Few outside of France have heard of Chambéry, and those who have probably know it as a pit stop en route to their favorite Alpine ski stations. Washington, D.C. native Anne Donnelly (on Instagram @amdonn8) has the pleasure of living in this little medieval city in the mountains while she works as an English language teaching assistant in the Rhône-Alpes region.
The former capital of the House of Savoy has something to suit all tastes, Anne says—”endless outdoor activities in the surrounding mountain ranges and lakes, great local wines and cheeses, a small but fervid arts scene.”
“Chambéry may not be the bustling city everyone wants to live in,” she says, “but to me, it represents the best of both a large city and a calm village.” Here are a few of Anne’s favorite things about the place she’s proud to call home.
Chambéry Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to Chateau des Ducs de Savoie. I’m obsessed with the fact that there’s a real-life castle that was once the seat of the House of Savoy in Chambéry.
Winter is the best time to visit my city because the biggest draw to the region is definitely ski season! Spring and summer are also good times to come, as Chambéry is best appreciated outdoors.
You can see my city best from the Croix du Nivolet, a giant cross located atop the Nivolet peak in the Bauges Mountains. At a height of 5,075 feet (1,547 meters), you can see the entire metropolitan area and surrounding mountains, including a distant view of Mont Blanc.
Locals know to skip dime-a-dozen baguettes and request an une tradition instead. This baguette, made according legally defined standards, may cost a few cents more, but it’s 100 percent tastier. Locals also know that Le Gulliver has the best crêpes in Chambéry…if you can find the hole-in-the-wall spot on tiny Rue Lans!
In the past, notable people like Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Yann Barthès, the creator and host of the Le Petit Journal television show (sort of like a French Jon Stewart), have called my city home.
My city’s best museum is the Natural History Museum because it is run out of a historical gardener’s cottage by four older gentlemen with amazing stories and genuine passion. Musée Savoisien, housed in a former monastery, earns the runner-up spot for its beautiful architecture. Though the museum is currently closed for renovations, access to the associated cloister remains open.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that rental bikes are extremely inexpensive and the region is full of bike trails just waiting to be explored.
My city really knows how to celebrate film because there is always a wide array of offerings at its three movie theaters. Pathé Les Halles shows blockbusters, Astrée focuses on recent indie releases, and Cinéma Malraux runs the cinematic gamut, from Disney cartoons to Hitchcock marathons.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they’re sporting a ski-goggle tan (i.e. the bottom half of their face is disproportionately tan).
Just outside my city, you can visit France’s largest natural lake, Lac du Bourget, and dozens of ski resorts and spa towns. Plus, many of the area’s loveliest cities—Lyon, Annecy, Grenoble—are less than an hour’s train ride away.
My city is known for being a bit conservative and boring, but it’s really full of opportunities for adventure, especially if you’re willing to get up close and personal with nature!
The best outdoor market in my city is the grande braderie, a twice-annual street market that overtakes the city center.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I take a book and a demi-baguette to Parc du Verney.
To escape the crowds, I visit the serene Jacob-Bellecombette waterfalls.
The dish that represents my city best is tartiflette (or the even more local croziflette) and Savoy wine (vin de Savoie) is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Le Savoyard and La Maison de la Vigne et du Vin, respectively.
A Carnival parade that refuses to be stymied by hours of heavy snowfall could only happen in my city.
In the spring you should walk up to Les Charmettes to check out the blooming flowers in Rousseau’s garden.
In the summer you should cool off in the lake or rent a kayak or paddle boat in neighboring Aix-Les-Bains.
In the fall you should hike to the Bec du Corbeau to see the mountainsides covered in fiery colored foliage.
In the winter you should refuel after a full day of skiing with some warm raclette at Le Sporting.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Galerie Eureka, a small science discovery museum with highly interactive exhibits located below the library.
The best book about my city is Rousseau’s Confessions, which can surely be found in Librairie Garin, a beautiful bookstore and papeterie across from the Fontaine des Éléphants (Elephant Fountain), Chambéry’s most recognizable landmark.