France: Savoie

Around Chambéry and Aix les Bains

Wines from the Combe de Savoie, Mont Granier & Jongieux
By Wink Lorch

This Guide was last updated on 18 July 2013
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Main towns and villages


The old capital of the Duchy of Savoie (or Savoy) and an important crossroads in the Alps, Chambéry is best known most strangely for its elephant fountain, signposted everywhere as ‘Les Eléphants’ and known by locals as – loosely translated – ‘the elephants without backsides’. The statue was built in homage to General de Boigne, a great benefactor of the city, who had made his fortune in India and most notably created the Rue de Boigne, a fine street of arcades which runs from the Elephants to the castle. It’s worth parking the car near the Tourist Office to wander around the old town on foot – it’s mostly pedestrianised. The fine square with the town hall (Hôtel de Ville) and surrounding little streets allow glimpses of the mountains if you can tear your eyes away from the tempting window displays in the rather classy shops. Interesting shops in this fairly wealthy city include some fine food stores especially close to the run-down old indoor market (Les Halles), which closed in March 2008 for a 2-year refurbishment project. Close your eyes to this eyesore and feast instead on the fishmonger (check out the fine brass lobster door handles), butchers, cheese shops and delicatessans. Also being refurbished is the rather imposing Château des Ducs de Savoie, currently only open for guided tours. Don’t fail to go into the Cathédrale St-François: inside you will find, rather intriguingly, possibly the largest collection of Trompe l’Oeil paintings in Europe! The best museums are the Beaux-Arts, known for its collection of Italian paintings, and the Musée Savoisien, of interest for its regional historical exhibits. See also the Maison des Charmettes, in ‘Other Attractions’. Also of note, many know Chambéry as the world’s Vermouth capital, an honour it shares with Turin (once also capital of the Duchy of Savoy). The city comes alive in summer, but lacks top class hotels and restaurants – you need to go outside the city for these.

Aix les Bains

This famous old spa town is chiefly of interest for its proximity to the Lac de Bourget, the largest inland lake in France. You can still visit the old spas and sulphur springs in the town but it is rather faded; there are a few traditional hotels (see Le Manoir in 'Places to Stay') in the centre and an excellent, modern restaurant Le 59 ( established by a chef who made his name at the Château de Candie in Chambéry. A larger choice of hotels and restaurants of all qualities is found by the lake, as well as beach-like facilities – it is an important centre for water sports. The small town of Le Bourget at the end of the lake also has some fine restaurants and places to stay. Boat trips ( can be taken on the lake including an excursion across to the Abbaye de Hautecombe (see ‘Other Attractions’).


This town on the Isère river famous chiefly for having hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics, is at the crossroads of the road to the pretty Beaufortain area (famous for its cheese) and the road to the Tarentaise ski resorts. It is a largely uninteresting town, however it’s worth taking a drive up to the old town Conflans, perched on a hill with some good views. You must leave the car and explore Conflans on foot.


When you enter Montmélian from the main N89 road from Chambéry or Albertville it seems simply an ugly industrial suburb of Chambéry and even the old town up on the hill is not that interesting, though it’s home to an excellent wine museum (see ‘Wine Attractions’). The trick is to drive straight up the hill following signs to ‘Le Fort’. Once up there the view will immediately make you realise why you came – vineyards in both directions, the dramatic cliff of Mont Granier one way and Mont Blanc the other, with mountains everywhere you look.

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