A Travellerspoint blog


France photos

Despite my extensive travels through Europe and passion for mountainous hiking, I had never previously explored the Alps, the proverbial “top” of the continent. So I decided to prioritise visiting the region and spent nearly two weeks in the French and Swiss Alps. The highest mountains in France are located in Savoy, a historical region in the southeast of the country bordering Switzerland and Italy. The region was formerly incorporated into the French state in only 1860, having previously been ruled by the Counts, Dukes and eventually Kings of the House of Savoy for nearly 900 years (Europe’s longest reigning dynasty became the royal household of the Kingdom of Italy, but were dethroned after World War II). While the local population speaks French, Savoyard culture and identity remains strong, reflected in the alpine architecture and cuisine. I stayed for two nights each in the lakeside town of Annecy and the skiing resort village of Chamonix, at the base of Mont Blanc - the European Union’s highest peak.


Annecy is quite possibly the most beautiful small town in Europe. Colloquially referred to as the “Venice of the Alps”, Annecy’s pedestrianised old town is interspersed with several aqua blue canals connecting to the northwestern corner of Lake Annecy. The canals are traversed by pretty stone bridges and aligned with innumerable flower pots. Like in Venice, many of the buildings directly front the canals and display picturesque signs of decay. The architecture appears to be somewhat of a hybrid of influences, with the bulbous volume and structural form of alpine buildings and the pastel colours, terracotta roofs and stonework symptomatic of the Mediterranean. The old town’s commercialism is entirely devoted to the tourism industry, yet the successful preservation of its aesthetic character has ensured it remains a pleasant area to amble through. Thrice weekly a produce market takes over the cobblestone streets of the old town, cramming them with patrons eager to purchase Savoyard fruit, vegetables, cheese, charcuterie and sweets.


Annecy boasts a sublime location adjacent a pristine lake and surrounded by alpine mountains and forests, establishing the town as a prime centre for physical endeavour. In the winter months, Annecy is used as a base for snow and ice sports and previously submitted a bid for the 2018 Olympic Games. In the summer months, canoeing on the lake or cycling in the nearby countryside are exceedingly popular. I chose to dabble in a day of hiking in my first non-urban activity in nearly a month of travel. I walked east through the beautiful parkland on the northern side of the lake to access a slightly inconspicuous entrance point for the trail leading to Mont Veyreir. The relatively easy climb passed through pristine deciduous forest and eventually coniferous forest at higher altitude. At the summit, I was treated to outstanding views of Lake Annecy and its environs under the blazing sun. I found the descent somewhat more difficult, as I struggled to rediscover the correct path back to Annecy due to insufficient signage on the maze of trails crisscrossing the slopes. At the base, I concluded the day with a brief swim in cool water of the lake.


Upon arriving in Chamonix, I immediately suffered through a deluge for the first time this trip, signifying an abrupt conclusion to shorts and T-shirt weather. I travelled to Chamonix specifically to see Mont Blanc, but the chances of this occurring seemed grim in the thick, cloudy conditions of the afternoon. I had originally considered partaking in Tour du Mont Blanc, a famous 10 day trek around the base of the mountain through France, Italy and Switzerland. But I didn’t particularly like the idea of spending half that time trudging through the rain, so I instead delayed my arrival in the region to further my exploration of cuisine française in the sunny cities of the South. Unlike Annecy, Chamonix is an archetypal alpine village, with stone and timber dwellings situated on spacious grassy blocks spread throughout a valley. The town centre consists wide streets and large stone buildings with prominent sloping rooftops (for the snow), and is decorated with innumerable flags and colourful flowerpots.


I was fortuitous to wake up in the morning to moderately clear weather, allowing me to view snow-capped peaks and glaciers on one side of the valley. I’m not entirely sure if I actually viewed Mont Blanc, or if the surrounding massifs blocked the view from the bottom of the valley, but nevertheless the scenery was quite epic. A cable car operates from the town centre to the top of one of the massifs for panoramic views of the Alps. Since the ticket was exceedingly expensive, I decide to pay half price – and disembark at a station half way up. This allowed me to hike along a very popular route for approximately 4 hours to Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France. I hiked well above the treeline, which allowed for continuously spectacular views of the valley and surrounding peaks. I lunched on a rocky outcrop dramatically located above the glacier and below spiky, shard-like peaks. When I descended to the train station servicing the viewpoint of the glacier, I was surprised to discover my ticket included access to a man-made ice cave carved from the glacier. The cave features numerous ice sculptures and has to be carved out annually as the glacier moves 70m every year. I caught the famed Montveners train back to Chamonix, which descends nearly 900m in just 5km.


Travelling from Provence to Savoy was a demonstration of the extraordinary culinary variety between France’s regions. While Provençal cuisine is defined by its Mediterranean influences, with the abundant use of tomatoes, fresh vegetables and olive oil and its relative lightness, Savoyard cuisine is more closely related to the rich, dairy-dominated comfort food of neighbouring alpine countries. Cheese is king in the Alps and features as the prominent ingredient in most dishes – even throughout three course meals! The carb and dairy excess of Savoy is epitomised in the delectable calorie bonanza of tartiflette. Despite its ubiquitous presence in traditional Savoyard restaurants, the recipe was actually invented in the 1980s to promote the sales of reblochon cheese. The dish consists of sliced potatoes, onions, bacon and reblochon cheese baked in a ceramic dish, with the richness typically offset (slightly) by a garden salad. While in Savoy, other cheesy concoctions I sampled included ravioli smothered in reblochon cheese sauce, pork smothered in reblochon cheese sauce and served with potatoes au gratin, and onion soup with gruyère. In Annecy, I picnicked on a huge range of products purchased at the market: pepper saucisson (French equivalent of salami with countless varieties), rotisserie chicken and lard-soaked potatoes, a semi-soft cheese with a blue vein through the middle, ever so sweet cherry tomatoes, magnificent figs, baguette and a decadent chocolate slice.


My time in Savoy concluded an absolutely brilliant 3 week stay in France, which I’ve definitely elevated to one of my favourite countries in the world. And I’ve only scratched the surface with France, with so many other regions yet to be explored...


That’s all for now,


France photos

Posted by Liamps 22:53 Archived in France

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Dear Liam
Thankyou for reminding me of another trip in this region. We actually went cross-country skiing in Chamonix. Fantastic! We gave downhill a go & accidentally ended up on the black run. Too hard. We were the only skiiers who took the cable car back down to the start of the mountain. Embarrassment! The wide runs and powdery snow were a joy (on the beginner's slope).
One of our culinary lowlights was the heavily promoted fondu. What is the point of that food, I wonder?
And Annecy. So pretty.
Icy water in the lake though, I seem to remember.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

by Jo

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.