Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
Fresh from an invigorating few days in Lyon and its surrounds, K and I turned our attention to something that calls to skiers and snowboarders the world over – the Alps. It wasn’t snow season when we went through, but we were still treated to some amazing views through the mountains on our way from Lyon, via Annecy and Geneva, to Torino in north-western Italy.
Before our arrival in Geneva, we spent a few hours in Annecy, a quaint lakeside town a mere hour and a half from Lyon by the toll road. The town is bordered on one side by Lac D’Annecy and fringed with mountains, providing a stunning backdrop even when you’re out of the picturesque Old Town with its medieval chateau. Spending an afternoon wandering its streets and canals is definitely a pleasant way to pass one’s time!
The town can be quite touristy with the corresponding price hikes in most of the restaurants. Rather than paying high prices for a substandard meal, we decided to buy a takeaway lunch from Pauvert Charcuterie Traiteur instead. While they seem to specialise in catering, they also have a little shop which is popular for its range of ready-made salads, pastries, charcuterie, sweets and desserts, pates, and more. I loved our choices of a croque monsieur, a small salad, an apple galette, and more importantly, I loved my purchase of a pain au chocolat as large as my head at a local boulangerie!
Once you get tired of dodging tourists in Annecy, I recommend doing as we did – driving your rental car out of town to the nearby Gorges du Fier. It’s only ten minutes out of town, but it feels almost other-worldly as you walk on a narrow suspended footbridge through a natural gorge created through a millenia of water erosion. The rock formations you see as you walk through are absolutely stunning, and at only about $6 Euro per entry, it’s a pretty cheap way of getting in touch with nature.
After a short visit to the Gorges, we drove on to our accommodation at Saint-Genis-Pouilly in France, just over the border from Geneva – a cute little standalone bedroom and ensuite in a family home. Karen our hostess was lovely and gave us lots of recommendations for Geneva, and provided us with a hearty breakfast each morning as well. They had a lovely dog called Cashew who would stare at us through breakfast with big puppy dog eyes, begging for a treat.
Unfortunately the main reason for our visit to Geneva was a bust – K wanted to visit CERN on a guided tour, but forgot to make the booking for the in-demand tour. It wasn’t until a week out that he remembered, by which time it was too late. Still, given that we had already booked the accommodation, we decided to go ahead with our visit to Geneva anyway. So, a note to those interested in science and a tour of CERN – remember to book your tour well in advance!
Still, Geneva on a Sunday wasn’t totally disappointing. While most shops we passed were closed and most restaurants were out of our range (even a meal for two at McDonalds was $25 Euro, or nearly $40 AUD!), it soon became clear that Sundays are a day for family activities in expat-driven Geneva. Families throng around the lake (Lac Leman) as they go out sailing or take part in other water-based activities. They all go out grocery shopping at the Sunday markets at Plainpalais. They picnic, play games, and watch street performers in the large Parc des Bastions. If you’re not interested in the above, you could do what we did, and visit the two excellent free museums that Geneva has to offer.
Entrance to these museums is entirely free, a nice change in a city that sees fit to charge $8 Euro for an ice-cream cone. The Musée d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) had a special exhibition on at the time around the solar system, which unfortunately was all in French so much of the exhibition was lost to us. Their permanent exhibitions are very impressive though, with all specimens of animal, bird and marine life on display in realistic environments. They also have a strange specimen of a two-headed turtle called Janus, named after the Roman god with two heads.
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (Museum of Art and History) is also free, and has some very impressive works ranging from Greek and Roman sculptures to Renaissance paintings and Impressionist art. There’s obviously a particular emphasis on French and Swiss art, but overall the collection is quite comprehensive. It’s a great art museum for those who prefer to take in art in small doses, and can’t handle the more overwhelming collections of museums like the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum.
The next day, we said goodbye to Geneva and hit the road again, taking the long way around off the toll road into Torino. This meant that instead of driving through the tunnel under Mont-Blanc mountain into Torino (making the journey a mere three hour drive), we drove around and over the French Alps to get into northern Italy. It doubled the driving time, but also quadrupled our touring pleasure as we got to see some amazing snow-capped mountains up close, even driving up high enough that we were above the clouds themselves. The outlook at Mont-Cenis over the lake just before you enter Italy…it’s without parallel.
Driving through this part of south-western France with its lakes, mountains, gorges and views is a road trip that I would recommend to anyone. I especially encourage you to take the long way around – don’t restrict yourself to the fast toll roads because you’ll lose the beauty of the surrounding landscape.