Chanaz and the ancient wonders of Lac du Bourget

It was August and ferociously hot on the shores of Lac du Bourget, the water sparkling turquoise under a bright sun and blue sky. It was only when the sun passed behind a bank of cloud that Lac du Bourget’s nickname of Lac Gris, the Grey Lake, became more understandable. Those moments were rare though, and we had days of uninterrupted sun to explore the glories of France’s largest and deepest glacial lake.

Lac du Bourget, France
Lac du Bourget, France
Lac du Bourget, France
Lac du Bourget, France
Château, Brison-Saint-Innocent, Lac du Bourget, France
Brison-Saint-Innocent, Lac du Bourget, France

Formed as glaciers retreated during the last ice age around 19,000 years ago, Lac du Bourget’s steep wooded sides plunge almost vertically to the water’s edge. In parts the lake is 145 metres deep, and viewed from the lake side near the village of Brison-Saint-Innocent where we had an apartment, it is a vast and impressive sight. The view from a boat in the middle of the lake is even more dramatic.

It was a short walk from our apartment to reach the Plage de Brison, a pleasant park jutting into the lake where it was possible to have an invigorating swim with a backdrop of the Alps, before having a refreshing glass of a local wine at the small restaurant on the lakeside. On weekdays it was quiet even in August, but at the weekend this little park was a hive of activity as French families arrived with picnics.

At Plage de Brison there’s a lakeside path that leads to the once glamorous Alpine spa town of Aix-les-Bains, but the path doesn’t go all the way around the lake due to the steepness of its western side – often referred to as the ‘wild coast’. Flat land is at a premium in these parts. Brison-Saint-Innocent itself is a pretty, sleepy place, but it has a history dating back to before the founding of a priory in the 11th century.

Although the village now merges with Aix-les-Bains, it has retained its distinctiveness. Vineyards stretch down the hillside from the château and there are several grand old mansions dotted amongst newer alpine houses. It made a good base to explore the area. At the northern end of the lake is the pleasant village of Chanaz, which sits on a canal linking Lac du Bourget with the mighty River Rhône.

One morning after a dip in the lake, we headed to Chanaz for lunch. The village is tiny but picturesque with the canal and surrounding craggy hills. The Romans had a base here long before the medieval village sprang up, and what remains today is a maze of narrow streets from the 15th and 16th centuries with some attractive houses from that period. There is a small museum to the Roman period in a former Gothic chapel.

We wandered around the village for a while, and stood on the Pont en Arche, a footbridge over the Canal de Savières that is a literal arch. It’s high enough to provide great views over the village. Electric rental boats floated silently beneath us. Although there are a lot of tourist accommodations around the village, Chanaz seemed quite tranquil. Until, that is, a large tourist boat appeared and disgorged its human cargo.

Canal de Savières, Chanaz, Lac du Bourget, France
Canal de Savières, Chanaz, Lac du Bourget, France
Chanaz, Lac du Bourget, France
Canal de Savières, Chanaz, Lac du Bourget, France
House of Boigne, Chanaz, Lac du Bourget, France
Canal de Savières, Chanaz, Lac du Bourget, France

For an hour the village felt overrun. By that time we’d snagged a table in a shady square close to the town hall, a 13th century building also known as the House of Boigne after its former owner, the Count of Boigne. It is probably the finest building in the village. We had lunch as the world went by at a snail’s pace. Before heading back to Brison, we checked out a couple of artisanal shops selling locally produced walnut oil, made in a 19th century mill built on a hillside above the village.

1 thought on “Chanaz and the ancient wonders of Lac du Bourget

  1. Beautiful countryside again…

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