A tour of Savoie’s majestic Alpine lakes

The great lakes of France’s Pays de Savoie offer ‘an impression of cleanliness, order and rude good health’

Annecy is wonderfully atmospheric
Annecy is wonderfully atmospheric
(Image credit: SCStock/Shutterstock)

Beloved of historical figures from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Queen Victoria and Paul Cézanne, the great Alpine lakes of France’s Pays de Savoie match the region’s towering peaks, including Mont Blanc, in their “still, silent majesty”, said Steve King in Condé Nast Traveller. A tour might begin beside the largest and northernmost – Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman, which is shared between Switzerland and France – and proceed in a southwesterly direction to the other three: Annecy, Bourget and Aiguebelette. There are charming old towns beside each, and their waters – clean and surprisingly warm in summer – are good for swimming, making a Savoyard holiday a pleasant alternative to a Mediterranean beach break.

“An impression of cleanliness, order and rude good health” prevails in Évian-les-Bains, beside Lake Geneva, but it also has a “Through the Looking-Glass quality”, with its toylike funicular, neo-Byzantine casino and almost ridiculously opulent taproom, where “the swells of yore” would congregate to take the waters. On Lake Annecy, the village of Talloires offers “ravishing” views, and Annecy town itself is wonderfully atmospheric. Aixles-Bains, on Lake Bourget, has declined since its heyday as a 19th century spa town, but still retains a “tantalising whiff of romance”.

Not far to its south lies Chambéry, which has enchanting old streets and a youthful energy missing elsewhere in the region – an “easygoing, aperitivo-o’clock vibe” that stems partly from its proximity to Italy. West of Chambéry lies the smallest lake, Aiguebelette, which is more rustic than the others but no less lovely. And in a wooded valley to the south of the town is Les Charmettes, the house where Rousseau lived with his mentor and lover, Madame de Warens, from 1736 to 1742. Its sparsely furnished rooms “echo with the passions of its former inhabitants”, and its idyllic formal garden commands marvellous views of the Alps. “No wonder they adored it.”

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