A week in the French Alps is absolutely idyllic – after you experience the remarkable sights of the vast mountain ranges and Mont Blanc, the tranquility of the turquoise lakes and the charm of the medieval villages, you are dazzled for life! Quite evidently, after a week, our boys did not want to leave AT ALL.
Day 1 (Saturday): Arrival into Annecy
On a lovely mid-September morning, we took a TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon direct to Annecy (3 hrs and 40 minutes) arriving around 3pm (the check in time at our villa). Once we got ourselves sorted at our Villa, Les Catalons Residence, we ventured out to the nearby Carrefour supermarket to stock up on all the food, drinks and wine we needed for our week long vacation!
Day 2 (Sunday): Annecy Sunday Market | Drive Around Lake Annecy | Gorges de Fier
Annecy’s Sunday Market in its old town has been named one of the best markets in France. It certainly did not disappoint! The stalls with its fresh produce and delicious aromas were packed side by side along the canals and throughout this picture perfect medieval township. Even though on the day, the sky was drizzly and gloomy, the crowds were still out and about doing their Sunday purchases. Not losing out, we bought some marinated olives, a good variety of sweet fresh plums, half a dozen crispy potato rotis and some homemade pistachio nougat!! Perfect accompaniment to our dinner at the Villa later that night!
After lunch, we took a drive around the entire Lake Annecy to see the vista from different parts of the lake. The complete circle around the lake is approx 40km and with stops to see the little villages, chateaux and churches along the way, it took us a good part of the afternoon.
By the time we were back towards Annecy, the rain had stopped. We then headed out to the Gorges du Fier where we read is most splendid after the rain. The river Fier had over millions of years carved out this narrow and deep gorge, and we could witness the power of the river from the suspended footbridge 25m above. Whilst the footbridge is safe with high railings, it can still be a little hair-raising to look down and be awe struck by this natural wonder! The boys were a little scared at first, but with holding hands and strict warning not to run on the footbridge, they were fine.
Day 3 (Monday): Grenoble
The beauty of Grenoble is in its location – enveloped by rugged French Alps on all sides and where the river Drac joins the Isere, there really is no equal. The drive from Annecy was around 1.5 hours and we were greeted by those remarkable mountain ranges well before arrival into Grenoble.
This largely university and industrial town is the base for winter sports for the region, and we can imagine the hype and buzz during winter. For the warmer months, it was a pleasant town but surprisingly quiet – hardly any stores and shops were opened as we wandered around. The best place to admire Grenoble is up at the Fort de la Bastille via the famous “les bulles” (ball-shaped) cable car
After a lazy lunch at a local hangout (our neighboring tables were all filled with very friendly talkative drunk locals!), Le Petit Bistrot, the boys were super excited to take the “bubbles” up to the Bastille!! Right at the top, the views of the city of Grenoble was magnificent – we felt like we were standing on top of the world!! As we could see sweeping views of the city below, it was really the perfect defense location to build a fortress. At the back of the fortress, there was a short walk to the other side of the mountain to view the eastern suburbs of Grenoble and beyond. If we had planned better, it would have been a great idea to dine on the terrace of Chez le Per Gras, which boasts its 120th season of serving patrons.
On the drive back to Annecy, those same awesome mountains seemed to follow us as we bade farewell to this postcard worthy city.
Day 4 (Tuesday): La Cibouette | Boating in Lake Annecy | Annecy
Today was very special as it was our first time to take the boys to a 1 Michelin star restaurant, La Cibouette, for lunch – it was kind of “make it or break it” test. If the boys passed the test, it meant that we can try new fancy restaurants on our trips with them in tow. If not – well, we were really banking on them passing!! See my earlier article on our experience at La Cibouette with the boys.
After lunch, the boys ran all around the Champs de Mars grassy area just in front of the lake to let off some steam – they needed it after being such good sport during lunch. We saw some companies renting boats (motor and paddling) for enjoyment on Lake Annecy. Because September was starting to be a quiet month for them, we were able to get a great rental offer on a luxury motor boat for the price of a standard (from Les Mouettes, the boating company with the bright blue umbrellas!)! There was no need for a licence to drive our boat onto the lake, so we spent the next hour leisurely touring the lake, basking in the sunshine, enjoying the gentle wind on our faces and soaking up the breathtaking views! It was totally safe for the boys as children life jackets were available and we told them only special captains and pirates get to wear them! They had a blast playing “captain” immensely!!
Back on land, we toured old town Annecy again. Not only because it is such a quaint little town, but because the town is so different on a non-market day, so vibrant and colorful when the sun is out. It really was difficult to stop clicking on the shutter. The well maintained colourful blossoms over the windowsills, the little cobblestone streets, the soothing sound of the canal water and the delightful cafes with their “people watching” tables – all makes Annecy such a romantic medieval marvel.
Day 5 (Wednesday): Yviore | Evian-les-bains | Lake Leman/Geneva | Vevey
Today, we drove north towards Lake Leman (as called by the French); or better known as Lake Geneva. We received good intelligence that we must visit Yvoire along the way as well as Vevey on the Swiss side. Yvoire may not be well known internationally, but it is a member of “Most Beautiful Villages in France” and has been around for more than 700 years!! We absolutely loved this little flowery medieval township by the lakeside! It was so delightful, nostalgic and charming that we wished we could stay all day!
We delayed our departure with the excuse that we needed to stay for an early lunch at La Traboule! This cozy and friendly restaurant served up some great fried local fish from the lake and deliciously unique smoked trout.
Reluctantly, we needed to be on our way. Our next stop was Evian-les-bains near-by. A belle époque spa resort town, Evian-les-bains is beautifully located right on the shores of Lake Leman and has a scenic promenade along the lake for pleasure strolling. Of course, the town’s most famous call to fame is Evian, the mineral water company which has its home base there. So armed with our empty Evian bottles, we headed to the Cachat Springs Point of Emergence (also known as the public spring fountain), to fill up our bottles just like the locals who line up with their dozens of empty bottles to do the same!!!
Happy with our free Evian direct from the source, we went on our way across the Swiss border to Vevey (there were border checkpoints but no need to present our passports). Famed for being the final home for Charlie Chaplin and the place where milk chocolate was invented, Vevey also boasts the fun and educational Alimentarium (Food Museum). Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the afternoon to visit the museum itself. Instead, we enjoyed the breathtaking sunset views of Lake Geneva with its strange fork sculpture, plastic chair installations by the rocky bank and other rather weird art pieces on display.
We stayed for dinner at the disappointing Restaurant National where the service was snail paced, menu over priced and the food – well, let’s just say we’ve been spoilt and they didn’t have the French at the helms of the kitchen for sure. On the return route back to Annecy, we took the Swiss highway which took us around the rest of the lake towards Geneva. So, we can say we circumnavigated the entire lake in one day!
Day 6 (Thursday): Chambery | Aix-les-bains | Along Lake Bouget
We made use of this sunny day by taking a lazy brunch at the terrasse of the Villa. With the magnificent view ahead of us; glorious food in front of us – Life was good!
Our appetite satisfied, we headed out. Half an hour drive south west of Annecy is Chambery, the historical capital city of the House of Savoy. It is a sleepy, quiet provincial town with very little touristy sites. The Chateau de Chambery which used to be the center of the Savoy court is now mostly governmental and administrative offices – tours and guides are possible but prior bookings are required. Since we just turned up at the Chateau, there wasn’t much to see other than a few exhibition rooms explaining the Chateau’s history. We then wandered around the old town towards its second notable site – the Elephants Fountain. The fountain with 4 large elephants at its base was built to honour Savoy’s Count Boigne’s military feats in India in the 18th Century. The elephants at first glance do seem a little out of place in a French town. Other than its historical significance, there really was nothing that remarkable about it!
A little disappointed, we went on our way to Aix-les-Bains. The country road between the two towns was often tree-lined and had wonderful views of fields and slight rolling hills which reminded me very much of the Provence region. Another Belle Epoque spa town, Aix-les-Bains is even smaller than Evian-les-Bains. As we were not interested in thermal baths, spa treatments or its casino, we did a drive around tour of the township and headed towards Lake Bourget instead.
The surprise find of the day was the beautiful esplanade alongside Lake Bourget! The tree-line esplanade was serene and peaceful and offered a tremendous view of the calm turquoise lake itself. The boys, however, were a little more distracted by the amusement ride and the public playground nearby! To top if off, the ice cream shop near the marina offered one of the best ice cream and waffle cone we’ve had for the entire trip!!! Talk about ending the day on a high note!
In the evening, thanks to mom babysitting, we enjoyed a date night at Yoann Conte (2 Michelin Star) at nearby Veyrier-du-lac. A protege of the famous Marc Veyrat, Chef Conte’s surprise degustation menu was all innovative, unexpected and delectable!
Day 7 (Friday) : Chamonix | Mont Blanc | Megeve
Even before we reached Chamonix, the views of the majestic mountain ranges were absolutely awe-inspiring! It was difficult to drive, concentrate and soak in the amazing view at the same time!! We weren’t sure which peak was Mont Blanc then, but it didn’t matter. Every turn revealed another angle of the mountains that was irresistible not to take photos and let your eyes wander.
Chamonix is quite a developed ski resort town with chalets, hotels and luxury stores dotted everywhere (more so than Whistler and definitely Niseko!) and English spoken widely. But this does not detract it from its charm and pleasant vibes. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch at Cafe La Terrasse right under the sun with Mont Blanc and its other peaks right before us. It couldn’t get any better!
Our plan after lunch was to take the Aiguille du Midi (cable car) to the summit terrace at 3842m with sweeping clear views of Mont Blanc and the French Alps. The cable car ascends 2700m in 20 mins!!! Unfortunately, given the altitude it goes up, and in the speed it does, for the health of children’s ears, it was forbidden for children under 3 years old (and not recommended for children under 5 years old) to go. Disappointedly, we resorted to spending time at the souvenir store buying mementos instead! We had also wanted to try the luge down the mountain, but we were told it was only opened on the weekends in September and closed for the day. Not to be disheartened, we drove to various vantage points around the outskirts of Chamonix to get a closer view of Mont Blanc, the mountain ranges and the 2 giant glaciers sliding down the mountains.
On the way back, we took the country road where we passed through various other smaller ski villages. My favorite was Megeve – the charming village, with its wooden medieval town center and fairy lights all around, felt a bit like a large Christmas fair! It elicited childhood excitement in me as I reminisced Christmas carols being broadcasted; the crisp fresh winter air; steam from the pots of hot chocolates and the crunch of the snow with our winter boots! It was smiles all around on our way back to our Villa!
Day 8 (Saturday): Return to Paris
The last day of our trip – after checking out and dropping off the car with Avis at the station, we grabbed some sandwiches and took the 12.31pm TGV back to Paris. In hindsight, this was the best arrangement because upon arriving into Gare de Lyon at 4.30pm, we were still able to spend a nice relaxing evening in Paris.
Lake Annecy is famous for its beautiful vista. However, it’s important to know from which side of the lake you get the best view! After much research, it was obvious that the view of the east side of Lake Annecy and the sweeping rocky mountain ranges as seen from the Lake’s west side is the most magnificent!
With that knowledge, we rented Les Catalons Residence for a week (Saturday to Saturday). Les Catalons is a 4 bedroom modern villa nestled in the mountains of the little township of Sevrier, just 10 minutes’ drive outside of Annecy. It was large, clean and comfortable with a huge living/dining area and an open kitchen equipped with modern appliances and a washer and dryer (very important!). Each of the 4 rooms came with an ensuite bathroom, with the master bedroom having an additional separate toilet. In my opinion, the best part of the house was the amazing view of Lake Annecy and the stunning mountain backdrop! Waking up to this glorious view was not to be missed! Amazing!
The owner, Philippe Thouin, lived further up from the villa so he was on hand to answer any of our questions or deal with any issues we may have.
On the Saturday morning, we took the TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon direct to Annecy (3 hrs and 40 minutes). TGV tickets on SNCF go on sale 3 months in advance and we took advantage of some great early bird rates for 1st class. Technically, kids under 4 years old are free without a seat of their own, but for a long journey, it is well worth getting them a seat. We really didn’t want Jayden to be on our lap for the entire journey just to save 9 euros! When booking, the system allows us to pick the type of seat placements, and for a family of four like us, the best option is “Club Quatre” – 4 seats with 2 seats face to face each other.
There are a number of car rental companies in Annecy, but the only one with an office inside the station is Avis. We spotted Sixt and Hertz down the road a few blocks from the station. With our luggage, bags, pram and hyperactive boys (after being cooped up for nearly 4 hours on the train), it really was an advantage and convenience to be able to pick up the car right at the station underground carpark and head on out to our French Alps adventure!
This time for Europe, we used another wifi router rental company – Crazy Egg. They have a counter at the Hong Kong International Airport so it is very easy for pick ups and drop offs before and after a trip. However, even though we ordered the “Europe 34 4G infinity data usage” router, its speed and device support was not as good and steady in supporting 2 Ipads and 2 Iphones. Will need to try other options for Europe and report back!