A quick train ride from Geneva are the beautiful cities of Lyon, Chambéry and Aix-les-Bains. I spent a summer in this region a few years back, yet these cities and their surroundings still invoke in me a sense of awe that has only increased since I last visited le Rhône-Alpes.
In the summer of 2008, I spent three months in Chambéry, France, studying the French language and partaking in the Festival Cite D’ete (the City Festival of Summer). My time there was everything I could have imagined and more. The school organized weekend trips to nearby villages and monuments and every Sunday one of the administration staffers would lead hiking tours up into the Alps that skirted the city.
And once again I find myself in this region! Normally I am not one to revisit cities when there are so many new places I could visit, but the train tickets were very reasonable and the summer sale season has just stared. I guess you could say the stars were aligned, and the cheese, wine, bread, shopping, and mountains were calling to me. Who in their right mind wouldn’t answer?
So my friend and I set off to visit Lyon, France, roughly an hour and a half from Geneva. Lyons, the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region, is quite a famous city. It forms the second largest metropolitan area in France, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and (most importantly) is said to be the capital of gastronomy in France. Being a vegetarian in France is extremely difficult, but Lyon made it easy!
Next on our tour was Chambéry, where I lived and studied during the summer of 2008. The small town is situated in a large valley and surrounded by Massif des Bauges Regional Park to the east and Lac du Bourget to the north. It was truly amazing to see how the city had changed over the past few years since my last visit. Yet, in certain respects Chambéry seems exactly the same after three years. It appears that the town has become much more popular for tourists in the winter and many shops, malls, and restaurants have opened up since I left. But the city still retains a quaintness that I remember and love.
I’m usually not one for revising the past, but in coming back to Chambéry I was able to reconnect with memories and places that I had forgotten from my days as an undergrad. Hiking, biking, eating, etc. il était magnifique!
While in Chambéry, we rented bikes and rode over to the neighboring town of Aix-les-Bains (roughly 16 kilometers or 10 miles one way). It was a hot Sunday and all the stores and attractions in Chambéry were closed so we figured we would venture out to the Lac du Bourget. This lake is the largest naturally occurring lake in France, with a turquoise tint to it that makes you think you are in some tropical region except for the colossal mountains to the east.
Our final destination was Annecy, a beautiful city situated, you guessed it, on the shores of a beautiful lake. Annecy is situated right between Geneva and Chambéry, it was actually the capital of the County of Geneva before it became part of modern-day France. Then the city became the center of Counter-Reformation in the 1500s. Most of what is left of these times is in the old city of Annecy which is built along the Thiou Canal (basically a river) that mirrors the canals of Venice, lined with homes and cafes, and perfect for people watching. The Palais de l’Ile, built in 1132 sits right in the center of the Thiou, and is one of the most distinctive monuments in the city. The building was the primary residence of the Lord of Annecy as early as the 12th century. The Palais de l’ille was used for a multitude of purposes over its lifespan but most recently functioned as a jail, from the Middle Ages until 1865 (and again in WWII). The Canal running along side it drains into the Lac de Annecy, apparently one of the cleanest lakes in the world! There are paddle boats and a wide array of sailboats traversing the lake at all hours of the day.
After a full weekend of trekking around the foothills of the Alps I figured I would return to Geneva and back to work. But since we are on the subject of work, I recon that it is time I told you all about what I am doing, so watch out for my next blog in which I will elaborate on my duties and experiences here at UNEP.