Annecy and Voiron are two pretty little towns we wanted to visit so we booked train tickets and off we went exploring.
Sometimes called “Pearl of the Alps”, Annecy (pronounced ‘an-si’), is 45 minutes by train from Grenoble, and lies in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. A beautiful lakeside village with amazing mountain and water views that made us glad when we arrived and sad when we left. This is a town we suggest you spend more than a day in.
Palais de l’Île
The idyllic town of Annecy has three canals running through the old city and standing on the Point Perrière, you will be facing the much photographed Palais de l’Île, built in the 12th century. The palace of the island was built to look like the prow of a ship and is located on an island in the River Thiou. The building began as a prison then was used as a coin minting workshop, a dukes castle, a senior citizens home, military barracks, back to a prison and today an architectural and heritage site open to the public.
One key piece of information we were told at the tourist information office in Annecy, is that in France, nationwide, museums are generally closed on Tuesdays. So sadly the Palais de l’Île, the medieval Château d’Annecy (a fine art museum) and the Musée du film d’animation were closed during our visit. It would have been nice to have learned that before we arrived as we could have easily delayed our travel by a day. Regardless, we spent a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring this delightful town in the heart of the French Alps.
Annecy is full of charm with its cobbled streets, winding canals, pastel colored homes, sumptuous morning markets, restaurants and impressive shopping options. It seems to be a compelling destination anytime of the year.
In summer, the picturesque lake offers swimming and water sports and in winter, ski resorts are nearby. There are planned events throughout the year: a Venetian carnival in March, the International Animated Film Festival in June, the Fête du Lac in August (one of Europe’s biggest fireworks displays), an Italian Film Festival in September, the Descente Des Alpages celebration in October (we described in our Grenoble, France blog) and the Christmas market in December.
That seems ambitious for a town with a population of only 125,000!
Gnomon du Frère Arsène
Somewhere along our travels we picked up a fascination for sundials. We are clearly not alone. The variety of sundials to be found is incredible and there are even Sundial Associations in many countries.
We found a fascinating sundial on our stroll along Lake Annecy. A local monk, Brother Arsène Jean-Marie Dumurgier (1808-1879)], in 1874 created an interestingly shaped 7-pointed sundial, called ‘gnomon polyorenoma’, to measure time. This sundial now graces the walk next to the lake.
Our next train trip to Voiron, a few days later, was an incredibly quick 15 minutes from Grenoble. It is amazing to be delivered right into the midst of one city a few short minutes after leaving another.
Located at the foot of the Chartreuse mountains, the population of the city of Voiron is about 20,000 and nearly 90,000 when the surrounding inhabitants are added. And not far from Voiron is the Monastery of Grande Chartreuse nestled in the large Regional Natural Park of Chartreuse. The Monastery of Grande Chartreuse was made famous for their creation and production of a wonderful green liqueur called Chartreuse. Although the monastery is not open to the public, a museum has been opened close by which shares the long history of the Carthusian monks who benefit from the profits of the worldwide sales of Chartreuse liqueur.
The Monastère de la Grande Chartreuse
The museum would have been a worthwhile visit but unfortunately the only way to reach it is by car – something we didn’t have on this trip. However, the administrative headquarters for the Chartreuse distillery is located on the site of the Caves de la Chartreuse in Voiron. Here they not only store large barrels of aging Chartreuse but they have also built a tasting room and offer daily tours.
In 1084, nearly 935 years ago, Saint Bruno and 6 companions built a hermitage in a valley of the Chartreuse mountains and they became known as Carthusian monks. We like their motto that seems applicable to all of us, “The Cross is steady while the world is turning.”
Both words, ‘Carthusian’, and the English name of the order, ‘Charterhouse’, are derived from the name of the Chartreuse Mountains. The Carthusian Order, a Catholic order, also known as the Order of Saint Bruno, today has 300 monasteries in 25 countries, some for monks others for nuns, but all living under the veil of seclusion and silence. The Monastère de la Grande Chartreuse is the mother church of this order.
In 1605, the Carthusian monks were given a manuscript listing 130 plants, spices, bark and roots used to produce an ‘elixir of life’. This elixir would eventually become the wonderful Chartreuse liqueurs we know today. You can find cocktail recipes using Chartreuse, but the French typically drink it straight as, if not an elixir of life, a wonderful after dinner digestive. To this day, the recipe is a closely guarded secret. Only two Carthusian monks in Chartreuse know the exact ingredient list and entire process to create these delicious liqueurs.
We were also happy to learn that the alcohol base is from beetroot and wine – no wheat, no gluten. Chartreuse is known as one of the rare liqueurs that gets better as it ages. The color is completely natural and the unique shade of green also gives its name to the color we call ‘chartreuse’.
As is usual for us, one of us preferred the green Chartreuse, which has a wonderfully indescribable herbaceous, can we say, healthy, aroma and taste and the other of us preferred the yellow Chartreuse, which has a milder and sweeter flavor and aroma. We were also lucky to taste the more unusual aged versions, Chartreuse VEP, which comes in both yellow and green.
Oh my, were they ever lovely!
Two delightful day-trips where we traveled somewhere new, learned something new and tasted something new and delicious.
Santé from these temporary Annécien and Voironnais
Ted & Julia