Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 14, 2011: Annecy - Scenic Savoie, Lac, Unlucky/Lucky, Castles

Today we set off for a weekend in Annecy with our friend Bernard. One of the advantages of traveling with a local is that they know the scenic backroads. So, on our way to Annecy we passed through the Savoie countryside. I knew the area for its wineries, but didn't know that they have only been established for a few hundred years. Bernard pointed out the sheer cliff of Mont Granier and explained that in 1248 essentially half the mountain slid loose in the night, creating the sheer cliff and burying thousands of people and their villages for miles around. In time the rocky debris became the Savoie vineyards. We drove through a village that was at the outer border of the rockslide - it has a very elaborate chapel that was built in thanks for the village having been spared by God from the tragedy.

After Savoie we stopped at the Pont de l'Abîme, an old and impressive suspension bridge that crosses the deep gorge of the Chéran river.

Then we arrived in Annecy, the "Venice of the Alps" due to its many pretty canals and bridges criss-crossing the old historic center of the city. We met up with our friend Viv at the bridge over the Canal Thiou, in front of the famous view of the Palais de l'Isle. The weather looked pretty reasonable - bright with some clouds, but we were worried about impending rain. We had booked a two-hour boat tour, and our tour guide had contacted us the day before to suggest we start early to avoid bad weather.

For the first hour our tour was great. It was a small, fast boat, with just us on board - a nice change from the crowded and slow-moving boats you see at most tourist destinations. Our guide aimed to show us the local history and nature, with frequent stops to get off and explore. We saw signs of early Roman colonization, grand historic hotels and an impressive cave accessible only by boat. And then we saw the clouds approaching.

Our guide suggested we divert to a different part of the lake, in order to stay dry for our nature walk. We agreed, but even as we headed to our new destination the clouds overcame us and the rain started to come down. And then a flare went off, warning all the boats on the lake to get off the water because of the bad weather coming in. We speeded over to a shoreside restaurant where we scrambled in out of the rain and head a drink while waiting it out. Unfortunately there was no relief in sight; eventually we had to return to harbour in Annecy. Although we hadn't gotten too wet yet, it was the run from the harbour dock back to the shelter of the restaurants that did us in - in those few minutes we were soaked through by the downpour. We were a soggy bunch as we had lunch. Mom and I tried the local specialty of tartiflette (potatoes, cream, cheese and ham), which did a pretty good job of warming us up.

By 2 pm we were able to check in to our hotel room to dry out and change clothing - what a relief. Even though we were unlucky enough to be drenched through, I may have been somewhat lucky that the contents of my purse stayed dry. The leather exterior wasn't enough to prevent a thorough soaking, but because of my water bottle spill the day before I'd packed everything into it in plastic bags first, just in case of any residual dampness. So my camera, money and passport were just as dry as could be.

Later in the afternoon, as it was still drizzling, we drove down the lake to the castle of Menthon-Saint-Bernard. We got there just in time for the last tour of the day. It was quite charming - teenagers (I'm sure they must be drama students) dressed up in period costume pretended to be inhabitants of the castle. Even though it was all in French you could get a pretty good sense of their meaning by their dramatic acting. The castle still has much of its original decor and furnishings, so it was quite impressive. It's also the castle where Saint Bernard was born (yes, the famous rescue dogs were actually associated with a real live person who was born at the castle almost a thousand years ago).

Then we went back to our room at Privilodges, where Mark and I made a pasta dinner for everyone. And even though we'd been unlucky with our boat tour being cut short, we were lucky in that there were other museums open late - it was a special evening of museums in France. So we were able to fit in a visit to another nearby castle, the Château Montrottier. This castle didn't have its original furnishings, but it did have collections of artifacts from all around the world that the last owner had gathered throughout his lifetime - crazy things like ostrich eggs, ceremonial Polynesian costumes, Japanese military costumes, etc. Unfortunately no photos were allowed, but it was an amazingly eclectic set of objects.

Mark on the Pont de l'Albîme

The iconic photo of Annecy, showing the Thiou Canal and the Palais de l'Isle  - see how the weather still looks bright and promising?

Lac Annecy as we set out - just a bit misty and 'atmospheric' 

Our fast boat, making waves

Mark and Viv walking through beautiful lakeside gardens 

An impressive historic hotel, close to remains of the original Roman road through the area

A beautiful historic abbey, now converted into a hotel, and partly owned by Bruce Willis! 

A deep, dark cave in the cliff

The outdoor roofed-over terrace where we took refuge

The inner courtyard of Château de Menthon Saint Bernard 

I look down on Mom from one of the castle towers 

An exterior view of the castle

One of the many fine actors

Château Montrottier in the dark - very dramatic

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