By Maria-Teresa Andreacchi main photo credit: Simon Mercier - unsplash
The Rhône-Alpes region is a bustling destination for cyclists and skiers, but this region also caters to a different kind of thrill – luxury travel.
There’s a mild chill in the air as I stand facing Lac du Bourget, the largest freshwater lake in France – it’s not cold or unpleasant, the opposite actually, a refreshing breeze that slowly creeps in and around my body as I sit and meditate with an instructor.
I’m in Aix-les-Bains, a thermal spa town located approximately 115 kilometres away from Lyon.
It’s a hard contrast to the developed city I just came from. Dramatic mountains appear untouched as they dive into the turquoise water. Fresh alpine air adds a touch of tranquillity. The town, while occupied, seems empty. I can see why royalty would frequent here; it’s almost as if I have the entire place to myself.
“Take a deep breath and relax,” my meditation guide says. “Experience pure serenity.”
Aix-les-Bains,I soon learn, is deceiving. It’s more than a place to unwind, it’s an important region for gastronomy. I’m now nestled in the mountains, hundreds of metres above sea level, eating at Le Belvédère restaurant. Built in 1882 to attract the attention of Queen Victoria, Le Belvédère is unlike anything I’ve experienced. The panoramic views look more like a movie scene than reality. Faint clouds hover next to me as the sky turns pink and purple. I indulge in wine and steak while watching the sun set between the mountains. I can’t decide what’s more surreal, eating between the French Alps or enjoying the same moment as a queen.
My journey through Rhône-Alpes continues, this time over Lac d’Annecy. I’m relishing in a boat tour over Europe’s purest lake. One side of the lake is full of adventure with visitors paragliding through the mountains. The other is a quiet, picturesque backdrop with a private castle – a seemingly obvious characteristic of a medieval town like Annecy.
Annecy is a mix of new and old. Its cobblestone pathways and marvelous architecture show a town frequented by the counts of Geneva, while its luxury hotels and delicious restaurants mirror present day. Known as the ‘Venice of the Alps,’ the lake’s crystal clear water streams through winding canals in the main town.
Amidst touring the city centre, I stumble upon Brasserie Brunet, a restaurant owned by Michelin-starred chef Laurent Petit. It’s an affordable way for me to indulge in fine French cuisine. I can’t tell the difference, though. The dishes are just as exquisite as the meal the night before. For the moment, I still feel like royalty.
The next day, I find myself floating above Lac Léman in a futuristic catamaran called Évian One. I am heading to Évian-les-Bains, a resort town known for its mineral water of the same name. As we glide along the lake, formed 15,000 years ago from a glacial melt, we’re graced with views of both Switzerland and France.
Once in Évian, my group and I tour the town. First, I visit the city hall, a former vacation home of the Lumière brothers. Then I visit the Source Cachat.
The Cachat spring is a colourful juxtaposition to the beige stone walls that surround it. To the naked eye, it’s just a fountain. But locals and tourists know it’s the source of one of the most famous mineral waters in the world. As I dive deeper into the town and its history, I learn that the water from this spring takes many years to flow down from the mountain top. It’s completely untouched from outside sources, and, when taken from this fountain, is free. I watch a local woman fill her water bottle and I follow suit.
Here, my tour ends with dinner at La Table restaurant. Local ingredients fill the menu. At this point, I’m seasoned enough in my royal experience to know whatever I choose will be delicious. As I look around the table, one thing becomes clear, you don’t have to be a king or queen to enjoy the finest luxuries in life.