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The medieval town of Annecy is lovely and sits on the edge of what is known as the cleanest lake in Europe. After suffering many years of environmental degradation and pollution, new laws came into place in the 1960s and gradually transformed Lake Annecy into the crystal clear waters of today. 

Annecy (old town) itself is cute but a two hour destination at most. Stay farther down the lake to take full advantage. The nicer hotels are on the East side and perfect for an overnight stay (stay next to the water, or somewhere with easy access to it). On the West side, there’s lots of camping and a fun bike path that runs the entire length of the lake, reasonably flat. The area is a sporting paradise, waterskiing in the summer, kite surfing in the winter, hiking year round, winter snow skiing within 30 minutes. Important note: getting here can be very time consuming and difficult on public transportation. There are direct trains to Paris, and a less direct train to Geneva.

**Chateau de Menthon is a medieval castle overlooking the lake. It’s been through many renovations over the years, resulting in a bit of a melange of styles – call very “castle-y” and impressive. We have yet to tour the interior. From mid-November to early January there’s a big Christmas market, festive and with great views of the lake.

Stay at: 

  • ***Abbaye de Talloires, Chemin des Moines, Talloire. It’s wonderful, Marc Chagal and Mark Twain stayed there, what more do you need? Restaurant was expensive and very good. The other two hotels next door (Hotel Cottage and La Villa de Rosas look nice as well).
  • **Palace de Menthon, 665 Route des Bains, Menthon-Saint-Bernard: a classic grand hotel. We didn’t like it as much as the Abbaye, but it’s still pretty great and a bit more family-friendly, with a nice swimming area out front. Breakfast was a bit disappointing.

Chambéry

Chambéry was founded at a crossroads of ancient routes through the Dauphiné region of France, Switzerland, and Italy, in a wide valley between the Bauges and the Chartreuse Mountains on the Leysse River. The history of Chambéry is closely linked to the House of Savoy and was the Savoyard capital from 1295 to 1563. During this time, Savoy encompassed a region that stretched from Bourg-en-Bresse in the west, across the Alps to Turin, north to Geneva, and south to Nice. To insulate Savoy from provocations by France, Duke Emmanuel Philibert moved his capital to Turin in 1563, and, consequently, Chambéry declined.

Despite a complex history of ownership (and significant WWII bombing), it’s architecturally impressive and very walkable, with an admirably restored old town, many covered passages, mansions, trompe-l’oeil facades, a famous Elephants fountain, charming internal courtyards, cathedral, and castle – the former residence of the Dukes of the Savoie. There’s enough to cover a weekend, especially for foodies. Try visiting on a Saturday morning to take advantage of the very large, well appointed market, which overflows from a historic market hall into the streets. I’d choose Chambéry over Grenoble if passing through the area. Stop by the TI for a guide to the walking tour, marked by elephant medallions.

  • Château des Ducs de Savoie is hard to figure out – apparently there are tours, limited in nature, but we couldn’t determine the timing. There’s a two room exhibit on the history of the town. Most of the large complex is in very active use as municipal buildings for the town.
  • **PINSON Restaurant was very nearly a three star – it’s tiny, right on a main street but with the feeling of a hidden find. The wine list is good and our appetizers were exceptional – riffs on classic dishes with fine plating and interesting ingredients.
  • **Museum of Charmettes – House of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: just a 30 minute walk from town, but with the feeling of being far into the country, Charmettes is an odd little excursion worth making. A teenage Rousseau met Madame de Warens, 13 years his senior, in 1728. He called her “maman” and they moved into Les Charmettes farmhouse together (along with her second lover/staff member)  in 1736 for their summers, spending winters in town. The house isn’t restored so much as preserved – everything is a bit crooked, it’s not entirely clear the building was ever winterized, and you can see Rousseau’s bedroom and Madame’s more romantic quarters (with hand-painted wallpaper). 

Le Bourget-du-Lac

We’ve just dipped our toe into Lac de Bourget, the less famous lake of the region – it has a similarity to Annecy, but the experience is quite different. It feels much more commercial (traffic/built up), and most of the Lake appears to be banded by a large road – condensing access to specific beaches along the lake. *Restaurant Le Calypso was okay – it’s in a crowded stretch of dining options, and I’d choose something else next time.

We drive through Aix-le-Bains and would definitely avoid it in the future. I’m curious to explore if there are less hectic areas that have water access on the north and north-west sides of the lake.

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