The phone rang on Saturday morning, and a cheery voice asked, “Are you up for a pre-Christmas trip to the Venice of France?” It was my friend, Sheree, who is here with her husband, Bob, also on sabbatical, as we are.Originally, we had planned on getting together with them to share the day around Grenoble and dinner the evening. Because they are in the enviable position of having a car while living in Corenc, a little village just outside of Grenoble, impromptu day trips are readily accessible to them. I checked with Steve, and we decided that we were game for an adventure outside of Grenoble, especially when it was Annecy (pronounced ahn-nuh-see or sometimes ahn-see), a town we had wanted to visit.
We made the three tram connections to meet them at a stop close to where they live, and they picked us up near the Grand Sablon station. Hopping into the car, we were greeted by Sheree, Bob and their always-ready-to-travel schnauzer, Einzel, who came with them from America. Sheree made a left turn away from the tram tracks, and we were on our way to Annecy. Now, I’ve not driven a car in France, and so I was curious to see how someone handles a car here.
I’m still not sure I’m interested in having a go at it, but after watching how well Sheree navigates French roads, I am reasonably confident that she has a future as a NYC cab driver upon her return to the U.S. We made it intact to Annecy, which is about 52 miles (83.67 km) northeast of Grenoble in the Savoie region of France, in about an hour—good time for any country in Saturday traffic.
It has been cold and either snowing or raining in Grenoble of late. But Saturday arrived sunny and bright, albeit still cold. We weren’t sure what Annecy would be like and hoped we had dressed warmly enough for spending the day mostly outside. Arriving in the town, we encountered lots of people strolling around Lac d’Annecy, and Sheree parked the car in a somewhat plowed lot that had about 20 cm (8 inches) of snow piled around it and frozen mounds decorating the parking spaces. We headed for the lake so Einzel could have a bit of a stretch and were rewarded with a bevy of graceful serenely preening swans, swimming in the near freezing water. I captured their white feathers and the surrounding mountains—the highest in Europe are here in the Savoie, and it’s no wonder this was Jean-Claude Killy’s snow stomping grounds, and nearby Chamonix was home to the first winter Olympics in 1924.
There was a lot of activity in the old town center that is not far from the lake. A holiday market village was going on, and we went from booth to booth, admiring the handmade wares and tasting the French area wines and cognacs that were for sale—a tough job. Even with the sun brightly shining, it was a very cold day, and the temperature hovered around -3°C (26.6°F). We soon found a brasserie that touted French onion soup and headed inside where the temperature and hospitality were warm. Settling in to a small booth—so close to the next table that we seemed to share it with the two diners sitting there—we ordered the soup and some fragrant mulled wine. The wine was served with sugar and cinnamon on the side, and it hit the spot on this cold winter day. Given our cozy arrangements with our neighbors, we soon found ourselves conversing with them. As we found out, the woman was an English expat who had moved to France over 30 years ago but still retained her British accent when speaking in English, and she spoke impeccable French when she easily slid into that. We leisurely enjoyed the onion soup, a specialty at the brasserie, and I think it was the best I have ever tasted.
Strolling back outside once more, we saw that dusk had descended. We toured the area around the Palais de l’Isle, a 13th century building in the middle of the Thiou river that once was a prison (think mini-Alcatraz) and hiked up to the 12th century Château d’Annecy, which now houses a museum. The illumination of the town began, and if not for the cold, we would have taken in more of the town under the beautiful lights. We headed back to the car and traveled back to Corenc for a relaxed, sociable dinner at Sheree and Bob’s place.
We’ve added a spring return trip to Annecy to the travel must-do list. At that time of year, we’ll be able to see what the landscape is like when it is snow-less and can enjoy the boating on Lac d’Annecy and the biking to nearby Duingt. But a trip at this beautiful time of year is one that I’m glad we didn’t miss!