precious condiment.
For young visitors
The Espace jeune public (Young Visitors Area) shows salt in all its forms and all its uses, guided by two characters, Pierre de Sel and Fleur de Sel.
A small-scale model allows children to understand the functioning of the saltworks with different buildings, a hydraulic pump and various freshwater or saltwater circuits.
Educational workshops (evaporation of brine, uses of salt ... ) . During school holidays, the "White Gold Rush" tour is adapted for children from 6 to 12 years, with a demonstration on the crystallization of salt by evaporation.
The booklet "Master of Secrets" is a guide that takes children on a treasure hunt in the village (for children 7 to 12 years old). It is available at the Tourist Office of Salins-les-Bains.
Musée du Sel
The Salt Museum can be visited after the tour of the galleries and boiler rooms. Features films, a collection of technical objects, testimonials and an area for young visitors.
Salt can be found underground thanks to salt deposits that were left there by the sea 200 million years ago, covered by permeable sediments. This fossilized deposit of salt water infiltrates the ground and runs into the groundwater at 240 meters below the surface of the Earth. It was between the 5th and 4th millennium BC that the first use of saltwater sources was thought to have occurred. But the salt mines as we know them were exploited for 1200 years, from the 9th to the 20th centuries, during which they assured the prosperity of Salins-les-Bains. At this time salt was so valuable that its was protected by walls topped with towers (of which there remains no trace). Salins was then called the "Cité de l'Or Blanc", or the City of White Gold.
In the 18th century, wood for the fires was running out and workers were forced to travel farther and farther to find this vital resource. To cope with this situation, King Louis XV decided to build another operating site near a forest. This was the site identified by Claude Nicolas Ledoux, located between the villages of Arc et Senans, bordering the Forest of Chaux. As soon as the Royal Saltworks of Arc et Senans was operational, from 1779 and for over a century, the site produced salt from salt water pumped from the Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains. After pumping brine underground in Salins les Bains, it was transported by saumoduc (channel built to transport brine) over 21 kilometers between the place of extraction of and the place of production. The salt was then heated to evaporate and obtain crystallization. The Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans stopped production in 1895, almost a century before the factory closed in Salins les Bains.
Since June 2009, the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains has joined the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans on the World Heritage List of Unesco, chosen for its industrial heritage.
Extraction and production
Several techniques have followed over the centuries to bring salt water to the surface. In the Middle Ages and until 1750, water was drawn from underground by a bucket wheel powered by water (called a noria). Thereafter, hydraulic pumps activated by the strong current of the Furieuse River took over. When it reached the surface, salt water was stored in supply basins located in adjacent buildings containing boilers (or stoves). These buildings are called “bernes”. The process of extraction of salt blocks ended with it being cooked, which involved 17 to 18 hours of heating before letting the salt dry a few hours. Several different grades of salt were produced.
The village (not classified)
Salins les Bains
The village of Salins extends along the Furieuse River, which also flows through it. It is dominated by Fort Saint André, built by Vauban, and Fort Belin. The village is the only visible part of what made the town so wealthy over the centuries : underground, salt is abundant. The city owes its fame to its salt exploitation from the Middle Ages to 1962. In 1854 the first spa was created and powered by the capture of saltwater sources. Today, the town’s wealth mainly comes from the salt mines, but also from its public and religious heritage that reflects its glorious past, despite the fire of 1825 that destroyed 300 homes.
Chapelle Notre Dame Libératrice (1639)
In its original oval construction, the chapel is topped by a dome with a lantern tower. The interior of the chapel features a lead statue of Our Lady Liberator (Notre Dame Libératrice) and two statues of the Virgin and Saint John in polychrome wood from the 15th century.
Eglise Saint Anatoile
Church of the 13th century in a Burgundian Gothic style. Beautiful facade and portal in carved oak from the 16th century. The bell tower was integrated in the first fortified wall around the village (11th century). Features an organ from the 18th century.
The Rue de la République, the former Rue du Bourg Dessus, was completely destroyed in the fire of 1825. The owners rebuilt their homes in a uniform neoclassical style with the same gray stone, giving the their new street a distinctive unity. These mansions testify to the wealth of the local nobility (vineyards, salt mines ... ).
Centre Thermal et de Remise en Forme
Place des Alliés, 39110 Salins les Bains
Website - tel : 03 84 73 04 63.
Well-being treatments, relaxation area, medical treatments in Salins-les-Bains Since the mid 1850s, the spa has used salted water rich in the trace elements of Salins for the treatment of rheumatism, but also for relaxation and well-being.
Open Monday to Saturday : 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ; Sunday : 10 a.m. to 11 :45 a.m. / 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Pool, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi
Well-being and beauty
Open Monday to Saturday : 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Many treatments (pools, jet shower, mud application, massages, face and hand treatments, salt scrub ... )
150 kilometers of marked paths around the village. Map of mountain biking paths available for free at the Tourist Office.
Over 200 kilometers of hiking trails around the village. The guide map is available at the Tourist Office (€5).
Sentier des Gabelous
The Gabelous Trail, named after the guards that monitored the brine pipeline, links the towns of Salins-les-Bains and Arc et Senans. At 29 kilometers long, it runs along the historic route of the pipeline. Documentation available at the Tourist Office of Arc et Senans. To do on foot or on mountain bike. 15 explanatory signs dot the trail.
Le Poupet Vol Libre
Website - tel: 03 84 73 04 56.
For first-timers, induction training and advanced gliders
Tree-top Ropes Course
At Fort Saint André
Website - tel: 09 73 12 26 18.
A place of relaxation for the whole family. 5 circuits for different adult levels and a circuit for children.