France came to life this week in more ways than one.. There is something so special about spending time with the local people, and even more of a bonus when it is family, staying in one place for a few days and really getting to know an area. We are far too quick to move on and try and do too much. Its amazing just what you see and enjoy when you slow down and become a little more inquisitive. Some of the best times come out of the least planned situations.
Anne, David's sister, decided to surprise her older brother Christopher, and make an unannounced appearance. It was such fun to be part of the secret squirrel club and help put things together and more importantly see the look on Christopher's face when she just appeared from nowhere. G
David, Anne and I had met up in Geneva, Anne doing the long haul from Christchurch and us the short hop from London. We picked up a car and then proceeded to entertain ourselves getting lost as we headed south to Grenoble. What should have been a quite 11/2 hour trip turned into about 4 hours, just like we had done two years ago with Michael. We should have learnt something from that but we're so happily chatting away that the whole 'getting lost' thing became a bit of an adventure.
Chris and Sylvie were the most wonderful hosts and we had ten glorious days discovering all sorts of beautiful parts of their country and delighting in some delicious French cuisine. Not least Sylvie's scrumptous apple pie, hot out of the oven, which was devoured almost daily with our mornning coffee.
The city of Grenoble, their home town, and its metropolitan area has a population over 650,000. Situated here in the Rhone- Alps region, at the foot of three different mountain ranges it is often referred to as the Capital of the Alps. Home to the Winter Olympics in 1968, we soon discovered our city appartment was originally built as part of the athletes village.
This area is known for its Walnut groves, of which there must be hundreds of acres growing along the base of the hills.
We loved trying some of the delicicies of the region. The fragile white wine of the Savoie, the well known dauphinois potato dish, but didn't quite stretch to the green Chartruese liqueur made by the monks.
The Chateau in Vizilles, with its beautfiful gardens and acres of parkland holds a wealth of history on the French revolution. It is reputed that the handball courts of the chateau is where a handful of influential men would form the basis of what was to lead to the Revolution.
It was June 1788 and the Assembly of the Vizille was called after what is thought to be the first outbreak of political violence in Grenoble, later know as the Day of the Tiles. These men who had been attempting to form a parliament had had enough and being locked out was the final straw. Opposition to the absolute monarch was to come out into the open and the blood chilling uprising would soon follow within the year. The guillotine found its place in history.
Anncey was an absolute delight - just as we had imagined it would be. Often referred to as Venice of the Alps, the pure crystal clear water flows from the lake right into the canals that run through the old historic centre of the town. At first glance it reminds you of Wanaka and Queenstown with the majestic looking mountains coming straight out of the lake and on a clear day you get a great view of Mount Blanc. They were only lightly snow clad but that along with the glorious autumn colours of the big plane trees created a magical site. lake Annecy is the second largest lake in France and was formed over 18,000 years ago from melting glaciers. In summer I gather the water is not only crystal clear but an incredible turquoise colour and warm enough to swim and enjoy masses of water sports.
But the old medieval part of the town is as magical as is the lake. Known as one of the oldest inhabited sites in the Northern Alpes, it was later an administrative and regilious city. For us it's just a pleasure to have plenty of time to wander through the city along the canals and thin winding cobbled streets. Sit and enjoy a coffee then climb up the hill for a view of the town and lake and enjoy the some of the wonderful old buildings. There's certainly a vibrancy about the town, even though it's shoulder season. The colourful flowers are on the bridges and houses and there is action happening where ever you look.
With the Palais de I'lle, originally built in the 12th century an small rocky island, it is better known as the 'Old Prison'. Nowadays known as a historial monument, but it was also used as a home to many Count's of Geneva, courthouse, offices and lastly as home for the elderly.
We even managed a picnic on the edge of the lake, along with some vicious sparrows and persistent swans!! You get the feeling they are well fed over the summer .
Over the other side of the lake we found some delightful smaller towns and a gorgeous view looking back to the old town and all this only an hours drive from Grenoble .
Over the weekend we spent a bit of time in Grenoble itself. As always in France it's such a pleasure just to admire the beautifully dressed people as we wander through the city. There was a big game of rugby on and David managed to find a great barman who was more happy to change channels for us. So we inturn were happy to oblige with a few glasses of wine and coffees as we enthusiastically cheered on the All Blacks. The locals were delighted when they discovered we were AB supporters and not England!! Such a fun environment to spend the afternoon.
Great times just yarning