I had the idea to fill this National Geographic questionnaire out from fellow TAPIF blogger Hardly Snarky, who wrote about her city of Aix-en Provence. I have been working on mine for the past few weeks, and am posting it today: 6 months to the day since arriving in Chambé!!
I heart Chambéry because it seems to have a dash of something for all tastes: endless outdoor activities in the surrounding mountain ranges and lakes, great local wines and cheeses, a small but fervid arts scene. It actually reminds me a lot of a previous hometown, Charlottesville, Virginia: a sleepy college town surrounded my mountains, which was at one time home to a great philosopher whom the inhabitants still obsess over today… Throw in perfect baguettes and easy train access to some of Europe’s most vibrant cities and voilà!
As a native of Washington, DC with no great athletic abilities or aspirations, I never thought I would grow such an affinity for mountains, but I’ll admit, the natural beauty of Chambéry has swayed me. At least once a week, while strolling the medieval streets around my apartment, chausson aux pommes in hand, or exploring the surrounding parks and hiking trails with nothing but a bottle of water and a vague recollection of Google Maps, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by how lucky I am to live here. As my supervisor said to us last night, “Vous êtes très bien tombés ici.” Chambéry may not be the bustling city everyone wants to live in, but to me, it offers the best of both a large city and a calm village. It’s hard to dispute: We have indeed fallen well!!
Here are a few of my favorite things:
**Chambery is My City**
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Chateau des Ducs de Savoie, because I’m still obsessed with the fact that there’s a real castle, that once was the seat of the house of Savoy and housed the Shroud of Turin, down the street.
Winter is the best time to visit my city because the biggest draw to the region is definitely ski season! But spring and summer are also beautiful; Chambéry is best appreciated outdoors.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken in front of the “quatre sans culs” (four without butts) elephant fountain! It recently underwent full restoration and is now sparkling clean and more beautiful than ever.
You can see my city best from the Croix de Nivolet, a giant cross located on top of the Nivolet peak in the Bauges mountains. At 1,547m high (5,075 feet) you access a stunning view of the entire metropolitan area, plus all the surrounding mountains, including a distant view of Mont Blanc.
Locals know that Le Gulliver has the best crêpes in Chambéry…if you can find this hole-in-the-wall’s tiny side street!
In the past, notable people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Yann Barthès (creator and presenter of Le Petit Journal, 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 basically just four rooms in an old historic gardener’s cottage behind the castle, run on a volunteer basis by four old men with amazing stories and genuine passion. Musée Savoisien, housed in a former monastery, earns the Runner-Up spot for its beautiful architecture, though it is currently closed for renovations.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that you can rent bikes extremely inexpensively — even on Sundays and holidays ! The area has tons of bike trails just waiting for you to explore!
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is Place St. Lèger with a coffee, Parc du Buisson Rond with a soccer ball, and the beach in Bourget du Lac with a picnic..
For complete quiet, I can hide away in the lovely hidden cloister between Musée Savoisien and the cathedral.
My city really knows how to celebrate film because there is always a huge array of cinema playing in its three movie theatres. Pathé Les Halles plays blockbuster movies, Astrée more indie recent releases (usually subtitled instead of dubbed!!) and Cinéma Malraux has a monthly program that runs the gambit from Disney cartoons to Hitchcock marathons.
You can tell if someone is from my city if the bottom half of their face is disproportionately tanned (aka ski goggle tan).
In my city, an active day outdoors involves skiing for hours at La Féclaz, climbing the (1,390m high) Dent du Chat, or paragliding off a mountain. Savoyards have mountains in their blood.
My favorite jogging/walking route is the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Promenade which starts in the city center, goes through three beautiful parks (at slightly increasing altitudes!), passes by Rousseau’s old residence, and returns you safely to the center 7 kilometers later.
When I crave a tea and a fancy pastry I always go to Au Fidèle Berger on rue de Boigne. Their drinks are a few centimes more than your average café, but come with a free macaron! And you can buy mini versions of their incredible pastries for 1€ a piece.
The best outdoor market in my city is the twice annual grand braderie which covers the whole city center but there are also regular produce markets almost every weekday morning plus Saturdays at Place de Genève and Place du Palais de Justice.
Maison Du Nan and Piadina di Casa are my favorite places to grab lunch, and a kebab is the go-to for late-night eats. There are dozens of kebab shops, but my personal favorite is the classy hole-in-the-wall on the corner of rue de la République and rue de Roche.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I take a book and a demi-baguette to Parc du Verny.
For a night on the town, I might bar hop a few of my favorite centre-ville spots (O’Cardinals, O’Pogues, Café du Théâtre)….or hop a train to Grenoble or Lyon where nightlife options are aplenty.
To escape the crowds, I wander up to the serene Jacob-Bellcombette waterfalls.
Be sure to sample tartiflette (or the even more local croziflette) and diots de Savoie, washed down with some regional Vin du Savoie at Le Savoyard
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Galerie Eureka, a small science discovery museum underneath the library with highly interactive exhibits.
Just outside my city, you can visit France’s largest natural lake, dozens of ski resorts and spa towns, plus many of the area’s loveliest cities are less than an hour train ride away: Lyon, Annecy, Grenoble, and Geneva.
Photo ops in my city include the medieval rue Basse du Chateau and the fountains in Place St Lèger, and a good vantage point is the top of the tour demi-rond in the castle!
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 les Éléphants.
In the spring you should walk up to Les Charmettes to check out what flowers are in bloom 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 fiery mountainsides covered in changing leaves.
In the winter you should round out a full day of skiing with some warm and carb-loaded raclette at Le Sporting.
The most random thing about my city is, for a relatively small city, Chambéry is home to a lot of records: the largest and deepest natural lake entirely in France, Europe’s largest carillon (70 bells!) and largest collection of trompe l’oeil paintings.
A carnaval parade that won’t be stymied by hours of heavy snowfall could only happen in my city.
A hidden gem in my city is Le Café Botanique which has a great local and organic lunch menu, serving tons of vegetarian and gluten free options, a huge rarity! Pair your lunch with one of their many teas and infusions, mixed at the connected l’Herboristerie.
You can tell a lot about my city from the flags strung high over the streets. Chambéry is very proud of its history and isn’t afraid to show it!
My city is known for being a bit conservative and boring, but it’s really full of adventures, especially if you’re willing to get close with nature!
In two sentences or fewer, the world should heart my city because, tucked away in the mountains, Chambéry is the perfect blend of small town and large city. Largely undiscovered by tourists, you’ll experience authentic French life surrounded by stunning nature, all only a train ride away from more metropolitan amenities!