July 14, 2013. The third and last edition of my trip to the French Alps in June . . . . We left the Samoen region reluctantly and drove toward Evian, a French resort area known for its spas and the same Evian water that is consumed in great quantities in the United States. Five miles from our destination we saw a sign advertising a tourist bureau. Now, in Europe, tourist bureaus are difficult to access either because one simply can’t find them, or there is no parking if one does find them. Often the tourist official gives you a quizzical look when you wander into their domain wondering how in the world you discovered their whereabouts. This one, however, was well situated, off the highway, overlooking Lac Leman, with parking. The lady was quite cordial and recommended we go to the hotel a block away overlooking the lake rather than go into Evian which was crowded and expensive. This turned out to be excellent advice. We were next to a lovely park.
We spent the afternoon visiting two medieval towns: Yvoire and Nernier. These are small towns that go back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and numerous stone buildings with ancient wooden doors dot the area. Yvoire was a great conglomeration of shops with restaurants everywhere and hoards of people. You could get a feel of what it was like to live in the olden days there, but the variety of speech patterns going on all around you: German, Dutch, Spanish, etc., reminded you that this was the 21st century now.
Nernier, on the other hand, was more quiet and sedate. There were few restaurants and very few tourists and we wandered down to the water and watched the sun begin to descend, and all was peaceful. I decided this would be a nice place to live.
That evening we asked for a recommendation for dinner and the hotel clerk graciously suggested a place nearby called Restaurant le Cygne, which means the swan. I would never have gone there on my own since it was an unremarkable place located on a corner and looked like a dive. However, outside of the entrance were a number of plaques attesting to its culinary supremacy. This was a true mom-and-pop restaurant: he did the cooking and she did the serving. The menu was hand-written in French and I couldn’t understand half of it. So we pointed and took our chances. It was delicious. I had thinly sliced duck that was excellent, although I had two pieces that were chewy, and said so to the serveuse who immediately informed her husband who came flying out from the kitchen saying, “There is a PROBLEM??” Whoa! He was corpulent, wearing a giant chef’s hat, and sweating, and I didn’t want him sitting on me, so I quickly insisted, “C’est n’est pas grave,”–There is no problem– and all was soon well. The meal was simply superb–minus the two chewy pieces of duck.
The next day we drove across the border into Switzerland. We stopped off at a small, nondescript hotel for coffee and, surprisingly, found yourselves sitting outside in an Italian garden with a small pool. I went inside to the bar and looked at the restaurant which had frescoes covering the walls. The bartender-waitress proudly said, Le patron est un artiste, meaning the owner of the hotel, who was also the chef, was an artist. Interesting place. We spent the day in the fabulous castle of Chillon, made famous perhaps by the poem the “Prisoner of Chillon,” by Lord Byron. It’s a gorgeous castle on the outside and very interesting on the inside, with numerous hallways and open rooms and furniture going back a thousand years. In fact, it is one of my favorite castles of all time. I HIGHLY recommend it and visiting this castle was one of the highlights of the trip. That evening Anne and I returned to le Cygne, and this time were welcomed with open arms because we were no longer strangers, we were regular customers. The French are like that.
So, I leave you with my highest recommendation to visit the French Alps. The people are friendly, the sights are marvelous, and the cuisine is superb. It is better if you know a little French, but if you do not, SMILE and be friendly, and the French people will probably reciprocate. Their reputation of being rude or distant is highly exaggerated. After all, they don’t HAVE to speak English: you’re in FRANCE!
I leave you with this wonder picture of Chillon from a century ago before the place was besieged with cars and modernity. It was probably a kinder and gentler age . . . .