Nestling in a valley to the north of the Chartreuse Massif, the town of Chambéry commands the entrance to the mountain passes which lead towards Italy, and has thus held an important strategic position for the various armies and merchants who have crossed the Alps over the centuries. The town grew up around the château built by Count Thomas of Savoie in 1232, and became the Savoyard capital, enjoying a golden age in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although superseded as capital by Turin in 1562, it remained an important commercial and cultural centre, and the philosopher Rousseau spent some of his happiest years in the town during the 1730s. Only incorporated into France in 1860, modern Chambéry is a bustling provincial town with a wealth of grand Italianate architecture and a strong sense of its regional identity.
Around 13km north of Chambéry is the spa resort of Aix-les-Bains, with its famous thermal baths, as well as the Lac du Bourget, one of the best sites in the country for watersports.Read More
Thirteen kilometres north of Chambéry is Aix-les-Bains, one of France’s premier spa resorts. The town’s waters have been famous for their healing qualities since Roman times but most of the elegant buildings here date from Aix’s belle époque heyday of the late 1800s, when members of European high society dropped by to relax and take the waters; Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor. These days, Aix-les-Bains is a sedate and genteel place, with thousands of French pensioners descending on the town throughout the year for state-funded thermal treatments. The spa centre, Les Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains (wthermaix.com) was formerly housed in the impressive (though now sadly redundant) Art Deco building on place Maurice-Mollard, but these days you’ll find it at Thermes Chevalley, a five-minute walk uphill behind here. There are also some parks to amble through and plenty of cafés where you can sit back with a pastis and watch the world go slowly by. Aix is also the best base for enjoying the sights and outdoor activities at the nearby Lac du Bourget.
Connected to the River Rhône by the Canal de Savières, the Lac du Bourget is France’s biggest natural lake, at 18km long and 3.5km wide, and a place of great beauty, a protected wildlife reserve and home to the now scarce European beaver. “Nowhere could one find such perfect concord between water, mountains, earth and sky”, enthused the nineteenth-century French writer Balzac, and it’s clear what attracted him and so many other poets and artists to this place. The lake’s “Côte Sauvage” rises precipitously above the sparkling blue water on its western bank, which is dominated at its southern end by the looming presence of the Dent du Chat (1390m).