|The Independent Traveler's Newsletter PAGE FIVE|
|FEATURING THE SAVOIE|
We usually feature whole regions, but the département of Savoie is so interesting in itself, we thought we'd focus on it alone in this issue. It is one of eight in the Rhône-Alpes [gold] region shown on this map, and it borders Switzerland and Italy as well as the Provence Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. [Our thanks to France Keys for use of their map. Click on it to visit their very interesting and helpful web site.]
The Savoie has an interesting history as it was ruled for centuries by the House of Savoie, one of Europe's oldest ruling families. It straddled the alps with two capitals, Chambéry and Turin, and it was only in 1860 that the Chambéry side voted to join France. Today, Savoie is very developed in the tourism arena. In winter it is whiter and in summer greener than many of the surrounding areas, it has many spas, resorts and casinos and caters to skiers with chalet accommodations at higher elevations.
The Savoie is home to many of the most famous ski resorts of the French Alps. The modern town of Albertville, made famous by the 1992 Winter Olympics, is in the Savoie not far from the Swiss border and is a popular destination for skiers from December to April. The Trois Vallées region is home to three popular resort towns, the southernmost of which is Val Thorens/Les Menuires which is the highest resort in Europe ~ that means a long ski season (glacier skiing). The center of the three resorts is Méribel with alpine chalets and an inviting place for those with beginning or intermediate skill levels. Finally, the northernmost is Courchevel, an upscale resort town at the end of the D91A. Driving is along winding mountain roads to reach these three resorts, while driving to Albertville along the N212 from the north or the A430 autoroute from the south is easy and uneventful.
Val d'Isère, a winter destination of the rich and famous, offers more than 400 kilometers of downhill ski runs and is often credited with providing the best skiing in Europe or the world. Critics, however, decry the conditions left by the ski runs when the spring thaw reveals their marks on the landscape.
Much of the French Alps pastures are spectacular at any time of year. Covered in flowers in spring and early summer, the alps are perfect for hiking before the ski season begins. Although many resorts close between early fall and winter (October and November), from spring thaw to the end of September hikers will find themselves surrounded by stunning scenery and bursts of color where flowers grow with wild abandon. Because of the appeal of the Alps year 'round, such activities as golf, white water rafting, paragliding and mountain climbing are newer attractions outside of the ski season. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails (grandes randonées) throughout the region, including the Savoie.
IGN (Insitut Géographique National), the map makers of the French government, publishes dozens of guides with maps on a wide variety of attractions in France. Their Itinéraires de Grande Randonée en France is an invaluable guide for anyone who wants to hike well-marked trails and footpaths in any region of France. For the small price of 4.83 euros, (add shipping charges) and sent to most countries of the world, it can be ordered online at http://www.ign.fr/rubrique.asp?rbr_id=1555&GRA_ID=1M903.
Chambéry, important since the middle ages for its strategic location between France, Switzerland and Italy, is the capital city of the Savoie, and a charming place it is! Located in a valley between the Massif de Chartreuse and the Bauges mountain range, it has a lovely old town worth a few hours of exploration on foot. Old Chambéry offers winding lanes lined with Italian-style village houses (three stories: the first for shops and the two above for living quarters) painted in the warm colors one would expect in the south of France. Ochre, peach and shades of gold and yellow make the quarter very charming and inviting. The rue de Boigne, named for Count de Boigne who left some of his fortune to the town, is home to a unique monument, Fontaine des Elephants, erected in 1838 to honor the Count. At the opposite end of the street is the Château that was home to the Dukes of Savoy (Ducs de Savoie). It isn't certain exactly when construction of the château began, but it dates from the 13th century and includes a late Gothic Sainte-Chapelle. There are tours of the church and a few parts of the château, most of which is now occupied by the Préfecture [of Police].
An interesting fact about Chambéry is that in the mid-sixteenth century it lost its Holy Shroud to Turin...the very same Shroud of Turin we have all heard so much about in recent decades and whose authenticity is a matter of disagreement by a variety of experts.
Les Charmettes is the former retreat (just two kilometers outside Chambéry) of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his older lover, Madame de Warens. They met when she was a 28 year-old landlady and he, at 16, became her apprentice. They lived in the house from 1736 to 1742, not a very long time; today, the house is a museum surrounded by gardens and there is a private chapel on the grounds.
Aix-les-Bains is another tourist attraction in the Savoie. It sits on the banks of the largest natural lake in France, Lac du Bourget. The Thermes Nationaux, built in the 19th century, houses in its basement the mineral baths first used by the Romans over two thousand years ago. It is the most visited spa in France and is across from the Temple of Diana dating back to the second century, home to a fine assortment of Gallo-Roman artifacts and worth a visit.
Lac Bourget offers visitors a wide range of activities including a boat trip across the lake from Aix-les-Bains to the Benedictine Abbey d'Hautecombe which serves as the House of Savoy's family mausoleum. From some places on the lake one can see Mont Blanc, Europe's highest peak, which is located in the French Alps in the département of the Haute-Savoie, a short distance north of Albertville.
Massif de la Chartreuse is quite exceptional. Between Chambéry
and Grenoble, this lovely range of mountains and dense forests are renowned
because it was here in the late 1800s where hydroelectricitywas invented.
There is an ancient monastery, Monastière de la Grande Chartreuse,
that dates back
to 1084 when
The monastery's fame is derived from the liqueurs, both green and yellow Chartreuse, made by monks since 1605. This liqueur, made from an elixir blending well over a hundred herbs, is now produced in the local town of Voiron in the Isère, and the recipe is a secret! Visitors are welcome at the Caves de la Chartreuse, 10, boulevard Edgar-Kofler, for visits to the vaulted cellars and for free tastings, but don't try to get the recipe!
Throughout the Savoie region, hearty fare can be found in restaurants, bed and breakfasts and château accommodations. Mountain air increases the appetite, and common dishes include potatoes, ham and cheese. One specialty is gratin savoyard (a casserole of potatoes, Gruyère cheese and cream) or raclette which is a Reblochon or Comté cheese fondue. Local fish are in abundance and, being so near the French gastronomy capital of Lyon, one will find a wide variety of fine menus from which to choose. The Savoie is known for simple fare, often prepared in one dish. One specialty is escalope savoyarde, a filet of veal fried with morilles mushrooms, topped with Gruyère cheese and then lightly baked in the oven. A lovely dessert might be Mont-Blanc glacé, which is vanilla ice cream, rum cake, chestnut cream and whipped cream all combined together.
We'd like to draw your attention to a truly wonderful bed and breakfast ~ a few kilometers east of Chambéry and just outside the pretty little town of Saint Pierre d'Albigny ~ that will provide you with country living, expansive views, and exquisite gourmet meals ~ it is Château des Allues. Using produce from his potager, host Stéphane Vandeville will create one or more memorable meals for his guests, complete with light and delightful local wines ~ and sleep at night will be in total peace and quiet in lovely, cozy en suite guest rooms. Wake up to incredible sunrises over the Alps, walk into town along narrow country roads past a little waterfall and vineyards, or spend the day in Chambéry exploring the historic old town. As with other accommodations in the region, Château des Allues is closed only in November, so if you ski, you might want to make winter reservations as well.
SUNRISE OVER THE ALPS FROM CHÂTEAU DES ALLUES
This is a fine bed and breakfast accommodation with warm, welcoming accommodations, lovely and cozy common rooms for conversation or reading, and a fine dining room where guests enjoy the incredible culinary skills of the owner.
this brief excursion into the Savoie has whetted your appetite for a visit
very soon. It is charming, has spectacular scenery and refreshing
mountain air, and a visit to the Savoie will provide you with a glimpse
of France that you may not have experienced before.
Cold Spring Press, copyright 2007-2008, except Château des Allues
STAY in the Southeast
(click on names or photos to access web site)
The two properties shown above offer luxurious accommodations in beautiful settings.
Château de Méouilles is located in the Alpes de Haute-Provence département (04) of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region and is a rental château with an extraordinary history quite near the Route Napoléon. It offers weekly rental accommodations (three self-catering apartments) and a swimming pool. It's high position provides lovely views over the countryside and the nearby lake.
Château de Seillans, also in Provence in the département of the Var (83) is also a weekly rental ~ the focal point of the village of Seillans, one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. The château is spacious and comfortable, and from the terrace near the plunge pool one can see the Mediterranean in the distance.
Contact Information for the towns near the châteaux
Office de Tourisme
Office de Tourisme
Office de Tourisme
de SAINT-ANDRÉ LES ALPES
Contact Information for other articles in this issue:
of accommodations: respective property owners. All rights reserved.]