Chambéry, France is not only an adorable Alpine village, but also historically intriguing! There are tons of things to do in this charming, historic city, close to the gorgeous Lac du Bourget, the largest natural lake in France, and thrilling ski resorts.
This small city of around 50,000 inhabitants is located in eastern France, at the foot of the French Alps, between the Chartreuse and Massif des Bauges regional parks. From the 11th century Chambery castle to the 19th century Fountain of Elephants, there are plenty of things to do for visitors, including architecture, culinary delights, and many museums to stroll through.
How to Get to Chambéry
If you’re flying internationally, I recommend flying into Geneva Airport and either renting a car to drive yourself to the town of Chambery, taking a train or booking a taxi.
Chambéry is a 92 kilometers by car from the Geneva airport. It will take a little over an hour to drive it, unless it’s a heavy traffic day. You will pass by the charming town of Annecy on the way, which I highly recommend checking out.
The train is a great option. You will have to make one transfer in Geneva, and then the train goes directly to the Chambéry train station. The most luxurious way is to take a private car directly which is 1 hour 20 minutes, non-stop.
The easiest is to fly directly into Chambéry Airport via British Airways & Transavia. It’s only 15 minutes from airport to the center of town.
What’s it Like in Chambéry?
One thing is for sure, Chambéry has as much of an Italian feel as a French one, seeing as the city was only annexed by France in the 19th century.
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 Dukes of Savoy. In 1860, the capital was transferred to Torino and, after the Unification of Italy, the whole region was ceded to the French.
You may also feel that this town has seen its fair-share of political intrigue. Secret passageways and hidden alleys abound in the downtown area. Duck into the maze of alleys and dim passageways 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 painting and the best example of it in France is in Roman Catholic Church, 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 oeil painting. It’s difficult to describe, but wonderful to experience and makes it not only one of the best things in this old town and also a peaceful place to rest yourself.
Cool things to do in Chambéry
I love wandering around a market. I believe it’s the best places to feel like a local. In Chambéry, it’s possible to fill up on loads of good food, like saucisson and Reblochon cheese, among other local products, at the Chambéry Market.
Chambéry is the land of Beaufort and Tomme da Savoie cheeses, as well as nougat and the Savoy cake, invented in 1358, so be sure to look for those specialties throughout the market.
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 if you want to take one home with you.
If you love Chambéry Market, you will also adore Annecy Market, so try and make time for both cities!
The Holy Chapel of the Palace of the Dukes of Savoy
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.
La Fontaine des Elephants (Elephants’ Fountain)
In the elegant Place des Elephants, it’s not surprising to find most famous monument in Chambéry, the Fontaine des Éléphants. Built in 1838 to recognizes the efforts of Chambery-born General Benoit de Boigne, the elephant fountain has four elephants, one on each side, looking out and ready to charge.
General de Boigne was one of Chambery’s most generous benefactors and his statue sits at the very top! It remains one of the most important French Historical Monuments.
Le Musee des Charmettes
“What wisdom can you find greater than kindness.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the most influential philosophers of the Enlightenment, was busy thinking up quotes that would live on until today in this country house slightly out of Chambéry.
Rousseau lived here from 1736 to 1742 with Madame de Warrens, his mistress at the time and was said to have thought it an ideal place to think! You can imagine him wandering around the 18th-century style garden planted with flowers, fruits and vegetables, medicinal plants philosiphizing!
I was led on a guided tour and I loved it. You can do the same – I would start with the Private Walking Tour of Chambéry Historical Center, which is only two hours and includes a walk around the Chateau and other interesting places. I also loved Lake Bourget, so I might add From Chambéry: Medieval Village and Lake Bourget Day Trip as well. You spend the whole day exploring a medieval walls, the fine arts museum, and a gorgeous ride on the largest lake in France!
What to Eat & Drink in Chambéry
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.
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, try hometown 1883 syrups in your fizzy water.
If you want to learn more about the wines of this area, check out my post on Savoie Mont Blanc wines.
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 chocolate truffles 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!
Where to Shop in Chambéry
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.
Don’t miss all the shops on Rue de Boigne and Place Saint-Léger!
Where to Stay in Chambéry
Here are a few hotels I can recommend in the luxury range:
- Petit Hôtel Confidentiel – Elected best hotel in France in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – this is the only luxury place in town!
- Le Chateau de Candie – a delightful chateau out of town a bit.
Or book one you like in Chambéry on Booking.com
Best Bits to leave you with
You might just leave, like I did, with a suitcase filled with Savoie treats. Even though Chambéry isn’t often considered as a top tourist destination when visiting France, you will want to be back in every season to see how it changes.
Try this easy yummy Savoie recipe at home!!
Farci de Bessans
Farci de Bessans is a specialty from Bessans in the Haute Maurienne. The recipe slightly varies from one family to another. This is the recipe from the restaurant Le Chalet de Séraphin in Bessans! Photo ©Le Paradis.
- 1/2 a green cabbage
- 2 onions
- a clove of garlic
- 250 g of salted bacon
- 250 g of lean pork
- 250 g of minced pork
- 6 eggs
- 1 Kg of flour
- salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Finely chop the cabbage, onions and garlic
- Cut the bacon and pork in a small dice
- Break the eggs, mix with the flour and gradually add the other ingredients
- Mix well, then shape them like small breads
- Roll them in flour.
- Cook in simmering water for about 2 hours.
PIN IT LATER
NB: I was the guest of the Savoie-Mont-Blanc Tourism Board and I can’t thank them enough.