Top Tourist Attractions in Savoy
The French Alps, the most westerly and the highest part of the great arc of the Alps, occupy the old provinces of Savoy and Dauphiné and extend also into Provence.
The historical region of Savoy (French Savoie, Italian Savoia), corresponding broadly to the present- day départements of Haute-Savoie (chief town Annecy) to the north and Savoie (Chambéry) to the south, extends from the southern shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to a line running from Les Echelles (between Chambéry and Grenoble) by way of the Col de la Croix de Fer to the Col du Galibier, and is bounded on the west by the middle Rhône valley and on the east by the Italian region of Piedmont.Most of this area is occupied by the magnificent Savoy Alps, extending between Lake Geneva and the Isère valley and rising to a height of 4,807 m/15,772ft in Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. To the west is a beautiful pre-Alpine lake district, with the Lac d'Annecy and the Lac du Bourget, surrounded by mountains rising to 1,800 m/5,900ft.The history of Savoy, the ancestral territory of the Italian royal house, has followed a different course from that of the Dauphiné. Early traces of human settlement have been found on the shores of the Lac du Bourget and Lac d'Annecy. The region, originally inhabited by a Celtic tribe, the Allobroges, was occupied by the Romans in the second century B.C. and became part of the province of Gallia Cisalpina. From the fifth C. the Burgundians began to settle here, founding the kingdom of Burgundy which (including Savoy) was incorporated in the German Empire (the Holy Roman Empire) in 1033. Nevertheless the Counts of Savoy retained their independence and, secure in their possession of the Alpine passes, sought to extend their domains into Italy and France and consequently became involved in bitter warfare. In 1101 the Counts of Savoy gained the status of Counts of the Empire and in 1416 became Dukes of Savoy. In 1418 they transferred their residence to Turin in the northern Italian principality of Piedmont but continued to call themselves Dukes of Savoy. After the wars of religion, in 1564, Savoy was compelled to cede Geneva, Vaud and the Valais to the Swiss Confederation. It saw further fighting during its wars with Louis XIV of France. Following a victory by Prince Eugene of Savoy at Turin, the treaty of Utrecht (1713) brought Savoy additional territory in the form of the kingdom of Sicily, which it exchanged soon afterwards for Sardinia. After the unification of Italy the House of Savoy ceded Savoy and Nice to France in recognition of French military assistance, and this transfer was confirmed by a plebiscite in 1860.The 19th C. saw the development of the railroad (which reached Fréjus in 1872) and the road system.Climbers and winter sports enthusiasts have long recognized the attractions of Savoy.Winter sports resorts like Chamonix, Megève, Morzine and Val d'Isère have an international reputation, as have spas like Aix-les-Bains, Thonon and Evian.The Mont Blanc Tunnel, a road tunnel 11.6km/7.25mi long, gives Savoy (and Europe north of the Alps) a direct link with Italy. Agriculture - cattle-rearing, dairy farming, fruit-growing - still plays an important part in the economy.Walking and climbing in summer and all kinds of winter sports are the main attractions, but there are many other possibilities, for example fishing in the mountain streams and lakes. Many resorts have tennis courts and facilities for riding and bathing, as well as a number of golf-courses.
Aix-les-Bains (pop. 25,721) lies under Mont Revard on the east side of the Lac du Bourget (18km/11mi long, 2-3km/1-0.5-2mi across, 60-100 m/200-330ft deep). It has an international reputation as a spa with an equable climate. Its springs were already being used for curative purposes in Roman times, and up to 45,000 people now come here every year to take the waters.
The Thermes Nationaux (two spa establishments, the older one dating from 1864, the other from 1934, with an extension in 1972; remains of Roman baths) are open to visitors. Other Roman remains are the 9m/30ft high Arch of Campanus and the Temple of Diana. The Town Hall occupies the 16th century Château of the Marquis d'Aix; the elegant Renaissance staircase is built of stone from Roman structures.
Musée du Docteur-Faure
The Musée du Docteur-Faure has a collection of pictures, mainly by Impressionists, and faience.
Address: Villa des Chimères, 10 boulevard des Côtes, F-73100 Aix-les-Bains, France
Opening hours: Closed: Tue
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), 1945 Victory Day (May 8), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Bastille Day - France (Jul 14), Assumption Day - Christian (Aug 15), All Saints' Day - Christian (Nov 1), Remembrance Day / 1918 Armistice Day (Nov 11), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Pentecost Monday (Whit Monday) - Christian, Ascension Thursday - Christian
Entrance fee: FREE
Useful tips: Closed during Dec. 18 to Jan. 2.
Disability Access: Full facilities for persons with disabilities.
Drives & Cruises
Aix-les-Bains is a good center for drives around the lake and cruises on the lake, for example to the abbey of Hautecombe, with the tombs of the Dukes of Savoy. The elaborately decorated church, restored in the 19th C., has a 16th C. doorway.
Megève (alt. 1,113m/3,650ft; pop. 4,509) is one of France's leading winter sports resorts, and is also a popular summer holiday resort. There are a number of cableways, e.g. up the Croix de Rochebrune (1,750m/5,742ft), Croix des Salles (1,704m/5,591ft) and Mont d'Arbois (1,829m/6,001ft).
Megève is the French ski resort that boasts top shops, expensive restaurants and a charming atmosphere with its narrow streets, medieval tower, old church and elegant shops. The skiing at Megève itself is not the greatest but the town is linked with the ski areas of nearby towns of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, St Nicolas de Véroce and Combloux giving skiers the choice of more than 160km of trails. Because of its low elevation, snow can be a problem in dry winters but this low elevation can be a blessing in winters with plenty of snow because temperatures are a lot balmier at this altitude.
The name Val d'Isère is closely associated with the ski hills for which this area is so well known.
Chambéry (alt. 270 m/885ft; pop. 60,900), capital of the independent state of Savoy from the 13th to the 16th C., lies on the fast-flowing river Leysse in a fertile basin surrounded by hills and mountains. It is dominated by the old castle of the Dukes of Savoy (14th-15th C.). At the end of the castle's north wing is the Gothic Ste-Chapelle (1408), with fine stained glass and paintings in the apse by Vicario (1831). Other features of interest are the Treasury Tower (Tour Trésorerie), the state apartments and the Portail St-Dominique, a doorway in Flamboyant style which belonged to an earlier Dominican house.The best known monument in the town is the Elephant Fountain commemorating General Comte de Boigne (1751-1830). In close proximity to one another are the cathedral, with an unfinished west front (15th C.), an old monastic chapel with a beautiful Flamboyant doorway and the former Bishop's Palace, now housing the Musée Savoisien (prehistoric material, folk art and traditions, mementos of the House of Savoy). The Musée des Beaux- Arts, in a former granary, has works by Uccello, Titian, Guérin and Watteau. The town's finest old mansions are in Rue Croix-d'Or.2km/1-1/2mi south is the little country house of Les Charmettes, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau stayed with Mme de Warens from 1736 to 1742. His impressions of the place are recorded in his "Confessions".
Thonon (alt. 425 m/1,395ft; pop. 28,980), situated on a terrace above Lake Geneva (magnificent views), is a popular holiday place, both in summer and in winter, as well as a spa. The Place du Château occupies the site of a stronghold of the Dukes of Savoy which was destroyed in 1589. The 17th C. Château de Sonnaz houses a museum devoted to the folk art and traditions of the Chablais district round Thonon.A few kilometers west are the attractive lakeside resorts of Excenevex, with a beautiful natural beach, and Yvoire, which still preserves its old 14th C. walls (with two gates) on the landward side as well as a number of medieval houses.
Tignes (alt. 1,810 m/5,940ft; pop. 2,220) is notable both for the Lac de Tignes (alt. 2,100 m/6,890ft), a popular summer and winter resort and one of the highest and most modern skiing centers in France, and for the huge dam built to supply a hydroelectric power station, the largest on the upper Isère, producing over a billion kilowatts.From the Lac de Tignes there are cableways to a height of more than 3,000 m/9,840ft, e.g. to the Grande Motte (3,459 m/11,349ft), so that skiing is possible even in summer.
Evian-les-Bains (alt. 375-500 m/1,230-1,650ft; pop. 7,278) is beautifully situated on the south side of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), which has an area of 582 sq. km/225 sq. mi (72km/45mi long, up to 14km/9mi across) and a maximum depth of 310 m/1,015ft. Evian is popular both as a spa and as a holiday resort, and its annual musical festival attracts many visitors.
This annual two-week festival includes dozens of internationally-acclaimed young musicians, as well as established artists for a series of 20 concerts. The repertoire varies from orchestral and chamber music to operas. The events take place in the Auditorium Rostropovich and the Théâtre Antoine Riboud.
Morzine Avoriaz, France
Morzine-Avoriaz (alt. 1,000-1,800m/3,300-5,900ft; pop. 2,900) lies at the meeting of six valleys and offers endless scope for mountain walking and climbing in summer and skiing in winter. Nearby, at an altitude of 1,049m/3,442ft, are the Lac de Montriond and the Ardent Falls, which are particularly impressive when the thaw sets in.
Morzine-Avoriaz - Skiing
The two resorts of Avoriaz and Morzine, some 45 minutes from Geneva, make up the French part of the Portes du Soleil (there is also a Swiss part). Morzine is the largest of the two and attracts an English-speaking crowd so language is not a problem for a unilingual anglophone. Although it is relatively low in altitude, it is the base for a series of lifts that reach some 6,000 feet. Avoriaz, which is perched above rocky cliffs, at a much higher altitude is reached by cable car or a winding 14 km road. Avoriaz has a good range of skiing for all levels of ability with Morzine an excellent place for beginners with its wide-open trails.
St Gervais les Bains
St Gervais (alt. 900 m/2,950ft; pop. 4,800) has been for more than a century one of the best known spas in Savoy. It is a good base for the ascent of Mont Blanc, either on foot or by cableway, and is also a popular winter sports resort, connected by a network of cableways with the skiing areas of Megève and Chamonix.
Valloire (alt. 1,430 m/4,690ft; pop. 1,252) is a popular resort both in summer and in winter. It has a richly decorated 17th C. church.