During my second week in Chambéry, I stayed with a really wonderful and generous woman who rents her spare room on Airbnb. The weekend that I stayed with her, she told me about a massive event was happening all over centre ville: La Grande Braderie de Chambéry. This is a massive market/yard sale that takes place twice a year in practically every single open space in the centre ville. There are official stalls that vendors and artisans rent to sell anything from antiques to cheese to leather products to clothing to books to ski equipment and on and on and on. These are supplemented by the particuliers who arrive 24 hours in advance to stake their claim on a plot of land in order to sell whatever the heck they’ve lugged with them from chez eux, including hand-me-downs, books, movies, dishes, refrigerators. They descended upon the town Saturday afternoon and stayed all through Sunday, camping out overnight.
As Marie was explaining all of this I was thinking, Great! What fun to experience on one of my first weekends here! already formulating plans. Until she started rolling her eyes about how noisy and inconvenient it is (Marie’s apartment is on one of the main squares where the particuliers set up) and how she and her family were planning on getting the heck out of Chambéry on Sunday to hike a popular nearby trail. “See up there, there’s a cross?” she pointed out the window. “We have an extra seat in the car if you want to come.” Zing! My previous plan completely changed as I found my self hastily accepting her invitation!
So, up the mountain we go!
It was a really beautiful day for a hike. We drove for about 40 or so minutes up up up twisting mountain roads pretty much as far as we could go by car (I think we parked near a ski resort called Fé claz). Then, we began our ascent! Let me tell you something about Savoyards: I think they are culturally destined to be athletic, because my goodness, the hike was no cake walk! But we were walking with families, children, grandparents, dogs… And they all passed me and my friend Robyn as we struggled up the steep rocks, slick with mud. After maybe 90 minutes? 2 hours? of walking, we finally arrived at the summit! It was stunning.
The Croix du Nivolet was originally placed on the mountain in 1861, when an urban development project required the demolition of the chapel of Black Penitents. The prior agreed on the condition that the congregation’s cross be placed somewhere where it would be visible throughout the Chamberien basin. Since then, it has been repaired and replaced several times and now stands at 21.5 m tall, has a 9.6m wingspan, a 2m circumference and weighs approximately 70 tons!
We sat, ate lunch, took photos, admired the view and then started working our way back down the mountain. We took a different trail back down, which was somehow shorter and flatter than the arrival, so that was a relief. When we returned to Chambéry, the braderie was still going on, so I met a few friends and wandered through the streets, ogling all the trinkets. Tip of the day, folks: Never say no to an invitation! ✽