About Savoie and the French Alps
From Evian, on the shores of Lac Léman, south to Nice, the 742-km Route des Grandes Alpes rides the French Alps until they finally plunge into the sea. It is magnificent, dramatic terrain, now almost as popular with summer visitors as with skiers. The area covered here is the former province of Dauphiné and the present departement of Savoie, and is designed primarily for the summer season (Jun-Sep) when the high passes are open and shorts are more appropriate than salopettes.
The region’s main gateway cities and towns lie to the west in the Pré-alpes. One of the best places to visit is the largest, lively Grenoble, once capital of the Dauphiné. Chambéry once shared its responsibilities as capital of the ancient Duchy of Savoie with Turin until the Savoyards voted to join France permanently in 1806. Then there is stately Aix-les-Bains; and lovely Annecy. The main feature of the Alpine scenery is Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, its snow-capped summit towering above its neighbours. At its foot, Chamonix is the oldest of the French winter sports resorts with superb skiing and an enormous summer sports programme, emulated by other major resorts such as Megève, the Trois Vallées and Val d’lsère.
Walking is the real key to the mountains: in spring the high pastures are carpeted with blue gentians, vetch, campion and anemones; later in the season, an equally soothing sight is the elderly farmer cutting grass with a hand scythe, drying the hay and storing cords of wood on the balconies of weathered chalets.
The mountain air will of course build up your appetite and you’ll find the local restaurants well prepared. Cheese, ham and potatoes are the staples of mountain cooking, tastily combined to produce tartiflette and gratin dauphinois (sliced potatoes baked with cream and cheese); or try fresh omble chevalier (char, not dissimilar to sea trout) with the flinty white wines from Seyssel.
Regular Geneva-Grenoble train services stop at Annecy, Aix-les-Bains and Chambéry; connections to BrianÍµcon from Grenoble. From Chambéry there are train connections to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc via Saint-Gervais; and to Bourg-Saint-Maurice for buses to Val d’lsère. Buses from Annecy stop at Megève and Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.