The crescent-shaped expanse of Lake Geneva (known as Lac Léman in France) is some 73km long, 14km wide and an impressive 310m deep; it has always been a natural border with Switzerland to the north. Even in summer, the lake is subject to violent storms, yet the experience of sailing across its waters on a calm day is delightful, and should not be missed. On the French side of the lake, the spa resort of Évian-les-Bains (of bottled water fame) and the picturesque village of Yvoire are the main sites of interest. Thonon-les-Bains, a larger town situated between these two landmarks, is the starting point of the renowned touring route, the Route des Grandes Alpes, and a gateway to the beautiful Chablais region to the south of the lake. North of the lake, close to the Swiss border, is the peaceful spa town of Divonne-Les-Bains, and the green pastures of the Pays de Gex region, renowned for its blue cheese and scenic hiking and cycling routes.
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The most well-known French spa resort on Lake Geneva, Évian maintains a clinical orderliness that wouldn’t be out of place on the opposite side of the water. The spa aside – which is currently being renovated – there are a certainly a couple of attractions that merit an afternoon’s sightseeing, although simply taking a stroll along the waterfront, or a leisurely trip on the lake is good enough reason to spend some time here.
The mineral water for which Évian is famous is now bottled at an industrial estate in Amphion, 3km along the lakeside, but you can admire the Source Cachat on avenue des Sources, which gushes away behind the Évian company’s former offices on rue Nationale – itself a fine bit of Art Nouveau architecture, though now sadly redundant. Make sure you do as the locals do and take a bottle along, though there is often a bit of a scrum around the fountain from whence the nicely chilled water spouts.
Occupying a picture-postcard setting 25km to the west of Évian is the absurdly pretty medieval village of Yvoire, where narrow cobbled lanes lined with artisan shops and chunky stone-built houses slope down to the water’s edge, and every street corner seemingly abounds with colourful flowers. Although the village heaves with day-trippers – notably Japanese – in the summer months, you can still find some peace and quiet. Today the most visible reminder of Yvoire’s medieval past is the old castle along with the two stone gateways, both dating from the fourteenth century.