A Travellerspoint blog

From the Rhône to the Rhine: The Road to Dijon


View Benelux 2022 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

About half an hour northwest of Lyon is the tiny medieval town of Pérouges. I've never been able to understand how a small number of medieval cities scattered throughout France are able to maintain their ancient stone buildings and walls for centuries while all their surroundings are being continuously modernized. I had hoped to find some answer to this question in Yvoire and eventually concluded that the city was largely rebuilt in medieval style in the twentieth century. It was a beautiful reconstruction but I didn't feel convinced of its authenticity. Would Pérouges be any different? Apparently in the early twentieth century the town was virtually abandoned and plans were made to raze the remaining buildings but somehow a campaign against the demolition succeeded. In 1911 the French president ordered that the medieval structures be restored but there's simply no knowing at this point how much of the current stonework dates back to the middle ages, short of reviewing archives in the basement of some city hall.
3a923e10-48d5-11ed-8ae8-01560ca6ad76.jpg

The town had built a sizable lot for visitors at the base of the town but there were few cars present when we arrived late Monday morning. A dirt path wound up the hillside from the lot to the town. An archway built into a tall and thick stone wall separated the medieval town from the pleasant but ordinary little village at the base of the hill. There were so few homes outside the walls that I wondered if their only occupants were those who managed the stores and restaurants of the old city.
large_IMG_9921a.jpglarge_IMG_7842.JPEG

Pérouges was similarly sized to Yvoire so it didn't take very long to explore the small network of cobblestone lanes that connected the elliptical path on the inside of the wall. There were far fewer restaurants and stores than there had been in Yvoire and hardly any tourists, although that may have been because it was Monday. There was ivy and a few planters here and there, but far from the profusion of vegetation that had made Yvoire seem more like a giant floral arrangement than a medieval town. Overall we felt much more like we had wandered into a true medieval village here similar to the feeling we had in ancient cities of southern Italy.
large_IMG_9928a.jpglarge_IMG_9941a.jpglarge_IMG_9934a.jpg

All the restaurants we passed seemed to be closed and we wondered if we might need to wait for the next town before having lunch. Fortunately our apps came to the rescue and found us a perfect place with a back patio that seemed to have attracted all of the town's visitors that morning. We enjoyed a light lunch in a beautiful setting that complemented our satisfying exploration of the old town. The restrooms were decorated with graffiti imploring men to stand closer to the toilet and avoid marking their territory.
large_IMG_9930.JPG

After Pérouges we cut through an area called Les Dombes which is filled with manmade ponds largely used for farming freshwater fish. The area has also become a haven for migrating birds and contains the largest ornithological preserve in France. At the northern edge of Les Dombes is an antiquated river town called Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne that is hardly larger than its name. Like Pérouges it was virtually deserted which allowed us to better appreciate its bucolic character. The narrow streets were lined with classic French eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings, many of them half-timbered. The town is renowned for its Saturday market but the oak-framed outdoor market hall was empty on a Monday afternoon.
large_IMG_9944a.jpglarge_IMG_9952a.jpglarge_IMG_9948a.jpg

The town takes its name from the Chalaronne, a narrow tributary of the Rhône that passes just south of the old town. Several small footbridges cross the river providing beautiful and colorful perspectives on the town that probably haven't changed in a hundred years.
large_IMG_9950a.jpglarge_IMG_9946a.jpg

It had only taken us an hour to leisurely walk every old street of Châtillon. We were relieved to make it back to the car as the heat wave that had engulfed southern Europe still had not abated. We were actually quite fortunate to be dealing with temperatures in the nineties as they had surged well into the triple digits in some of our prior destinations like Bordeaux and Madrid. It was quite a stroke of luck that Mei Ling had chosen a relatively northern destination for this trip because new temperature records for June were being set all over Europe. It was a reminder that we had to be very careful creating future itineraries for southern Europe even in June. Half an hour later we crossed the Saône into Mâcon, which put us into the legendary region of Bourgogne for the first time. I didn't have any specific reason for stopping in Mâcon other than it was a familiar name to me and one of the larger cities between Lyon and Dijon. The prevalence of parking near the river told me we weren't going to be encountering many tourists here. As expected the streets were very quiet and there was only a scattering of people in the outdoor cafes. The most remarkable sight in the old town was the Maison de Bois, a five hundred-year-old wooden building adorned with intricate carvings that stands out dramatically against the adjacent structures with more conventional masonry.
large_IMG_9955a.jpglarge_IMG_9954b.JPG

I was somewhat surprised by the diminutive size of the old town and we walked a few blocks away from the river in search of something else of interest. We came across something that appeared to be a market building but there was no sign of any activity around it. Mei Ling pushed on a door and surprisingly it opened but the market inside was clearly closed. There were some booths inside that might have been food stalls but they looked very disused and the only light inside was from the sunlight entering through the windows. We were a little nonplussed that the doors had been open and we probably should have left immediately, but Mei Ling saw a sign for a bathroom and decided this would be a good opportunity to have Spenser empty his bladder. As soon as she stepped out of the main hall a deafening buzzer went off which was clearly a motion sensor alarm. Mei Ling grabbed Spenser and made for the exit while I controlled the urge to flee until I made sure I had Cleo and Ian in tow. They had already vanished and I realized they had fled the building like experienced criminals within a second of hearing the alarm. I made sure to walk out in a casual way but the buzzer was still audible in the square so we decided to put some distance between us and the disturbance we had created. A block away we came across the Église Saint-Pierre which was such a beautiful church that I had to admire it even though I was still half-expecting to be charged at by a phalanx of police.
large_IMG_9958a.jpglarge_IMG_9960a.jpg

Our last stop was the bank of the Saône which was just a sidewalk along a very busy multi-lane road. The buildings facing the river were classic distinguished French townhouses but the businesses on the ground floor were very utilitarian. Overall Mâcon seemed to be a city that just goes about its daily routine without any pretensions of beauty or grandeur. If anything the city seemed somewhat depressed given its prime location at the threshold of Bourgogne on the side of a majestic river. It was interesting to see a side of France that for obvious reasons never makes it into the guidebooks.
large_IMG_9963a.jpg

The final leg of the day's drive from Mâcon to Dijon took an hour and a half. We could have stopped in Beaune for dinner but I wanted the security of knowing we had access to our Airbnb before dinner. Our apartment in Beaune was a modern, renovated space in a three story building on the edge of the old town. The main advantage of the place was that it had its own tiny garage. We had to climb one flight of stairs to reach the kitchen and living room and then a second flight to reach the bedrooms. The apartment was immaculately contemporary and clean. A rear balcony overlooked a narrow walled garden filled with whimsical artwork and light fixtures.
large_IMG_0003.JPG

There didn't seem to be any good restaurants within walking distance of the Airbnb that were open on a Monday night so we picked the best one we could find from the apps. We soon learned that Dijon is a much larger city than I had realized when I focused on the old town to plan our itinerary. It took us twenty minutes to reach the restaurant just to find that they were booked solid. At that point we weren't in the mood to go shooting from corner to corner of the city looking for dinner so we found a Moroccan restaurant close by. It wasn't exactly what we had in mind for our first dinner in Bourgogne but it was quite good.
large_IMG_9964.JPG

We returned to the Airbnb but we were too excited to be in Dijon to go straight to bed. We walked the darkening streets of the city center as far as the magnificent Romanesque Église Saint-Philibert before deciding we had done enough for the day. Fortunately we would have all of the next day to explore Dijon and the surrounds.
large_IMG_0001b.JPG

Posted by zzlangerhans 19:11 Archived in France Tagged road_trip family_travel macon tony_friedman family_travel_blog perouges châtillon-sur-chalaronne Comments (0)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Lyon


View Benelux 2022 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

Lyon may have been our most eagerly anticipated stop of the entire trip. I've never been shy about expressing my antipathy for Paris, a city that I believe lost its identity while becoming the epicenter of shallow, guidebook-driven tourism. Mei Ling and I still love France and we are always looking to add to the list of French cities that we do love. My favorite is Toulouse and Mei Ling is partial to Bordeaux but there are many others where one can be saturated in classic French culture without the feeling of having wandered into a theme park. Lyon is the third largest city in the country and has the reputation of being the culinary heart of France. We hoped that we would be far enough from the tourist track that it would be easy to find the authentic soul of the city while enjoying some amazing markets and cuisine.
large_f0790c60-467b-11ed-b24b-c340d7cf2ab6.jpg

We entered Lyon from the south with the last vestiges of daylight. It was right about the summer solstice and the darkness wasn't settling until well after nine. We drove along the west bank of the Rhône until we saw the irregular postmodern shape of the Musée des Confluences signalling the convergence of the mighty Saône with the Rhône.
large_IMG_7578.JPEG

The main road crossed the Saône and continued up the eastern side of the Presqu'île peninsula formed by the two rivers. I tried to absorb as much as I could from the windows while following the confusing directions from the GPS. We hadn't been in a city this large and busy since Zurich. Eventually we were guided across the Rhône to the most modern section of Lyon where our Airbnb was located. As our host had considerately warned us the apartment building was hideous, a Brutalist monstrosity that wouldn't have been out of place in an industrial town in Siberia. The instructions to locate the apartment were labyrinthine but after a few false starts I was able to find and access it. With accommodation secured we headed back across both rivers to Vieux Lyon where we were fortunate enough to come across a parking spot on a packed street just as someone was pulling out. We only had to walk one block to reach Place Saint-Jean in the heart of the old town. There was an event going on in the large square and at first we were excited to have stumbled across another food festival. Unfortunately there were just a couple of uninteresting food trucks and the people seated at the tables were only having wine and beer. Nevertheless it was a beautiful scene in front of the illuminated Gothic facade of Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste. On the other side we could see the glowing Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière seemingly hovering in the sky behind a row of buildings.
large_IMG_9824a.jpglarge_IMG_9829a.jpg

There were countless restaurants in the network of streets to the north of the cathedral but we were determined to eat at our first food hall of the road trip. Food Traboule takes its name from the traboule passageways that allow pedestrians to cut through the middle of city blocks in various old neighborhoods of Lyon. We found it in a very busy intersection of old streets and there was actually a short line to enter the building. The inside was cramped and noisy but we found a table on the ground floor and then Cleo and I went to explore the restaurants. I realized pretty quickly that the selections were tipped heavily towards the fast food end of the food hall range. There were burgers, pizza, and chicken tenders among many other uninspiring choices. The few options that were more bistro oriented had very limited selections. It was no problem to feed the kids but for us it was far short of the exciting introduction to Lyonnais cuisine that we had anticipated. There was clearly an effort to use low cost ingredients and quick prep to keep prices low for a clientele that was more interested in drinking and socializing than they were in gastronomy. We've run into similar issues with food halls in other cities but Food Traboule was particularly disappointing because of its avowed goal of providing popular access to the best local specialties. Fortunately we had already had a decent meal in Vienne so we only needed to get a few small dishes to be sufficiently fueled. We soaked up the atmosphere of the old town for a few more minutes after eating but decided to postpone the full exploration for the next night.
large_IMG_9825a.jpglarge_IMG_9828.JPG

One of the few advantages of our Airbnb was that it wasn't difficult to find a spot on the street outside the building. From the upper level of that concrete bunker we could see the glow of the Basilica on the opposite side of the city. An ascent to the top of Fourvière was on the itinerary for the following day. The problem of the moment was that none of the stuffiness the apartment had accumulated over a day of mid-nineties temperatures had dissipated with the evening. Of course the apartment had no air conditioning and there was not even a fan in sight. I slept without covers but woke up sweating several times during the night. It was almost a mercy when daylight came and I could jump in a cold shower to prepare for a full day of exploring Lyon.
large_89e2eb90-4353-11ed-bea7-03bf11640767.JPG

We had an unusual stroke of luck in that I chose our Airbnb without even realizing it was exactly one block away from Lyon's most famous indoor market, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Paul Bocuse is one of the most famous French chefs of all time and is a major reason why Lyon is often identified as the most important city of French gastronomy rather than the nation's capital Paris. An enormous, remarkably lifelike portrait of the chef graces the side of a building across the street from Les Halles. Without that and the GPS we might not have recognized the modern, glass-walled building as a market. We were greeted at the entrance by a whimsical artwork of a bicycle encrusted by oyster shells mounted high on a wall.
large_IMG_7657.JPEGlarge_IMG_9836.JPG

Inside there was a large array of vendors displaying typical arrays of food products from Lyon and elsewhere. It was early but there weren't many people around, perhaps because it was Sunday. One of the best things about Lyon was that unlike in many other French cities the major markets were open on Sundays meaning that we could extend our run of morning markets to a fourth day. The atmosphere of the market was a little on the sterile side as well, perhaps due in part to the modern construction. There wasn't much produce and what was there was arranged more in the manner of a high-end grocery than a farmer's market. The emphasis seemed to be on charcuterie, cheese, and baked goods which would produce a higher margin for what undoubtedly were expensive booths.
large_IMG_9838a.jpglarge_IMG_7641.JPEG

There was only one restaurant open inside the market and we were happy to learn that they had the whole menu available at the early hour. The traditional Lyonnais tête de veau was hard to stomach which appears to be a common reaction for those unfamiliar with the gelatinous boiled meat. Fortunately we had escargots, freshly baked bread, and some other reasonable dishes. The dirty concrete patio in an alley outside the market was also not the most uplifting place to enjoy breakfast.
large_IMG_7654.JPEG

We didn't have much time to dwell on the surprising banality of the Bocuse market as there was another in the hilltop Croix-Rousse neighborhood north of Presqu'île. I toyed with the idea of using buses for the day but abandoned it after briefly trying to study the routes on my phone. With three kids and possibly some shopping bags the convenience of the car would be worth the trouble of finding parking. As expected parking was pretty tight but eventually we found a space four blocks away from our destination that I was only able to squeeze into because of the car's cameras and sensors. The market extended along several blocks of the main boulevard of the neighborhood without any spread into the side streets. It was a reasonably busy market with good produce and a local vibe but it didn't quite match our experiences in Grenoble, Annecy, or even Thonon.
large_IMG_7692.JPEGlarge_IMG_9851.JPGlarge_IMG_9843.JPG

Since we'd already eaten at Bocuse we just walked the length of the market and back without buying anything. A block to the south roads and staircases began to lead downward from the summit of the hill. We had expansive views of the old town from here with the cathedral and the distinguished buildings on the east bank of the Saône prominently featured. The staircases and the walls alongside them were a popular medium for the local street artists.
large_IMG_7722.JPEGlarge_IMG_9862a.jpglarge_IMG_9860a.jpg

The street art continued in the funky residential neighborhood on the side of the hill. There were a lot of cafes and bars here although they were all closed on a Sunday morning. This seemed like it would probably be a much more interesting and authentic place to hang out than the touristy area we had visited the previous night but it was unlikely that much would be happening on a Sunday evening.
large_IMG_7711.JPEGlarge_IMG_9859a.jpg

In the sixteenth century the king of France centralized the national production of silk in Lyon by granting the city a monopoly on silk imports. At that time most of the weaving was concentrated in the center of town on the banks of the Saône, but by the nineteenth century the industry had largely moved to the hill of La Croix-Rousse. In modern times increasing labor costs in Europe have reduced the silk manufacture in Lyon to just a few boutique enterprises but the history of the industry is preserved in the old buildings of the neighborhood. The most famous of these relics are the countless traboules that provide shortcuts between the long city blocks of the old neighborhoods. Halfway down the hill we arrived at the northern end of the most well-known traboule in La Croix-Rousse. A narrow hallway led us into an atrium surrounded on every side by tall, depressing apartment buildings tagged with graffiti and one of the ugliest Soviet-style outdoor staircases I've ever seen. It was quite an unpleasant-looking place that resembled a set from a post-apocalyptic zombie movie and I would have been uncomfortable descending into the bowels of the building if it wasn't for the constant stream of tourists passing us going the other direction. After some more graffiti covered walls the traboule ejected us into a rather featureless alley. I'm not quite sure what exactly makes this decidedly unhistoric, unatmospheric passageway a tourist attraction but I suspect that we would have found better traboules if we had more energy to explore the neighborhood. The reality was that once again the temperatures had climbed into the mid nineties which was putting a significant damper on our desire to continue walking.
large_IMG_9856a.jpg

We took a much-needed ice cream break after climbing back up to the top of the hill. There was one final sight for us in La Croix-Rousse, an enormous mural called La Mur des Canuts. The original version was painted on a blank facade facing the Boulevard des Canuts in 1987. The concept was a trompe de l'oeil, a realistic painting that created the impression of a three dimensional scene with lifelike characters. The painting was updated in 1997 and again in 2013 to make it even more detailed and realistic and advance the ages of some of the people that populated the original. The technical perfection of the painting is such that it is difficult to distinguish people standing against the wall from the characters within it.
large_IMG_9868a.jpglarge_IMG_9869a.jpg

We needed to figure out something to do during the hottest part of a very hot day in Lyon. The best idea I could come up with was to play miniature golf in the Parc de la Tête d'Or, a large city park on the opposite side of the Rhône from La Croix-Rousse. I had hoped the park might afford us a little shade and coolness but it turned out to be even hotter than the city streets. It was the kids' first experience with miniature golf and they loved it but I found the course very uninspired compared to the elaborate versions I've played on in the United States. I also could not seem to make the kids understand the principle of putting so I was constantly yelling that them about backswinging their clubs and nearly braining each other. I was rather relieved when we finished the course and laughed out loud when they begged for a second game.
large_IMG_9871.JPGlarge_IMG_7741a.jpg

It was now late enough in the day to return to Vieux Lyon from where we planned to ascend Fourvière before returning to the old town for dinner. Parking was much more difficult than it had been the previous night but once again we were able to find a tight spot that I was able to wedge into on the third or fourth try. The funicular up to the basilica left from a part of the old town we hadn't seen the previous night. There were far fewer tourists here which gave the narrow alleys an atmosphere of intimacy and authenticity.
large_IMG_9872a.jpglarge_IMG_9876a.jpg

We bought a round trip ticket for the funicular and ascended in a packed car. We had long ago given up any concerns about COVID or the anxiety would have been overwhelming in many places. The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière at the top of the hill has a fairytale appearance somewhat reminiscent of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris. Both churches were built in a Romanesque and Byzantine style in the late nineteenth century as a triumphalist reaction to the ultimate victory of the French in the Franco-Prussian war. The interior was incredibly colorful and ornate with an unusual green and gold ceiling. The esplanade outside provided views of the farthest reaches of the modern city east of the Rhône, although the old town was blocked by the foliage. We were even able to pick out the unpleasant hulk of our Airbnb bloc.
large_IMG_9877a.jpglarge_IMG_9878a.jpglarge_IMG_9880a.jpg

We descended from the esplanade into the Parc des Hauteurs and eventually decided to forfeit the return portion of our funicular ticket since the walking route seemed more interesting. One final staircase deposited us at the point where we had parked the previous evening and a few moments later we were back in Place Saint-Jean. The previous day's festival was continuing and we were able to figure out it was a cultural event sponsored by a local guide book called Le Petit Paumé. There were several tents set up near the cathedral providing samples of cheese, wine, and other local products.
large_IMG_9884a.jpglarge_IMG_9890a.jpglarge_IMG_9886a.jpg

We had some time left before the first restaurants opened at seven so we walked the length of the old town a couple of times. The further we got from the cathedral the more quiet and pleasant the atmosphere became. There was still a heavy concentration of touristy cafes, ice cream parlors, and candy shops that catered to visitors. It required a good deal of research to find a restaurant in the old town that didn't have mediocre reviews but our eventual selection did not fail us. The Lyonnais food at Le Vieux Lyon was better than what we had had in the market restaurant that morning and the people-watching couldn't have been better. I was very grateful for the review sites because there was nothing otherwise to distinguish our choice from the countless other al fresco bistros that surrounded Place Saint-Jean.
large_IMG_9893a.jpglarge_IMG_9906a.jpglarge_IMG_9898a.jpg

The apartment was no less humid than it had been the previous night but fortunately this time round our host had advised me where to locate a fan among the junk in the living room. This rendered the night at least bearable if not comfortable. We didn't have much reason to hang around Lyon the next morning so we packed up and headed straight for Les Halles Grand Hôtel-Dieu in Presqu'île. Up to this point we had only driven through Presqu'île so this was a good opportunity to have at least set foot in all of Lyon's major central neighborhoods. This time we parked in a garage from which we emerged directly onto Place de la République, a historic square with a large central water basin. From here a narrow lane brought us directly to the front door of Grand Hôtel Dieu, an ancient hospital that has been reimagined and renovated as an enormous upscale mall containing a hotel, convention center, restaurants, boutiques, and an indoor food market. Only the last of these was of interest to us and we passed right by the high end outlets, most of which hadn't opened yet anyway. What we eventually found was surprisingly minimal, a tiny seafood market and a couple of grocers. Upstairs was a little better with the basic ingredients of breakfast such as loaves of fresh bread, fruit yogurt, and coffee. We were the only customers in the place and the bemused attendants didn't seem particularly excited to see us. Perhaps business typically gets started a little later on Mondays, or perhaps it never gets started at all. It didn't seem like a concept with a particularly bright future.
large_IMG_9909a.jpglarge_IMG_9910a.jpglarge_IMG_9915.JPG

From Grand Hôtel Dieu it was a short walk to another of Lyon's small curiosities. The Flower Tree is a sculpture that was created for an art festival in Lyon twenty years ago. After the festival the sculpture was moved to the median of the main road that carries traffic alongside the east bank of the Rhône. We had caught a few glimpses of the tree while driving but it was nice to get a closer look and add it to the list of minor oddities we've encountered in major cities throughout the world. Across the road we relaxed for a few moments in a pedestrian mall called Place Antonin Poncet with another fountain and some open grassy spaces. At the far end of the mall was the solitary clock tower of a building that had long ago been razed, and beyond that were the lower levels of Fourvière hill. It didn't appear that Presqu'île had any neighborhoods that were particularly ancient or charming so we decided this would be a good time to call an end to our exploration fo the city.
large_IMG_9917a.jpglarge_IMG_9918a.jpg

On the western outskirts of Lyon we stopped at Les Halles de l'Ouest, a gourmet food market in an imposing modern building. It looked promising but despite the market being ostensibly open almost every vendor was shuttered. It was a disappointing but we've grown accustomed to these types of experiences in Europe on Sundays and Mondays. Any positive market encounter on these days should be seen as a bonus to what is achieved during the rest of the week. I've told Mei Ling countless times that the only way we could improve our European road trips would be to make every single day a Saturday.
large_21a46d70-4677-11ed-bf70-016c8d3df0a6.jpg

We departed Lyon with mixed feelings. The city had certainly had its share of vitality and beautiful streets but we had more disappointments than is typical for such a highly anticipated stop. I think that our experience was affected to some extent by the unfortunate early heat wave and the timing of our visit. We might return some day and focus more on discovering less famous and more intimate neighborhoods lower down on La Croix-Rousse and in Presqu'île. For now though I can't say that Lyon would compete with Toulouse, Bordeaux, or even Grenoble as one of our favorite French cities. We still had a good amount of ground to cover in the first France leg of the trip and that evening we would be another gastronomic nirvana. It was still too early to think about our dinner in Dijon because we had several interesting towns on the way which would put us on a tight schedule.

Posted by zzlangerhans 19:34 Archived in France Tagged road_trip family family_travel saone travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog perouge croix_rousse traboules Comments (0)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Grenoble


View Benelux 2022 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

Grenoble was another addition to the original itinerary. We could have gone straight from Annecy to Lyon but I saw Grenoble on the map and it stood out for reasons I couldn't really put my finger on. Had I read about it in a novel? Had the city played some major role in history? I read up on it in my guidebook and didn't come across any overwhelming reason to visit but I decided to include it anyway. Since we had already visited Provence we might never find a reason to return to southeastern France and the opportunity might be lost forever. If the city proved to be superfluous we would only lose one night from our itinerary and the Saturday markets would probably make up for it.
large_Grenoble1.jpg

It didn't take long for any concerns we had regarding Grenoble's worthiness to be assuaged. After checking into yet another bland Airbnb in an apartment complex well outside the center we selected a restaurant from the review sites. We drove into a neighborhood called Championnet just southwest of the old town and we were immediately blown away. The area was filled with narrow streets lined with colorful antiquated townhouses displaying classical French architectural touches. Many of the buildings had restaurants and cafes on the ground levels which were mostly filled with customers on this Friday evening. There was elaborate street art on the sides of many buildings and just enough graffiti to confer a hip vibe without marring the beauty of the neighborhood. It was kind of like that ideal bohemian neighborhood in Paris that everyone imagines but could never exist because it would immediately be overrun with tourists, creperies, and ice cream shops. Here in Grenoble far from the tourism track a neighborhood like this could thrive without being destroyed by its own success. Although we were the only customers at our chosen restaurant the traditional French food was excellent and we had an interesting chat with the owner about travel and different cuisines.
large_IMG_7337.JPEGlarge_IMG_7353.JPEGlarge_IMG_9741a.JPG

After dinner we realized that we weren't that far from the old town so we decided to walk rather than deal with a parking garage. The bars had filled up and in several places crowds of young people filled the sidewalks holding their drinks. It reminded me of Greenwich Village in New York City back when I was in high school before it lost its local vibe. Some people looked at us bemusedly as we gently wound our way through the clusters of revelers.
large_IMG_9742a.JPG

Just outside the old town we came across the large open square Place Victor Hugo. By a stroke of luck there was an Italian culinary expo that was just beginning to wrap up as we arrived and we were able to enjoy some of the amazing variety of salumi and wines in a picturesque location. The only thing that detracted from the scene was an unsightly dry fountain pool in the center of the square but the kids made the most of it by organizing a game of tag.
large_IMG_9744a.JPGlarge_IMG_9749a.JPG

The old town was pleasant enough to explore but didn't have the same bohemian energy as Championnet. We passed ancient churches and several interesting town squares before we ended up in Jardin de Ville. This beautiful park was created as a private garden by the Duke of Lesdiguières four hundred years ago to adjoin his palatial mansion, which is now an exhibition hall. The portion of the garden in front of the mansion was divided into four neat rectangles of grass each of which was occupied by several clusters of people talking and eating. In the center a statue of Hercules kept watch. It was an idyllic evening scene until I heard some familiar-sounding squeals of distress coming from nearby. I turned around and saw Mei Ling had Spenser in a headlock and was attempting to extract the loose upper incisor he had been nagging about for a couple of days. Fortunately Spenser's protests never grew loud enough to disturb the tranquil surroundings and Mei Ling eventually gave up on her mission.
large_IMG_9750a.JPGlarge_IMG_9754a.jpglarge_IMG_9760a.jpg

On the other side of the Jardin was another of France's noble rivers of Alpine origin, the Isère. Across the river there was a solitary row of townhouses before the ground began to ascend steeply into the beginning of the Chartreuse mountain range. A cable car known as the Téléphérique takes passengers across the Isère to the Fort de la Bastille in bubble-shaped pods. This was part of our plan for the following day but at this point all we could think about was completing the long walk back to the car and eventually getting to bed. We had explored the Annecy market, the Gorges du Fier, Chambéry, and Grenoble in just one exhausting day.
large_IMG_9756a.jpglarge_IMG_9759a.jpg

In the morning I had a nice list of three morning markets in Grenoble. This would be our only Saturday in France and I wanted to be sure we made the most of it. We started at Marché de l’Estacade a little to the west of Championnet which is largely situated underneath a train overpass. It was a long market with an excellent variety of produce and prepared food. Of course it wasn't comparable in setting to the Annecy market but we appreciated its functional appeal to a local clientele. We combined savory crepes with some fresh fruits and vegetables and pickled artichokes to take care of our breakfast needs.
large_af785cc0-4022-11ed-9c4f-4b5866ef04c2.jpglarge_afbd06e0-4022-11ed-b812-affd1808503a.JPGlarge_afef6180-4022-11ed-9c4f-4b5866ef04c2.JPG

Back in the center of town we found a parking garage which was substantially less expensive than what we had become used to in Switzerland. There was an outdoor market in the Place aux Herbes which was much smaller than l’Estacade and looked to be mostly resellers so we kept moving through the old town. In some way it was even more charming than Annecy because the streets didn't seem curated for the admiration of tourists. There were empty boxes piled haphazardly on the corners, peeling posters on the lamp posts, and all the other signs of an energetic central neighborhood simply going about its daily business.
large_IMG_9778a.jpglarge_IMG_9779a.jpg

Our final market of the morning was Halles Sainte-Claire, a classic French brick and glass market building with ornate masonry. Produce kiosks were doing a brisk business outside the market which I imagine was a Saturday practice. It wasn't close to the largest covered market we'd seen in France but the vendors did a wonderful job of displaying their local products in an intriguing and appetizing fashion. Best of all there was a perfect hole-in-the-wall market bistro with mixed French and Argentinian cuisine. Even though it had only been a couple of hours since breakfast we couldn't resist taking two of the three tables for a lunch of shellfish, empanadas and assorted local cheeses washed down with red wine and ice cold Quilmes.
large_IMG_9781a.jpglarge_IMG_9783a.jpglarge_IMG_7456a.jpg

After a short break at the playground in Jardin de Ville we bought our tickets for the Téléphérique and watched the city recede from us as we crossed the Isère in our own little bubble. We could see how the rooftops filled the valley until the city's expansion was blocked abruptly by the steep slopes of the Vercors Massif. It was easy to forget while strolling the quintessentially French streets of the old town that Grenoble was actually a remote outpost surrounded by three foreboding mountain ranges. At that moment the city seemed to have more in common with Medellin and Albuquerque than it did with Avignon or Orléans.
large_IMG_9774.JPGlarge_IMG_7467.JPEG

Once we reached the fort we found ourselves surrounded by young people wearing giant puppet costumes who seemed to be rehearsing for an upcoming event. Mei Ling found the director who explained that it was an amateur performance group and children as young as ten could enroll. We kept it in mind as a possible future activity for the kids if we ever decided to spend an entire summer in France. From the upper level of the Bastille the view was even more dramatic than it had been from the Telepherique.
large_IMG_9796.JPGlarge_IMG_9797a.jpg

We were surprised to discover that there was an entertainment complex called Acrobastille that offered numerous activities such as ziplining and tree-climbing as well as a number of indoor labyrinths. It was a bit confusing but eventually I bought a stack of tokens for the indoor games and the kids disappeared into a narrow boxes at the entrance. There were some video screens set up for anxious parents to keep an eye on their kids and every once in a while I caught a brief glimpse of one of them rounding a corner. Eventually they emerged and dragged me into one of the boxes which led to a very uncomfortable twenty minutes of squeezing through narrow tunnels and surmounting a series of annoyingly cramped obstacles.
large_IMG_9805.JPG

The kids played the indoor games for so long that it was mid afternoon by the time we got back to the garage. We set a course for a town called Bourgoin-Jallieu about two thirds of the way to Lyon where I had discovered a Saturday afternoon market while doing my itinerary research. We were well on the way when I realized I had completely forgotten my plan to visit the Domaine de Vizille. This estate contains elaborate gardens and a Renaissance castle that played an important part in the French Revolution. Somehow in my desire to make up time after our prolonged stay at the fort I overlooked the Domaine in my planner. I initially felt quite upset about this since it was unlikely we would make it back to Grenoble for a long time, if ever, but I came to the realization that we would be seeing so many castles over the course of the next month that one less probably wouldn't make that much difference. We made it to Bourgoin-Jallieu in good time for the market but it was almost a total wash as there were only three vendors working out of trucks and they didn't have anything particularly interesting or unusual.
large_a4db2af0-41bb-11ed-bf13-a90db8389e17.jpg

We were now on schedule to arrive in Lyon earlier than I had planned if we went straight there. Once again the temperature had risen into the nineties and the kids had been grumbling about the paucity of swimming since Zürich so I decided to study our route on Google Maps. Surprisingly enough I found a lake called Fallavier that had a beach area fairly quickly and we drove straight there. Parking close to the lake proved impossible on a hot Saturday afternoon so I dropped everyone off and found a road some distance away where other beachgoers had parked on the grassy shoulder. By the time I had walked to the beach the kids were already playing in the lake. It was quite a beautiful place full of locals looking to cool down during the heat wave. All the bathers were clustered in a small area that I figured was the boundary of the shallow area. Cleo kept migrating over to the edge and the boys would follow her so that I got hoarse from shouting at her to stay close to the beach.
large_IMG_9807.JPGlarge_IMG_9808a.jpg

When I created our itinerary the ancient city of Vienne was a maybe. We only had two days in Lyon and I felt like we'd already seen enough Roman ruins throughout Europe. However our abbreviated visit to Bourgoin-Jallieu had given us some extra time and I thought that perhaps we could have dinner in Vienne and then dash into Lyon's old town before tucking in for the night. In modern times Vienne is just a small outpost on the Rhône that seems insignificant compared to the behemoth of Lyon twenty-five miles north. However, two thousand years ago Vienne was an important Roman colony that predated the founding of Lugdunum, later to become Lyon. Vienne stands out from other charming riverside towns in the region due to the surprising preservation of Roman architecture through the millennia. When we parked in front of the town's art museum we saw an attractive old-fashioned square but nothing to give away Vienne's ancient provenance. That soon changed when we encountered the Temple of Augustus and Livia in the very next square. As an American I'm always amazed when I see these two thousand year old structures in the midst of busy areas in modern cities, with cafes and stores conducting business all around them. Rome is especially remarkable in that way but Diocletian's Palace in Croatia is also breathtaking. The Temple of Augustus and Livia is so well-preserved due to its having been converted to a Christian church before eventually being restored to its original magnificence.
large_IMG_9817a.jpglarge_IMG_9818a.jpg

We strolled around the center for a short time admiring the charming narrow lanes and ancient buildings such as the Abbey of Saint-André-le-Bas. Even though it was Saturday night there were few people in the streets and the only restaurants that were busy were the ones directly around the temple.
large_IMG_9811a.jpglarge_IMG_9813a.jpg

We settled on a Portuguese restaurant next to the abbey and were seated at an outdoor table just as it opened. It proved to be an excellent choice as we were served generous portions of Portuguese specialties like caldeira and stewed codfish on one of the most atmospheric streets in the old town.
large_8e542320-41b8-11ed-af8b-936430b10fb8.jpg8e4de190-41b8-11ed-9024-ed8c5a74083a.JPG8e67f940-41b8-11ed-8c85-250da3480ab4.JPG

After dinner we did a little more exploration in the center but I was eager to drive onward to Lyon and get settled before the hour grew too late. I was glad that circumstances had led us to Vienne, even if it was only because we had missed Domaine de Vizille. In the end I expected that we would remember this enchanting old town and its precious temple much more than yet another castle with a mountainous backdrop. Even though we loved Vienne we left in such a rush that we neglected to look at the town's other Roman edifices such as the amphitheatre and an odd little monument known as La Pyramide. As usual there simply wasn't enough time in a day to devote the time that each city justified.

Posted by zzlangerhans 20:01 Archived in France Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog vienne tony_friedman family_travel_blog bourgoin-jallieu Comments (0)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Annecy


View Benelux 2022 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

Our arrival in Annecy put us firmly in the former territory of the legendary House of Savoy, which was ultimately deposed by the French government in the late 18th century. Annecy is well-known as a city of canals and is often called the Venice of the Alps but the scenic body of water that travels through the old town from Lake Annecy is actually the short river Le Thiou. The canals of Annecy are short, discontinuous, and murky so the comparison to Venice isn't really justified. The old town is quite beautiful, however, especially in the areas directly on the river and the adjacent narrow alleys.
large_cc55de30-3cda-11ed-aa8d-af0273dbddf9.jpg

We had some difficulty meeting up with our Airbnb host in a nondescript apartment complex a few blocks from the old town. He had neglected to advise us that there was a barrier gate at the entrance to the complex that we couldn't pass and seemed bemused that we weren't able to drive directly to the front of our building. Eventually I had to strike out on foot and meet up with him at the apartment in order to get the fob that opened the gate, return to the car and then drive in. It was an annoying rigmarole that we've been through dozens of times in southern Europe but seems to be gradually becoming less frequent. We deposited our belongings in the apartment and immediately set off for the old town. We passed through one of the medieval stone gates and found ourselves on a very busy and colorful street lined with antiquated buildings and countless restaurants. We immediately noticed that the wear and stains on the building facades created a different atmosphere from the polished and freshly painted surfaces of the old towns of Lausanne and Zürich.
large_IMG_9655a.jpglarge_IMG_9657a.jpg

After a couple of turns in the old town we found ourselves on one of the innumerable pedestrian bridges over Le Thiou. This was the view that was most reminiscent of Venice with outdoor cafes lining the walkway on the north bank of the river. As we walked east towards the lake we got a better view of the iconic Palais de L'Isle. This small but imposing fortress was built on a natural island in Le Thiou in the 12th century and was mainly used as a prison as recently as World War Two. It was subsequently restored and most of the building is now a museum.
large_IMG_9658a.jpglarge_IMG_9663a.jpg

It was now the peak dining hour and I realized we needed to focus our attention on the final meal of the day. The old town had become substantially more crowded in the half hour since we had arrived and it seemed we might have some difficulty finding a table in one of the busy establishments around us. Surely enough we were denied at several restaurants before being seated at a rather touristy place on the north side of the river. It wasn't a great meal but the menu was faithful enough to the local Savoy specialties and we felt we could have done far worse. The old town was especially beautiful as the sun disappeared behind the buildings and the streetlights began to glow.
large_IMG_9665a.jpg

We might have spent more time absorbing the atmosphere but the crowds were only growing thicker and it was clear that the area was a prime destination for late night drinking. It suddenly seemed that bars and nightclubs were everywhere and we decided it would be a good time to take a look at the lake shore. We followed Le Thiou to the east and walked along the promenade of the city park Jardins de l'Europe. From here we could see across the peaceful lake to the mountain range on the opposite shore. Once we completed the semicircle around the park we crossed the Le Vassé canal via Pont des Amours. Local legend says that anyone who kisses on the Lovers' Bridge will stay together forever. Mei Ling and I weren't aware of that at the time but since we have no doubts regarding the permanence of our relationship I don't think we missed an important opportunity.
large_IMG_9666.JPGlarge_IMG_7175.jpeg

I knew that there was a festival of animation taking place in Annecy that week but up to that point we hadn't seen any sign of it. We walked back west along the canal between the Jardins and Le Pâquier, an enormous grassy field often used as a staging ground for festivals and other cultural events. We saw hundreds of people seated on the grass in front of a giant screen and decided to join them despite my misgivings about the late hour. There was a sense of anticipation but unfortunately the screen was just showing ads and short previews in a loop. We waited for about twenty minutes before I decided that we were jeopardizing our early arrival at the morning market. Of course just as we finished corralling the kids the screen jumped to life but I overrode their protests and we made the long walk back to the Airbnb.
large_IMG_7177.JPEG

In the morning we decided to pack the car and drive to the market instead of taking our purchases back to the Airbnb. It was a significant walk from the Airbnb to the old town and I'd seen some good sized parking lots close to the center the previous night. I figured we'd get a good jump on our day by having breakfast in the market and continuing onward. We also didn't have to worry about cutting our market visit short to get back to the Airbnb in time to make our ten o'clock checkout. What I hadn't figured was that those nice half-empty lots would be packed full of cars even at eight in the morning which forced us further away from the old town until we'd lost most of the gains we'd made by driving. I also had a near miss accident drifting out of my lane in a rotary while I was looking for the entrance to a lot, which was a good reminder of the inherent dangers of driving in a series of unfamiliar cities and countries. We eventually found a spot and entered the old town from the east near the Jardins de l'Europe. We could see right away that it was going to be a great market, even larger and more energetic than the previous morning in Thonon. Naturally all the usual fruits and vegetables were there but there was also a good selection of cooked food ready to eat. The sheer density of the colorful and appetizing food on the counters was almost overwhelming. There were fresh juices for the kids and an amazing variety of meats and cheeses with a Savoyard twist. One local specialty I learned about from the cheese vendor was Tomme de Savoie, a wheel-shaped cheese with a grey rind. There were countless varieties of tomme, which is just a generic term in the French Alpine region for round cheeses made from skimmed milk.
large_IMG_9671.JPGlarge_IMG_9675a.jpg
large_IMG_7207.JPGlarge_IMG_7205.jpeg

We bought ourselves some stewed chicken, roasted potatoes, and black bread and found a cafe which agreed to let us eat at one of their tables once we purchased coffee and croissants from them. We sat outside and soaked in the morning energy while we filled our stomachs. After breakfast we made another pass through the entire market to make sure that we hadn't missed anything. It was easier to focus on the small details now that we no longer had to worry about putting together a meal and finding a comfortable place to consume it.
large_IMG_9697a.jpglarge_IMG_9678a.jpglarge_IMG_7203a.jpg

Once we had taken our final swing through the market we found it hard to make our final departure. Even though Annecy was more of a tourist magnet than we had hoped we still found it to be irresistibly beautiful. The reflections of the colorful old buildings and medieval stone walls in the clear waters of Le Thiou is a sight I don't think I'll ever forget.
large_IMG_7202.JPEGlarge_IMG_7201.JPEG

Twenty minutes west of Annecy the River Fier has cut a narrow and deep canyon through solid rock over countless millennia. In 1869 a narrow walkway was built along the limestone cliff providing tourist access to the natural attraction known as the Gorges Du Fier. Apparently we were stepping out onto this very same path although neither the solid wooden blanks nor the sturdy metal railings appeared to be a hundred and fifty years old. This was the kind of activity we had been accustomed to on previous trips to the American Southwest and Iceland but it seemed incongruous in such a historic and refined region as Savoie. The path was set about midway up the moss-covered cliff, enough to create a thrill but not so high above the narrow river as to be vertiginous. Because of the turns and twists in the gorge there was a new discovery around every corner. Some of the rocks had been given strange shapes by the gradual erosion from the rushing water so that we saw a face in one place or an animal in the next. The kids kept running ahead and out of sight which made me nervous even though the platform seemed very secure. At the end of the serpentine path was the Glade of the Curious, a field of eroded limestone full of deep, irregular potholes known as giant's kettles.
large_IMG_9707.JPGlarge_IMG_9709.JPGlarge_IMG_9713.JPG

One of the trademarks of our road trip itineraries is that we never bypass a potentially interesting city. I would rather slow the trip down than realize at some later date that I had driven right past a place we would have enjoyed seeing. Perhaps that's why we take such a long time to pass through geographic areas despite exploring individual cities so quickly. For many people travel is all about skimming through the highlights and the top ten lists but for us we like to see some of the places that the tourists ignore. That's the reason that we found ourselves in the small city of Chambéry, the historic capital of the Savoy region.
large_IMG_5587.jpg

We only had a couple of hours and everything we wanted to see was in the old town but all the roads leading inward were marked with a sign that had a red circle on a white background. I figured that meant no entry except for locals, a common designation in southern Europe that can lead to stiff fines if violated. It wasn't too hard to find a spot on the major avenue that ran along the southern edge of the old town so we parked there and entered by foot. We soon found ourselves in a lovely network of old streets that were busy without having any touristic vibe whatsoever.
large_IMG_9719a.jpglarge_IMG_9720a.jpglarge_IMG_9728a.jpg

Over the last two days the weather had been getting warmer and it appeared we were at the beginning of a heat wave. The late afternoon in Chambéry's old town was uncomfortably hot so to keep the kids going I told them that we were hunting for an elephant. Of course I meant La Fontaine des Elephants, a fountain at the other end of the old town that had become a symbol of the city. I knew exactly where it was but I pretended not to know how we were going to find this elephant. The kids immediately became very enthusiastic and competitive about the hunt and started seeing elephants everywhere. They were the first to notice that there were circular brass plaques embedded in the cobblestones stamped with images of elephants and concluded that they were a trail to the target elephant. I figured out that they were only a guide for tourists to reach the old town's designated attractions and had to drag them away in the correct direction. Along the way we ducked into ancient courtyards and traversed enchanting medieval alleys such as Rue Basse du Château and Rue du Sénat de Savoie.
large_IMG_9734a.jpglarge_IMG_9721a.jpg

Besides the fountain the only other specific destination on my list for Chambéry was the chocolatier Cedric Pernot. We arrived a little before their closing time and I didn't get the impression the proprietress was thrilled to see us. I imagine they get more than their share of the few tourists that pass through the town and probably a lot of parents don't stop their kids from touching the chocolate and the display cases. We did monitor the kids pretty carefully, especially Spenser, as we admired some of the more elaborate constructions. Eventually we bought a few relatively inexpensive chocolate covered biscuits and escaped the penetrating gaze of the lady behind the counter.
large_IMG_9729a.jpg

Cleo was naturally the first one to spot the elephant fountain and shouted in victory. It is quite a remarkable structure for a region that has so little to do with elephants. The fountain was built in 1838 to commemorate native son Benoît de Boigne, who distinguished and enriched himself as a merchant and general in India before ultimately returning to his hometown. Before his death de Boigne contributed much of his fortune to the establishment of hospitals and other public edifices in Chambéry. De Boigne's connection to India indirectly resulted in elephants becoming the unofficial symbol of the city. Water gushes from the trunk of each of the four elephants on the fountain and I realized that if I leaned back far enough I could achieve a simple solution to the oppressive heat of the city.
large_IMG_9732.JPGlarge_IMG_7278.jpeg

On the way out of the square I felt a sudden sharp pain in one of my toes as though it was being pierced by a needle. I immediately thought a piece of glass had worked its way into my sandal and pulled it off to inspect the damage. There was nothing in my sandal and no sign of blood on the injured toe which now felt as though it was being squeezed in a vise. I looked around and saw a few yellowjackets buzzing around a grate a few steps back and I realized I had inadvertently caught one in my sandal and been stung. The toe remained extremely painful for several minutes and I just stood where I was feeling my heart pound and waiting for the pain to subside. Surprisingly my toe never swelled or reddened and eventually the discomfort dissipated. We resumed walking and it was like the sting had never happened. At this point we were just a couple of blocks from the River Leysse which marks the northern boundary of the old town. Remembering Le Thiou from Annecy I thought it might be worth walking the extra distance but unfortunately the river was nearly dry and the surroundings were rather unattractive. On the way back to the car we admired the outside of the Castle of the Dukes of Savoy which is still the seat of the local government.
large_IMG_9724a.jpg

In the end we were quite happy we had set aside a couple of hours to explore Chambéry. It was quite a contrast to Annecy whose old town was more beautiful because of the river but also smaller and much more touristy. There was much more of a feeling of discovery within the small alleys of Chambéry and we felt that our strategy of visiting lesser known cities was validated. Now it was time to move on to Grenoble, a city with a familiar name that I actually knew very little about.

Posted by zzlangerhans 00:05 Archived in France Tagged road_trip family chambres family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog gorges_du_fier Comments (0)

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Thonon and Geneva


View Benelux 2022 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

When I created our itinerary Thonon was just an inexpensive place to lay our heads before driving to Geneva in the morning. Airbnb's in the French town were half the price of those in Geneva. Once I began my usual investigations I discovered that in an enormous stroke of luck the town's weekly market was on the morning after we arrived. I also realized that we couldn't miss the medieval town of Yvoire a little further west on the lakeshore. The full day I had planned to spend in Geneva was shrinking rapidly but on the bright side we would have more than enough interesting activities to fill the day. We were eager to see the town and we still had the matter of dinner to attend to so we walked along the outskirts of the old town to an Asian fusion bistro that seemed to have good reviews. It was an interesting change from the European food of the last few days but not as tasty as we had hoped. On our walk back to the Airbnb the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains on the opposite shore of the lake but its glow still illuminated the clouds and gave the rippling water an eerie shine.
large_IMG_6911.JPEGlarge_IMG_9568.JPGlarge_IMG_6910.JPEG

In the morning we followed my first rule of France, which is that if you aren't out of the house before eight you're going to be out of sync for the entire day. In France the energy of the morning markets has dissipated by eleven and they are essentially closed by one in the afternoon. Lunch is best taken between noon and one thirty and dinner best completed before nine. Then it's early to bed to be ready to rise at seven. It seems that every time we violate this principle we suffer some adverse consequence. I did a good job herding everyone out and we had completed the short walk to the weekly market while there was still some early morning crispness in the air. We were really surprised by the size of the market considering that Thonon had seemed like such a small and sleepy town. Besides the extensive selection of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish there were several vendors preparing cooked food. This was a welcome change from Switzerland where it had been somewhat difficult to put together a satisfying breakfast in a morning market.
large_IMG_6925.JPEGlarge_IMG_9575.JPGlarge_IMG_9574.JPG

One of the best things about being up early and within walking distance of the market is that we had plenty of time to bring all our purchases back to the Airbnb to have breakfast instead of sitting on a curb or negotiating with a cafe. We were able to enjoy our roast chicken, paella, and fresh produce in the comfort of home and then pack our belongings once again. It was time to get back on the road.
large_IMG_9580.JPG

Most of the towns along the shore of Lake Geneva look like typical lakeside resorts with modern housing similar to anywhere else in Europe. One exception is the village of Yvoire which has somehow maintained its medieval character with well-preserved stone houses on a small network of narrow streets. It's unclear how Yvoire remained intact while other villages were tearing down their old structures and building updated accommodations to attract vacationers. Entering the village feels like passing through a time warp to the 13th century, although the illusion might be more complete if it wasn't for the hordes of tourists and all the boutiques and cafes that clearly weren't intended for the town's few residents. Although Yvoire lacked the appealing cobblestone streets of other old towns the buildings were dramatically decorated with colorful flowers in pots and planters as well as thick clusters of ivy on the stone walls. It was clear there was a coordinated effort to create a certain aesthetic impression and I have to admit it was remarkable.
large_IMG_9585a.jpglarge_IMG_9586a.jpglarge_IMG_9584a.jpglarge_IMG_9607a.jpg

Close to the water the imposing Château D'Yvoire stands apart from the rest of the village. The building is largely a 19th century reconstruction from ruins left after a fire in 1591. The castle is privately owned and not open for visitation. Small sailboats bobbed gently in the transparent, blue-tinged water of the harbor.
large_IMG_9588.JPGlarge_IMG_9604a.jpg

Aside from the lovely town itself the main attraction of Yvoire is the Garden of the Five Senses. This garden close to the château has five small sections each of which is devoted to a different sense. It was interesting to think of plants as having separate visual, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and even aural characteristics. It's not a historic garden nor is it cheap but we found it to be quite well-designed and enjoyable. If one was looking to economize I definitely wouldn't describe it as an essential stop but I'm partial to gardens and greenery.
large_IMG_9599.JPGlarge_IMG_9600.JPG

In comparison to Gruyères, the other medieval town we had visited, Yvoire felt more antiquated and charming but it was still very touristy. From the ubiquitous flowers to the painted shutters and the omnipresence of ice cream it was clear that the town had embraced tourism as a primary source of revenue. It was a beautiful village but not somewhere I would go to feel transported back to medieval times. One other advantage over Gruyères was that there was less emphasis on souvenirs and postcards and more on genuine artisanal crafts.
large_IMG_9611.JPG

Geneva occupies the opposite end of Lake Geneva from Vevey and Montreux. Although Geneva is culturally affiliated with France and was once part of its territory, the defeat of Napoleon and the subsequent Congress of Vienna in the early 19th century resulted in the city being incorporated into the Swiss Confederation. Because the surrounding areas remained with France the border was drawn to create a polypoid intrusion into France that included Geneva and the adjacent villages.
large_Border.jpglarge_Geneva.png

As we drove into Geneva along the coastal road it was clear that we were entering our second true metropolis of the journey after Zürich. The inland side of the road was lined with an endless series of stately apartment blocks and the boats in the harbor were several sizes bigger than we had seen in the other lakeside towns. We were arriving too late for the Plainpalais morning market but we adhered to our plan to begin our exploration in Place du Bourg de Four. This central square of Geneva dates back to Roman times and is considered by many to be the cultural heart of the city. Despite it being a weekday the cafes were quite busy and the air was filled with the hum of conversation. It took some time to absorb the human energy that permeated the square and admire the architecture of the distinguished buildings that surrounded us. I didn't even notice the incongruous white upright piano that stood on the sidewalk until the kids sat down and started to play it. It felt as though it had been placed there just to welcome us to Geneva.
large_IMG_9614a.jpglarge_IMG_9621a.jpglarge_IMG_9615a.jpglarge_IMG_9622.JPG

Outside of Place du Bourg de Four, Geneva's old town was rather compact and devoid of commerce. It mostly consisted of the side streets around St Pierre Cathedral, the famed site where John Calvin successfully advocated for Protestantism in the 16th century. St. Pierre was one of several Roman Catholic cathedrals in Switzerland that were co-opted by the Protestants with attendant destruction of much of the religious ornamentation within.
large_08cb7c80-36b4-11ed-bc60-7bee706f3ffc.JPGlarge_08876ea0-36b4-11ed-bc60-7bee706f3ffc.jpg

We continued our walk into the modern, commercial neighborhood at the southern tip of Lake Geneva. This is an area where many of those "Top Ten Things You Must See in Geneva!" are located so there were many expensive boutiques and sidewalk cafes here. We crossed a wide thoroughfare to reach the Jardin Anglais, which contains the most famous flower clock in Switzerland. There was a street food festival going on inside the park which would have been tempting if we weren't still rather full from breakfast. They did have an impressive variety of cuisines from around the world and we would certainly have returned if we had been staying the night. From the promenade at the shoreline we could see Geneva's landmark Jet d'Eau. This two hundred meter waterspout was originally born as the solution to a technical problem of sporadic increases in the water pressure at the city's hydraulic plant. Although that technical issue was eventually resolved in other ways the jet had already become a popular attraction and a new version was installed at a more visible location. It has subsequently become an emblem of the city and is prominently featured in articles and videos about Geneva.
large_IMG_7043.jpeglarge_IMG_9634a.jpg

Part of the reason why I had shortened our visit to Geneva to just a few hours was that I had a difficult time finding specific things to do. Guide books and blogs prominently featured the flower clock and the water spout but how much time could one really spend looking at those simple things? We decided to walk west along the promenade where the Rhône emerges from the lake and begins its southwestern journey to Lyon. We encountered another Globus department store and decided to try the food court, remembering the beautiful selection we had been forced to pass on in Lausanne. Unfortunately this Globus didn't match our first experience in quality or atmosphere but at least we were able to resolve the issue of the kids' midday meal.
large_IMG_9637b.jpglarge_IMG_9638.JPG

We crossed the Rhône via the pedestrian bridge and made our way to the Quai du Mont-Blanc, passing the ornate Brunswick Monument. From here the view of the lake was a little different but it was essentially the same scene of joggers and bicyclists as every other part of the lakeside promenade.
large_IMG_9640b.jpglarge_IMG_9641b.jpg

At this point we had exhausted all our options for the areas within walking distance so we decided to head back to the car. I had saved Geneva's covered market, La Halle de Rive, for the end of our walking tour. The market was so inconspicuous that when we arrived at the designated location I thought that Google Maps had misdirected us. Eventually we figured out that rather than having its own structure the market occupied the ground floor of a banal office building that blended into a long line of similar edifices. Despite the inauspicious setting the market was quite enticing once we were inside, full of the smells of cheese and freshly cut meat. A great deal of care and creativity had been put into the displays of food within the refrigerated cases and piled on the countertops, although the market wasn't very busy. The prices were quite high and we knew we would be seeing similar products in the French morning markets for the next few days so we didn't make any purchases.
large_IMG_9642.JPG

Before leaving Geneva we drove to the adjoining town of Carouge on the far side of the River Arve. Carouge was established in Italian architectural style by a descendant of the Dukes of Savoy who wished to create a rival to the cultural metropolis of Geneva. Although still a separate municipality Carouge was reduced over the years to a suburb of greater Geneva and is considered one of its more bohemian and iconoclastic neighborhoods. We had a dual purpose with our Thursday afternoon visit: to explore the neighborhood and to see the weekly market on Place du Marché. We started with the market which proved to be relatively small and sparsely-attended although the atmosphere was pleasant enough. Afterwards we moved into the side streets which were pleasant enough from an aesthetic standpoint but hardly energetic. The asphalt streets were quite wide and the buildings were relatively low which detracted somewhat from any feeling of intimacy. There were a number of galleries and cafes making a game attempt to stir up a bohemian vibe but they occupied a much smaller area than we had expected. Overall Carouge seemed like just another nondescript neighborhood we might have passed through on a city walk without stopping. Perhaps the area is more dynamic on weekends but on this afternoon it was something of a disappointment.
large_IMG_7096.JPEGlarge_IMG_9645.JPGlarge_IMG_9647.JPGlarge_IMG_9648.JPG

Geneva was the impetus for the Swiss leg of our trip but we felt less affinity for it than several other cities we had visited in the prior days. Zürich had been especially enjoyable and there was no question that in atmosphere and energy it had been far superior to Geneva. Even the smaller cities of Lausanne and Bern had been preferable. Of course we were only in Geneva for about five hours so it's certain that we missed many hidden attractions, but as far as first impressions go we didn't find any overwhelming reason to return. It wasn't anything we had to dwell on because we were coming up on one of the most highly anticipated sections of our trip, the stretch that would take us through some of the most beautiful and gastronomically distinguished cities in France. We piled back into our car for the short hop to Annecy where we were due to meet our Airbnb host at seven.

Posted by zzlangerhans 12:03 Archived in France Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog yvoire tony_friedman family_travel_blog Comments (0)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 263) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »