We drove out of Switzerland on Saturday morning to enjoy the rest of the day in the Savoy city of Annecy. The Savoy region has strong historical links to both Switzerland and Italy, which gives it a slightly different flavour to other parts of France. Annecy may well have the most complicated road system in the world; perhaps it was designed by the Swiss for Italian drivers. Certainly our Tom Tom navigator made hard work of getting us one kilometre across the city, zigzagging, back-tracking, taking us down alleys barely wide enough for the car, trying to entice us into streets closed to traffic.
Nonetheless, when we reached the centre of town the journey was worthwhile. The old town is a warren of narrow streets and alleys superimposed on a network of canals: it’s been called the Venice of Savoy. It was, of course, packed with tourists … but we’re not well placed to complain about that.
We enjoyed a pleasant dinner with Richard’s former Wanganui colleagues, Fabrice and Stephane, and their delightful two year old son Maxim. They introduced us to some regional specialities, including a wonderful tart made with local cheese, potatoes and lardons.
On Sunday morning we headed for Lyon. We took some detours along the way, first to enjoy lunch at Aix-les-Bains. We didn’t take the waters, but we’d have been in good company if we had: it was a favourite destination for Queen Victoria and many other European royals.
Mid-afternoon we crossed the Rhone on a suspension bridge to detour through the Commune de Nattages. We took narrow winding roads through wooded hills, discovering small villages – and settlements too trivial to be called villages – before arriving in a town which claimed to be the World Capital of Cake (this is a loose translation). Unusually for France, most of its patisseries were open on a Sunday, and the range of baking on offer was tempting.
Arriving in a large city in a foreign country early on a Sunday evening without making a reservation or having a telephone or internet connection is not to be recommended. Eventually we threw up our hands and checked into the Sans-Souci Mercure, which delivered a compensatory touch of luxury when they upgraded us to an Executive Suite. After finding a Japanese restaurant open for a late dinner we regained some equanimity, and slept well in preparation for a day in the centre of Lyon.
After taking the Metro into the centre of town, we rode the cable car up to the basilica which overlooks the city. We didn’t explore the basilica itself but, quite by chance, took a doorway into the undercroft which was itself quite the most beautiful church we’ve been inside while in Europe. We walked around the hill to the Roman ruins, which include an amphitheatre still in regular use, then visited other historic sites before walking back down to the old town: Le Vieux Lyon.
We had a substantial lunch at a restaurant in the old town, and spent the afternoon meandering around the rest of the central city. Lyon is France’s third largest urban area and there’s a lot to see; one day doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
We’ve only scratched the surface of this part of France. I don’t know whether I’ll have the opportunity to spend more time here in the future, but I could happily do so.