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Haute-Savoie department in the Rhône-Alps region, France
The historic towns of Annecy and Talloires cuddle up along the shore of
the purest lake in Europe at the feet of the Alps.
Great food in Michelin-rated hotels and restaurant share the billboard
with exciting skiing, mountain hiking and summer sports
Click here a photo gallery
So when I had an opportunity to head to Annecy– Haute-Savoie department in the Rhône-Alps region - this spring, I immediately packed my bags, including some evening clothes in remembrance of times past, for the fabled lakeside dining.
One of several villages with castles that surround the lake, the historic town of Annecy cuddles up along the shore at the feet of the Alpine range, hid by a lush and untouched vegetation, gurgling gorges and bushes full of wild strawberries, gooseberries and blueberries in the summer.
A tourist destination made famous in the 18th century by the French philosopher Rousseau and by Cézanne who painted the lake in the 19th century, Annecy is a mecca for nature and sports lovers from all over the world, ski in winter, hiking in spring and come full summer there is cruising, water skiing and sailing on the lake, golf, tennis, canyoning, horse back riding, paragliding and swimming in the lake’s silky waters, among other activities.
Today, no evening clothes are de rigueur; and there’s no need for traveling trunks. Annecy is half an hour drive away from Geneva, and a couple of hours from Lyon, it is easily reached by train (3 hours by TGV) or air from Paris.
WHAT TO SEE
The charming historic town with its cobbled streets is best visited by foot, which is how you can stroll through the old quarters of Annecy, linger along the quays, shop and admire the canals and climb up to the Castle and see the spectacular view of the town and the lake.
The Château d'Annecy was the home of the Counts of Geneva and the Dukes of Genevois-Nemours, an offshoot of the House of Savoie (12th-16th century). Today it is home of the Art and History Conservatory of Annecy and the Regional Office of the Alpine Lakes. The Palais de l'Isle, also called the "old prison", built in the 12th century, is the symbol of the town and is among the most photographed monuments in all of France.
The Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, built in the 16th century, is home to a number of artworks and baroque pieces from the 19th century and is accessed through the rue Sainte-Claire with its romantic 17th and 18th centuries arches under which brisk business is being conducted daily in chic boutiques. The rue royale, with its numerous shops, gardens and the fountain of Saint Jean is the heart of the commercial and political activities of the town.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT
There are plenty of restaurants in this part of Savoie, which has a rich gastronomic tradition of regional wines, game, lake fish such as the troutlike omble chevalier, cured meats and sausages, cheeses such as Reblochon, Beaufort and the famous Tomme de Savoie, among others, which baked with potatoes turn into gratin Savoyard or the rich rustic tartiflette. Without speaking of the delicious seasonal produce and fruit.
But you need a car to get around the lake to the Michelin-star tables among which Marc Veyrat’s l’Auberge de l’Eridan stands at the top.
For a great view of the entire lake and a meal prepared only with local ingredients, there’s One Michelin Star Restaurant Le Belvédère where Vincent and Delphine Lugrin can host you in their charming guest house for the weekend. Vincent Lugrin, an apprentice at the legendary Marc Veyrat, creates a gastronomic landscape of flavors in a modern, jazzy menu. I can’t forget his take on foie gras with a caramelized slab of duck liver between two macaroons, or the lake fish omble chevalier with a raspberry sauce, and the lush chocolate cigars at the end of the meal, right after an amazing tray of cheeses. The prix-fixe lunch is very affordable, even for dollar-paying Americans.
If you are driving around the lake, you can’t miss the medieval village Talloires, a few miles from Annecy with it’s priory and abbey and of course it’s famous gastronomic mecca, l’Auberge du Père Bise.
We stayed overnight at L’Auberge du Père Bise which is also a Relais & Châteaux property with 23 rooms. Two buildings, one modern with beautifully decorated rooms fit with state-of-the-art facilities overlooking the lake, and the other a stately Edwardian-looking house with huge bay windows, lawns unfurling into the lake, antique furniture and all the hushed luxury and patina of an establishment frequented by kings, czars, heads of states, nobles and stars since the start of the 20th century.
It’s restaurant, Le Père Bise, held three Michelin stars from 1953 until 1983, until it lost one star after the death of François Bise, the son of the original Père Bise. Today Sophie, the fourth generation of Bise, is at the helm of the one Michelin Star restaurant’s kitchen, while her mother Charlyne Bise is graciously in charge of the dining room and the guests. Sophie’s cuisine is modern, light and uses local and organic ingredients, “noble products,” said Manager Claude Lacroix.
The menu changes constantly, according to seasonal products and I doubt that Sophie Bise cares to replicate the exquisite frog leg soup topped with the sweetest roasted beet slab I ever had, or the duck breast, but I’m sure you will always be able to taste the richly layered Marjolaine cake which has been served in the restaurant for 57 years.
What I guess doesn’t change is how delicious the breakfast marmalades are that Sophie makes with fruit picked in and around her property. That and the breads and croissants served at breakfast as the lake wakes up is what dreams are made from.
While Auberge Du Père Bise is the dining destination of the town, the exotic Hôtel Abbaye de Talloires, first a chapel and then an abbey built in the 17th century by Benedictine monks, has been luxuriously refurbished as a Châteaux et hôtels de France and is one of the Great hotels of the World.
Tufts University maintains its European Center in a local 11th century (former) Benedictine priory. The property serves as a conference center and campus for both visiting college and high school students. With beautiful views of Le Lac d'Annecy, lush gardens, and a millennia of history, Le Prieure is a focal point of the village.