The car rounds a sharp corner
and our driver, Laurence pulls over and leaves the car running. ‘Usually, at this point, I stop and show you the beautiful view of the lake and the mountains beyond’, she says, a slight hint of remorse in her voice. Laurence points to the right: ‘The Rhône River, if you could see it, enters from the east and exits the lake by the west, just over there’. Already our drive from Bellegarde station has been full of tantalizing views of snow-topped mountain peaks and rushing river valleys full of quaint and picturesque French Alpine villages. But alas, our first views down the sloping valley to the beautiful Belle Époque town of Évian les Bains is shrouded in a creamy white covering of cloud. Closer to Lac Léman, (NOT Geneva, we are reminded) a low hanging fog lingers for our five-day visit, sponsored by the Evian Tourism Board. Evian is an interesting mix of locals and tourists alike. Ferry commuters to Lausanne, alpine hikers and skiers from Britain and Germany, spa enthusiasts taking the famous warm and soothing waters of Evian les Thermes, all descend on this historic resort town of 8000 residents, enjoying the mountains, the lake, and of course quenching their mineral water thirst with bottle upon bottle of the town’s ‘Evian Eau’ or Evian water. Much like we are, enjoying Christmas in the French Alps. From the crazy inhabitants of Le Fabuleux Village, ‘Les Flottins’, to a pastry making class: the classic Mont Blanc, with a renowned local pastry chef, or a healthy hike in the French Alps, there is much to do in Evian, even if it proves to be an unseasonably warm, cloudy, grey and snow-less time. Perfectly situated on the shores of Lac Léman and at the foot of the French Alps, Évian les Bains offers an incredible variety of activities, summer or winter.
Take in Le Fabuleux Village
The medieval torches parade up and down Évian main square each night during the Christmas season, calling all the Flottins, the inhabitants of the whimsical Le Fabuleux Village built of driftwood-strewn on the shores of Lac Léman, to make merry during the busy Christmas season. Evian does not entertain her residents and seasonal visitors with a traditional Christmas Market. Rather, December 9th through January 2, finds the entire town of Evian festooned with over 1000 fantastical driftwood sculptures. Plan to arrive for the opening evening where you will be treated to a magical parade through the town square, torches burning bright, and a luminous white, four-story magical horse leading Les Flottins, seemingly out of Lac Léman and into town, and all capped with a tremendous display of fireworks to welcome the holiday season. Your kids will be charmed!
Take the Waters:
Evian is known for it’s healing mineral waters: reported to be a perfect tonic for expectant mothers, newborns, the elderly or those with joint pain. Go directly to the source: the beautiful columned source Cachat, where Eau Evian continuously flows at a temperature of 11.6 °, is named after the family who, in March 1827 sold the spring to a Genevan entrepreneur M. Fauconnet launching the Évian mineral water company, Société des Eaux Minérales d’Évian. The source Cachat is the remaining single outlet for the water which began its long journey as rainfall and snow-melt high atop the French Alps, taking some 15+ years for the precious water to filter through the glacial sand formations, arriving at the source Cachat. Francois, our guide handily hands us a couple of glasses for sampling of the mineral water. I return several times during our visit to fill my own personal bottle from the source Cachat. Located in front of the source Cachat and housed in the former original 1903 Art-Nouveau pump room on the rue International, the exhibition and information centre now showcases upscale shopping and everything you could possibly want to know about Evian’s famous water.
Take a Hike
In the Alps, that is. We look at our itinerary for the morning: ‘You will be taking a snowshoe hike’. How Canadian, I thought. However, there is no snow for our snowshoes! Our guide, the very French Francois of the Alp’Evianature group, fits us with some hiking boots and we drive up and over the foothills of the Chablais Mountain range and spend a lovely Sunday, surrounded by the only sun and blue sky that we have seen, hiking high up between Mont Blanc and Lac Léman, before literally crossing ten steps across the Swiss border. We stop in Alp’Evianaure’s ‘Igloo’ mountain hut and refresh with trail mix, warm tea and if we like, a glass of wine in the Sunday sun, enjoying extensive views down to a clouded-over Lac Léman and further on, the Swiss city of Lausanne. Lunch is at the Alpine and family-run Le Relais de la Chevrette and is full on Raclette Royal: warm gooey, cheesy loveliness just waiting to be paired with boiled potatoes, warm bites of sausage and carrots, a selection of charcuterie, fresh baguette and a tangy green salad. Beer and glasses of wine warm our weary hiking bones.
Take Some Spa Time
After your rigorous hike and mountain lunch, les Thermes d’Evian is the ultimate spa experience offering multiple ways to rejuvenate and relax those post-hike aching bones and that full stomach. Whether they be medical, health or beauty related concerns, les Thermes d’Evian offers a natural way to recharge your batteries ‘from the source’ and is recognized as a legitimate option of hydrotherapy care, and well-being by France’s National Academy of Medicine.
Take in a Museum
With no snow to entice us to the ski hills of Chamonix and Mont Blanc, we spend the afternoon at the Palais Lumière, the original Thermal Hall, an incredible example of early 20th-century spa architecture, which housed the Evian Baths from 1902 to 1984 has served as the town’s cultural and convention centre since 2006. We thoroughly enjoyed De la Caricature à l’affiche, highlighting the contributions of cartoonists and satirists to the history of poster art between 1850 and 1918. A small portion of the exhibition, on loan from Paris’ Musée Art Decorative, focused on the recent satirical and political contributions of Charlie Hebdo. Very powerful.
Our last afternoon is spent with one of the many challenges the Tourism Board has set for us. We wander the afternoon square, enjoying the smokey smell of Le Village and the antics of Les Flottins. Spontaneous music and the sounds of Sunday afternoon children, excitedly anticipating Christmas fill the air. We stop to sip and savour some seasonal bits and bites and warm our toes by the open pit fires burning brightly. Our final challenge complete, we wander down to the lake as the skies open up and a beautiful, blue-skied, sunny view of Lake Léman and the majestic mountains beyond presents itself to us. Fréderique, our host for the last four days, slyly comments ‘see? I saved the best for last!’
And indeed she has.
Ideally located on the shores of Lac Léman and at the foot of the French Alps, Evian-les-Bains offers an incredible variety of activities, summer or winter. Enjoy if you can during the Christmas season: we certainly did!
Our trip to #FestiveFrance was made possible by the generous support of the France Tourism Office, Air France and the Evian Tourism Board. Also thanks to Rail Europe for providing swift, comfortable and worry free travel between Paris, Evian and back again. While in Evian, we stayed at the Hilton Evian les Bains, conveniently located right on the shores of Lac Léman. Thanks as well to My WebSpot, who provided an excellent portable WiFi service that allowed followsummer to connect our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter content with you on a minute by minute basis!
World Traveler, Writer, and Blogger, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the followsummer.com travel blog. A former Actor, current shower-singer, and non-hipster foodie. Loves his week-end house in St Marys, Ontario. Dad to Sophia, Ariel, and Hastings three of the best cats in the world.