This post is a visual poem. It is an ode to one of my very favorite places of all, Annecy, France. It is one of those delightful places that says at every turn, “Life is Good”. The pictures I have taken say it all.
Adventures in the Mountains Surrounding Annecy, France
September 21 – 29, 2016
I love cows. The cows in the Haute Savoie region are the most contented cows I have ever seen. And when I see fat, happy cows grazing on verdant pastureland, I develop an overwhelming desire for cheese. This desire led Martin and I to several adventures, which may evoke for you both a compulsion for cheese, and a cure.
First on the shopping list was Roblechon, a delightful, mild cheese produced only in the mountains of Col de Forclaz. On the lush slopes surrounding La Ferme in Montmin, cows graze leisurely, each cow with a different sized bell, contributing to the alpine orchestra. I purchased two Roblechon rounds, plus a Chevrotin for good measure.
Next, we drove up to Semnoz, which is the highest mountain surrounding the lake. We wound our way through drifting, thick clouds. Near the top, the road ended and our hike began. Dense clouds were descending. We could see only a few feet ahead of us on the gravel road . We knew, by their bells, that there were cows on both sides of us, so close we could hear them breathing in the fog, but they were invisible. Cows in the clouds.
Slowly, a farmhouse appeared in the mist, with a sign promising local Tome cheese for sale. Entering the farmyard, there appeared a tall man with a straw hat and a pipe, toting a gun. He didn’t move. A chained dog growled. An unchained dog barked vigorously. Venturing closer, it became evident that the man was a giant wooden statue. Emboldened, I rang the doorbell. A frowning farmwife answered and waved us in to the anteroom of the house, where off to the side, presses were slowly squeezing liquid from huge rounds of cheese . I was able to summon enough French vocabulary to initiate a purchase, but had no idea of how much cheese we were talking about. She brought me a whopping four-pound round of this locally produced treasure.
I had now acquired an impressively large sample of every cheese of the Haute Savoie region. The only challenge now was consumption. After one dinner composed almost entirely of cheese (with wine and bread, of course), less that one-eighth of one round of cheese was consumed, and we could not even look at cheese for days. We did, however, smell cheese every time we opened the refrigerator door. Our trove remained enshrined on the top shelf of the refrigerator.
The day of reckoning finally came; we were to leave for Denmark the next day. I could not abandon the goods. I decided to bring he precious load with us, to present to our hosts, Lizzy and Flemming as a grand gastronomic contribution to the coming week’s stay at the summer house. Taking a whiff, Martin was skeptical. Nevertheless, I wrapped the aromatic rounds in layer upon layer of plastic, and surreptitiously slid the goods into the outer zipper of my suitcase.
Twelve hours and two flights later, I drew out the precious cargo. I carefully wrapped it in towels, hoping it would stay cool and praying that the ripe aroma that was quickly filling the hotel room would not seep under the door and down the hotel hallway.
Next morning, the cheese had ripened into a full-blown stench. As I approached the smothered lump, doubts stirred. I was torn between loyalty to my beloved cheese, and concern that after a week of hosting us and our cheese, our hosts might never speak to us again.
It was clear that drastic measures were required. But how to dispose of the corpus? We could not deposit it anywhere in the hotel. Surely it would be tracked and linked to those Americans with the guilty eyes. We must get it out of the hotel. Opening the door a crack to see if anyone was within smelling distance, we quickly exited the room. We dodged into the elevator, lugging the lumpy, reeking sack. Anyone immediately entering the elevator would surely suspect foul play of some sort. We had to get out fast. We emerged from the elevator in a cloud of fumes and strode across the lobby. The door opened with a welcome blast of frigid Danish wind. We dashed across the street to the sweet little Aalborg airport. Without breaking stride, I deftly deposited the remains in a trash bin near the airport arrivals door. The dastardly deed was done.
Within an hour, Lizzy and Flemming had picked us up and hoisted our bags into the car. They seemed not to notice any lingering evidence of our cheesy exploits. Soon we were on the road to the Blokhus summer house. First stop along the way was — yes — the cheese store.
On this day, Martin and I hiked all the way up to the top of Mount Verier, overlooking Lake Annecy. It was a path which started in the charming village of Veyrier, going straight up the mountain until it could no more, and our legs couldn’t do it any more either. The trail reached dense forest, where switchbacks ascended relentlessly up, up,up. Everything was used for the climb, creek beds, tree roots, moss tufts, boulders. I have never been on a trail so relentlessly upward as this one, nor as rocky underfoot. My legs were crying out for me to stop, while my head was urging them on like a slavedriver.
We did stop for a picnic of sandwiches which tasted better than anything ever piled onto bread. However, we were determined to get to the top after going so far.
When we reached the sheer granite face, we grabbed onto wire ropes imbedded in the rock as our feet found rock footholds.
We finally made it to the top. Our reward were some stunning views of the Lake and the villages 2,000 feet below. We gawked and gazed and basked in the sun and the triumph. On a flat, grassy part of the summit, we found a little hut made entirely of leafy, woven tree branches. We crawled in, laid down and dozed in shady, herb-scented comfort.
As the afternoon light started to fade, we descended. We thought that downhill was going to be much easier. I would say, it was a bit faster. However, those thighs that were complaining about pushing uphill were now outraged at being used as brakes. Feet, balancing on rocks of every conceivable shape, were screeching out protests like a a rock concert gone wrong. Were we ever going to make it down?
Mais oui! We couldn’t walk up or down stairs without loud and vehement complaint for three whole days. And, we were asking ourselves, “Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Are we insane?” Mais out! And we would do it again. It was a wonderful day. One of our best days!
Martin and I decided to bike all the way around Lake Annecy. Never mind that the path is 45 kilometers long. We bounded in to the bike rental office, hopped onto bikes and within minutes we were blithely pedaling along the sun-shimmering lakeshore. I’ve been on some beautiful bike paths – in Vancouver, in San Diego, in Manhattan Beach, in Yosemite. This had to be the most varied and beautiful bike path I had ever seen.
We paused at the charming little port of Menthon de Saint Bernard, graced with trees and shady benches, pots of pink and purple flowers and small boats bobbing in sparkling lake water.
From behind us, we heard the question, “Where are you from?” A smiling woman with short brown hair was addressing us in English. Conversation ensued, flourishing as naturally in the sunshine as the ducks swimming companionably in the clear water nearby. Her name was Doris. Her English was impeccable, and I gratefully lapsed into my native tongue. Although she was French, she had lived in England and Boston, so she was completely at ease also in my native tongue. It turns out she does executive consulting with international firms. She had just returned from a vacation in Greenland. Immediately I knew that I was talking with someone who had a special something. She was vivacious, interested in the world and in people, adventurous – and loving her life at her home in Veyrier, just a short way down the lake. Within half an hour, we had already met her mother, who was reading and basking in the sun on a lakeside bench about a quarter of a mile away. Before parting, she invited us to her home for an evening of wine and cheese. Having no friends whatsoever in the area, and no social calendar to speak of, we readily agreed. Tomorrow, it would be. We now had a friend and a social event for our calendar. Life was good.
Entranced, we continued on. At times, we were riding so close to the water’s edge, it felt like we were skimming the water. At other times, we rode through quaint villages or green pastureland. At the far southern end of the lake was a wildlife preserve with marshes and reeds and nesting water birds. I was in heaven.
About halfway around the lake, and my butt and my thighs were feeling it. At this point, there was no turning back. My legs were carrying about twenty tons of lactic acid, but I was in France and this was still a glorious path. My legs felt like they were going to fall off of my body — and I would bid them good riddance — but the air was cool and the sun was warm. I was yearning to see dear Annecy again. The path, however wonderful, was endless. Endless kilometers of heaven: Isn’t this nirvana?
Yes, it is nirvana – when you finally make it home and waddle up the steps. Then, you know you’ve been briefly to heaven.
Some people say that life teaches you what you need to learn. On a three-month sojourn, you ought to be able to come away with some new insights. Here is one of mine: Don’t run from the rain.
Martin and I ran away from Norway after a howling rainstorm and a bleak, wet weather projection washed out our ambition to travel to remote places to see vast rockscapes. We migrated like wet birds to France, where the internet almost-promised mild, bright, 70-degree weather. We returned to Annecy, a place I first feasted my eyes on decades ago and never forgot. Two years ago, Martin and I came for a longer stay. In a mere two and a half days, we fallen in love with it. Nevertheless, we rushed off to other destinations. Now, we are back again, for a twelve-day stay.
Of course, the day after our arrival, it rained. By this time, trained by the Nordics, we simply put on rain gear, grabbed umbrellas, and out we went. It turned out to be absolutely special and lovely, not inspite of the rain, but because of the rain.
The pictures below will tell the story. It is a poem of bridges bedecked with glistening flowers, swans gliding and ducks bobbing in delight among the drips, drops of rain making ringed patterns on the river, a lake glowing in the mist.