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Happy In The Haute Savoie

It couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Within a few hours of leaving home, we were unpacking bags in a Eurocamp mobile home a short walk from the southern end Lake Annecy in the Haute Savoie, some eleven miles from the town of Annecy.

A flight to Lyon and a hire car at the airport had us in a totally different environment with no hassles and raring to get out there exploring on a short break.

Self-catering offers the freedom to do just as you please – leave early, return late or hang out and enjoy the pool, bar or a quiet read in comfort – and it took no time at all to relax into our own routine. Early to bed, early to rise and busy on foot or two wheels all day.

First port of call was the village supermarket and the bonus that it sold the maps we wanted as well as everything needed to stock our fridge for all eventualities.

The Haute Savoie has a great variety of landscapes from the lofty summits around Mont Blanc in the east down to the vine-covered banks of the Rhone and from the shores of Lake Geneva in the north to the pine-clad ravines of the Bauges.

This is border country with a turbulent history and rugged landscapes that have helped to form a sturdy identity to the Savoyard people, culture and food.

As dawn broke on our first full day, it was obvious that it was going to be a scorcher. Leaving the car behind, we set off on a walk from the site that would take us up the valley, Combe d’Ire, before striking up the slopes to the Pointe de Banc Plat. From the map the valley sides were thickly covered with trees offering welcome shade.

So it proved and the shade was more than welcome – it was essential. Although we had brought plenty of water with us, we cut down our consumption as it appeared it was going to be a long slog. Emerging out of the trees, the track snaked upwards and we baked as we trudged along.

A late lunch had us reconsidering plans as water was low, the sun was even hotter and no breeze blew to cool us down.

Retracing our steps to the river, we climbed up the far slopes to follow a trail through the woods back to the village. Little-used, this soon became something of an obstacle course but thoughts of ice-cold drinks kept spirits high.

Over a barbecue that evening, we reflected on a good day. Not the best walking but a great workout; the track must have been littered with toxins sweated out.

With bikes booked for the next day, it was time for an early night.

Another glorious day saw us pedalling along the traffic-free cycle route to Annecy, some eleven miles distant. We aimed to take our time and explore the town, perhaps enjoying an early supper before heading back.

Despite the heat, we fairly flew along the track, spent a couple of hours wandering around the town – a real gem – bolted a sandwich and decided to ride back along the far side of the lake.

Unlike the outward run, we had cars to contend with and asserted our right to be on the road with some caution. We needn’t have worried as the drivers who passed us often waved (not their fists) and we had no feeling of intimidation.

By the time we reached the end of the lake, we were ready to join the swimmers bathing from the roadside.

Refreshed, we headed ‘home’, deciding to try out the local village restaurant, Le Bistrot de Bonlieu. ‘Specialities Savoyardes’ was the boast on the menu and we settled for ‘assiette garnies’.

La Bergere – goat’s cheese, lamb chops and potato rosti – and La Chantiflette – cheese, potatoes and onions – went down a treat with a bottle of local wine.

Walking back to the site, we felt full – with good food and the sense of well-being that comes from exercise outdoors in the sunshine.

That night, the heavens opened, high winds blew and the morning was no better. Plan B swung into action as we headed off to see friends in Chamonix. The weather was hardly any better but, after all, we were in the mountains and mountain weather is notoriously fickle.

Deciding to take the cable car up to the summit of the Aigiulle du Midi (3842m), we were warned by the ticket seller that the view was ‘not good’. Being optimists by nature, we went anyway but the warning was an understatement with thick cloud shrouding the summit and not a mountain to be seen.

Back in the town, the many outdoor shops drew us like magnets but wallets stayed firmly shut against the temptations.

The following day, a short drive further south brought us the Station Vargnoz. Tempting though this chairlift ride was, the weather was glorious with a slight breeze taking some of the heat off our backs as we slogged up the track to the gite d’etape, Les Marmottes, and on to the summit of La Sambuy.

Despite the heat haze, we could see across to the Mont Blanc massif far off in the east and, with sheer drops to the valley below, really felt on top of the world.

Heading back down, we were tempted by the balloon-tyred bikes, powered by gravity alone, but couldn’t resist the chairlift back to the valley. A great day to add to the other experiences that had already made the Haute Savoie a new ‘favourite place’.

We detected a pattern in the weather next morning as rain bounced off the roof; a pattern that seemed to be related to our plan making. Postponing a walk up La Tournette, we headed instead to the Chateau de Menthon.

Imposing to look at and in a wonderful position, the tour of the chateau took us from room to room with scenes from its history acted out amid the visitors. Novel, fun and very different.

Chateau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard

By now, the rain had stopped but the day was still gloomy so we fled to the Fier Gorge. One of the main rivers in the region, the Fier has carved out this famous gorge, near the Chateau de Montrottier just six miles from Annecy.

The walkway ‘terrace’ through the gorge was built in the 19th century and is about 275 yards long. With the water running beneath our feet, we enjoyed the variety of rock shapes carved out over twenty thousand years – fantastic.

True to form, as we were leaving in the morning, the sun shone down from a cloudless sky but the only regrets were that we weren’t staying far longer.

© John Traynor – from the Journeys Of A Thousand Words series

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