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Day 5: Aix-les-Bains and Annecy

I said at the end of yesterday's blog that our plan for today was to visit Annecy. When Tim was reading the France guidebook last night, however, he noticed another place which sounded like it might be worth visiting: Aix-les-Bains. Aix-les-Bains is an old spa town with thermal baths that used to be visited by the rich and famous in centuries gone by. The town is situated on the shores of Lac du Bourget, which is the largest glacial lake in France. It's also on the train line between Chambery and Annecy, so all in all it seemed like an excellent place for an unscheduled diversion :)

Aix (pronounced "Ex") is actually really close to Chambery, so it took us a mere 11 minutes to get there on a regional train. As soon as we arrived at the train station and started walking through the town, we got the feel that it was a really pleasant place.


We followed signs to the tourist information office, where we picked up a free map. Tourist information is located in a building just off the main square, where there was some rather impressive topiary!


The square is also home to Aix's town hall, which looks impressively like a castle...


...some pretty flower displays...


...and some Roman remains.


Our interest in thermal spas is limited, so the main thing we wanted to see in Aix was the lake.  We consulted the map and thought that it didn't look too far away, so we set off to find it. Appearances can be deceiving, however, and it turned out to be a very long way indeed! Or, at least, it turned out that there wasn't a terribly direct way to get to the lake from the town, and so we had to take quite a convoluted route, walking a couple of miles along main roads, through an industrial estate and past a drive-through McDonalds and a cinema before we got our first glimpse of the water. And it really was only a glimpse of the water, because it turned out the bit of lake that we had found belonged to a hotel with a private beach that was all fenced off. Oh dear!

We'd come so far that we were determined to see the lake and luckily, once we'd navigated our way out of the hotel car park and past some sort of swimming pool complex, we eventually found a bit of lake that was open to the public. Yay!


A sign told us that this was the town's designated public beach.


There was a wide promenade/cycle path around the lakeside here, so we decided to walk along it in the vague direction that we had come, assuming that at some point we would see a side road that would lead us back towards the town.


The views became increasingly attractive as we left the more commercialised bit of the lake behind us.


It was quite a hazy day though, so we couldn't see very far in the distance.


We must have walked along the lake for about half an hour, before it occurred to us that we hadn't seen any side roads (or any sort of signs) leading back towards the town. In fact, it didn't look like it was possible for there to be any side roads, because an unexpectedly rocky hill had inserted itself between us and Aix. It was approaching midday at this point and we'd wanted to catch a 12.36 train to Annecy, so we were keen to get back to the station as soon as possible.

We kept walking and walking... eventually the hill seemed to flatten off a bit and we came to a small settlement of houses. They looked more like a complex of expensive holiday homes than a suburb of the town, but there were at least some roads here... though most of them looked like cul-de-sacs. In the end we had to resort to the power of a map and GPS on our phones to plot the best route back to Aix.

It was lucky that we did have our phones, because I don't think we would ever have found this route without them! We twisted and turned uphill through the housing estate, before turning off onto a small grassy path which led us to the top of the hill.


From there we turned onto another path, which led us through a dense forest and ultimately down onto a road on the outskirts of Aix.


By the time we got back to the town centre, it was after 1pm and we had walked nearly 7 miles. We decided that rather than catch the next train to Annecy, it would be better to get lunch in Aix and have a much-needed sit down with some water! We found a nice restaurant not far from the main square, where I had my first pizza of the holiday and Tim had some sort of beef skewers on a bed of courgettes. He left the courgettes and ordered chips :D

Feeling a bit more refreshed, we caught a train to Annecy in the early afternoon. It's about a 40 minute journey by train from Aix, so it was nearly 4pm by the time we arrived, but it was still really warm and sunny :)


Annecy is sometimes called "the Venice of the Alps" and it didn't take us long to work out why.


Two canals and the river Thiou run through the old town, and they're really beautiful.


Away from the water, the old town itself is also fascinating, with lots of narrow medieval streets...


...and fascinating clock towers.


Although it was quite busy with tourists, it was a lovely place to walk around.


The most famous view of Annecy, which I'd seen in lots of places online, is this one of the Palais de l'Isle.


Originally built in the twelfth century, this castle-like building sits on a triangular island in the middle of the river and historically served as a prison.


It looked just as impressive in real life as it had done in photos, as did the rest of Annecy :)


One of the other main attractions of the town is that it too is situated on a lake; Lake Annecy.


And Annecy definitely beats Aix in a competition for accessibility of lakes, because you can easily stroll to Lake Annecy within five minutes from the centre of town :)


There's a pleasant promenade around part of the lake, so we went for a stroll.


Soon we could see back to Annecy...


...and further away to the mountains in the distance.


Although it was early evening by this point it was still really hot, so we stopped for a drink at a bar by the lakeside.


Eventually it was time to head back to Chambery. We had expected to get a train, but upon arriving at the train station were slightly confused to find that it was instead going to be a bus, albeit a special bus run by the SNCF train company. I had some misgivings, with traumatic flashbacks to rail replacement bus journeys in the UK, but it actually turned out to be really efficient and got us back to Chambery even quicker than the regional train would have done.

All in all we had a lovely day, but a tiring one; the final step count on my Fitbit was over 11 miles :o 


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