ROAD TRIP

Com­bine wild vis­tas with ex­hil­a­rat­ing hikes on a tour of the lakes and moun­tains of Rhône-alpes

France - - Contents - Gaye Lamouroux TOURIST IN­FOR­MA­TION: fr.au­vergn­er­honealpes-tourisme.com; aixles­bains-riv­ier­ade­salpes.com; la­can­necy.com

En­joy the moun­tain scenery by car and on foot in the scenic Rhône-alpes.

DAY ONE ARTEMARE TO LE BOURGET-DU-LAC 39.3 KILO­ME­TRES

Start your tour at Artemare in the depart­ment of Ain. Named for its epony­mous river, Ain is famed for pro­duc­ing ten­der grain-fed Bresse chicken and creamed meat – or fish – dumplings called quenelles, all of which you should sam­ple. But first check into Le Vau­grais (pitches from €13, camp­ing-savoiel­e­vau­grais.com), a camp­site tucked be­tween lush forests and the stun­ning Jura moun­tains, which has a good-sized swim­ming pool. Sur­rounded by well­marked foot­paths, it is also the ideal base for hik­ing.

Leave the camp­site and cross the Séran, a lively river tin­kling with the sound of wa­ter splash­ing off lichen­stud­ded boul­ders. Make sure to pick up a pic­nic lunch at Aux Délices du Val­romey bak­ery (23 Grande Rue) in Artemare, a pretty lit­tle vil­lage with steep tiled roofs over­looked from afar by the mag­nif­i­cent stone tow­ers of the 16th-cen­tury Château de Mâchu­raz. Try their ap­petis­ing, vivid-coloured re­gional spe­cial­ity tarte aux pra­lines, an open pas­try tart filled with a sauce that’s made us­ing a blend of cream and the lo­cal nutty pra­line sweets. Then hike past old bridges, vine­yards and stand­ing stones to the mag­nif­i­cent Gorges de Thurignin, whose swirling wa­ters are dot­ted with the nat­u­ral stone pot­holes known as ‘gi­ant’s ket­tles’, and the pic­turesque Cer­veyrieu wa­ter­fall.

Be­fore head­ing for Le Bourget, stop off to visit the Lavours marshes (en­try free, re­serve-lavours.com), one of the last re­main­ing con­ti­nen­tal marsh­lands in West­ern Europe. Cre­ated more than 15,000 years ago when the huge Rhône glacier melted, the Lavours marshes cover an im­mense 5,000 hectares of land dot­ted with peat bogs and bul­rushes, and framed by the mag­nif­i­cent Grand Colom­bier moun­tain. A plank bridge takes you right to the heart of the marshes where you can stand sur­rounded by sounds of hop­ping frogs and the loud buzzing of count­less in­sects as you ad­mire this vast na­ture re­serve which is home to 400 dif­fer­ent types of mush­rooms, and even boasts its own car­niv­o­rous plant.

Formed by the same glacier all those years ago, the 18 kilo­me­tre-long Lac du Bourget just over the bor­der in Savoie is the largest nat­u­ral lake of gla­cial ori­gin in France. Celebri­ties rang­ing from ‘na­ture or nur­ture’ philoso­pher Rousseau, to Queen Vic­to­ria and French politi­cian Cle­menceau once flocked to spend their hol­i­days by this pretty lake. Le Bour­getdu-lac, the lake’s cap­i­tal, might be a sleepy lit­tle town but, as­tound­ingly, it’s home to four Miche­lin-starred restau­rants. For best views choose Le Restau­rant Gas­tronomique La­mar­tine (menus from €37, la­mar­tine-marin.com), over­look­ing the lake and en­joy an ex­pen­sive, but de­li­cious, starter of grilled fresh perch with gar­licky lemon sauce, fol­lowed by lamb served in a spicy honey crust.

Spend the night at camp­site l’île aux Cygnes (pitches from €12, ileaux­cygnes. fr), a glo­ri­ous camp­site with sandy beaches sprawl­ing along the shores of the beau­ti­ful Lac du Bourget.

DAY TWO LE BOURGET-DU-LAC TO AIX-LES-BAINS 9.7 KILO­ME­TRES

Get up early when it’s still cool and make the five-hour hike to Ab­baye d’haute­combe (en­try from €3.50, chemin-neuf.fr/fr/pres-de-chez-toi/ ab­bayes/ab­baye-d-haute­combe). The trail cov­ers some fairly rough ter­rain, but the views of the lake are breath­tak­ing and the sense of achieve­ment when you ar­rive at the abbey makes it all worth­while. Built in the 12th cen­tury, this mag­nif­i­cent abbey is now home to a Bene­dic­tine com­mu­nity and you can ad­mire the glo­ri­ous Gothic troubadour-style architecture in­side on a self-guided au­dio tour, then see dozens of or­nate tombs be­long­ing to mem­bers of the pow­er­ful Savoy dy­nasty who ruled over this re­gion for more than 400 years. Al­most as fas­ci­nat­ing is the tomb of the last king of Italy, Um­berto II of Savoy, who was buried here in 1983.

The num­ber 15 bus will take you back to Le Bourget-du-lac. Pick up your ve­hi­cle and make the leisurely panoramic drive along the lake­side D1201 road to Aix-les-bains. With its el­e­gant streets, flower-filled parks, mu­se­ums, casino and belle époque build­ings, this town – known as the ‘Riviera of the Alps’ – just oozes glam­our and you won’t be sur­prised to learn that this was one of the first French cities to have its own cin­ema. En­joy a quick swim in the chilly lake wa­ters then set out to ex­plore this pretty town famed for its hot min­eral springs which have drawn vis­i­tors since Ro­man times.

Af­ter shop­ping for sou­venirs around the Rue de Genève, visit the Musée Archéologique de Viuz Faverges (en­try from €3.50, 855 Route de Viuz) home to many stat­ues and an­tique ob­jects, then en­joy a good wal­low in the bright green, min­eral-rich wa­ters of Les Ther­mes Che­val­ley (half-day cure from €65, valvi­tal.fr), the town’s main ther­mal baths. End the even­ing with a bub­bling pot of cheesy fon­due at Le Rouet (fon­due savo­yarde from €16, restau­rant-le-rouet. fr), then pick a pitch among the trees at the lake­side Camp­ing Sier­roz (pitches from €11.70, camp­ing-sier­roz.com)

DAY THREE AIX-LES-BAINS TO NEY­DENS 64.4 KILO­ME­TRES

It’s time to turn your back on that lovely lake and take the 50-minute ride along the busy A41 to An­necy. This charm­ing re­sort sits on another lake – the third largest in France – and you can best ex­plore here by tak­ing a two-hour trip in an open-top vin­tage Citroën 2CV with Les Deuches du Lac (les­deuch­es­du­lac.fr). End the tour with an aper­i­tif – or more – at the Ab­baye de Tal­loires (menu from €36, ab­baye-tal­loires.com), a 17th­cen­tury abbey which is now an at­mo­spheric ho­tel/bar/restau­rant, then head for La Colom­bière (pitches from €12, camp­ing-la-colom­biere.com) a fam­ily-owned camp­site site framed by moun­tains and sur­rounded by lakes near the vil­lage of Ney­dens, a few kilo­me­tres away from the Swiss bor­der.

The site sits at the cen­tre of a web of some 8,000 kilo­me­tres of hik­ing trails, which you should ex­plore, be­fore hik­ing to the top of Le Salève, the moun­tain of the French Pre­alps where Mary Shelley’s mon­ster fled in her fa­mous novel Franken­stein. Catch your breath at the top, then stare out from this spot known as the ‘bal­cony of Geneva’, and en­joy the views of paraglid­ers swoop­ing over Lake An­necy far be­low, and ea­gles glid­ing over the Jura moun­tains and Mont Blanc high above. It’s a suitably breath­tak­ing spot to end your tour of the spec­tac­u­larly pic­turesque Rhône-alpes re­gion. GET­TING THERE: Take the ferry from Portsmouth to Dieppe, a 7hr drive from Artemare. Al­ter­na­tively, fly into Geneva air­port and hire a car or a camper­van. You can rent a van from Cam­panda (cam­panda.fr)

ABOVE: The old town of An­necy is of­ten likened to Venice, thanks to its canals

ABOVE: Lake An­necy and its scenic back­drop

ABOVE: Peace and tran­quil­ity on the lovely Lac du Bourget; RIGHT: Hik­ing on the moun­tain paths near Ney­dens in Haute-savoie

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