Two days?? Is it possible to get the flavor of two towns in France in only two days? Can I get a Oui Bien Sur up in here?* If you follow my two-word suggestions below, you’ll have time to taste the food France is known for, tour adorable Renaissance towns, and sample a few of the many things Chambéry and Annecy made famous, including secret passageways, trompe-oeil-ed cathedrals, vermouth-stirred cocktails, and truffles au chocolat.
Catch an early flight to Geneva and get off the plane ready to have lunch. In less than an hour, you can be sitting at the Auberge di Pere Bise sipping Rosé Champagne on the terrace overlooking Lake Annecy. Bliss, total bliss.
For the next few hours, I went on a roller-coaster ride of flavors, thanks to Chef Jean Sulpice, our host for the afternoon. He acquired two Michelin stars at his eponymous restaurant in Val Thorens, before moving south to this sunny spot. Did I say he was the youngest chef in history to receive those stars at the age of 26? I knew I was in good hands as I dug into an eight-course meal beginning with Frog’s Legs (oh la la!) and ending with a Parsley Sorbet (c’est magnifique!)
It was a gorgeous day and Chef Suplice arranged for a boat to ferry us from the restaurant to the village of Annecy, a short hop across the lake. We were all a tad tipsy & a bit sleepy from all the food, drink, and early flight. The slightly bumpy ride brought us right back to life.
Annecy was heaven, a canal filled, Renaissance village with the best ice cream in France at the Glacier des Alpes.
The little bit of my heart that is Italian skipped a beat when I knew I was heading to Chambéry, the former capital of the region of Savoia, home to the Duke of Savoia. In 1860, the capital was transferred to Torino and, after the Unification of Italy, the whole region was ceded to the French.
Not that the town is particularly Italianate, but you do feel that this town has seen its fair-share of political intrigue. Secret passageways and hidden alleys abound. Duck into this one and then that and you can shake whoever is following you.
Things aren’t always what they seem in Chambéry. The city had a penchant for trompe-l’oeil and the best example of it in France is in St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. Almost everywhere you look, nothing is real.
All the plaster-work on the ceiling, the marble columns, the statues in the niches, and the construction in the cathedral are all painted to fool the eye. I wandered around with my eyes on a ceiling that wasn’t really there – yet there was a ceiling, but it was all trompe-l’oeil. It’s difficult to describe, but wonderful to experience.
Are you waving to people and they don’t wave back? Don’t take it personally!
The town is filled with windows and doors that aren’t really there.
The Cypriot and I love wandering around a market and, even without him, I believe it’s the best way to feel like a local. Of course, I filled up on loads of saucisson and Reblochon cheese to take home.
Chambéry is the land of Beaufort and Tomme da Savoie cheeses, as well as nougat and the Savoy cake, invented in 1358.
To cut the cake, you will need the Opinel – the famous folding knife invented in Chambéry in the 1890’s – make sure to check in your bag!
The Savoia may have absconded with the holiest relic of them all when they moved to Turin, but don’t despair. The Holy Chapel of the Palace of the Dukes of Savoy contains a life-size copy of the Shroud of Turin (via Chambéry). If you are a real fan, make sure you stop at the Hotel de Princes in town, originally a convent where the first shroud was kept.
You cannot go thirsty in Chambéry – the city of Dolin Vermouth. For over 200 years, Dolin had been making fortified wine in Savoie Mont Blanc. This isn’t the only drink in town. The two Carthusian monks, who are permitted to know the secret recipe, are churning out Chartreuse and everyone in town is making the local liqueur, Génépi. For all of you who are keeping off the alcohol, then try hometown 1883 syrups in your fizzy water.
One fabulous store carried everything – La Ruche. Not only is it a one-stop shop for all things Chamberoise, but it’s also a bike repair shop, coffee house and restaurant. The Tour de France passes through Chambéry every year and the town has become a cyclists’ haven. Finally they have a spot to cool down and caffeine up, while waiting for their bike to be fixed.
You know you have to have a chocolate sooner or later in the town the invented the truffle. Invented by M. Dufour in 1895, the truffle came to be when he mixed some cream, vanilla and chocolate together. Who knew something so simple would take the world by storm? Make sure you hit Cedric Pernot, not only to try his to-die-for chocolates and ice cream, but also to visit the store itself. It’s in the oldest shop in town “Au Fidèle Berger” and has been a patisserie since it opened in 1832!
Two packed days and now it’s time to go home with bags laden with Savoie treats. I know I will be back in the winter to see what it all looks like in the snow!
*A little RuPaul for you!
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NB: I was the guest of the Savoie-Mont-Blanc Tourism Board and I can’t thank them enough. My opinions are always my own!