It’s 12 years since we last visited Aix-Les-Bains and Lac Bourget, and we’re wondering how much this lakeside town has changed. So, on our Summer tour of Eastern France, where better to return on this mid-September leg of the trip?
First though, here’s a little bit of information to get you in the mood! Yes, Aix-Les-Bains, as the name suggests is actually a thermal resort.
Situated in the beautiful Rhone-Alps region of France, and just 15km away from the much busier town of Chambery. Surrounded by mountains and situated alongside the shores of Lac Bourget, brings a rather special appeal.
Of course, it’s the thermal baths that this town is most famous for. So, it’s no surprise that it’s the Romans who first bathed here. Whilst those soothing benefits have been felt across the centuries, it was the purchase by the state in 1866 that determined its future. That’s because, the conditions of the sale meant they had to remain public – ensuring renovations over the years, with the last being in 2005.
Finally, on this trip we had to give bathing a miss – all due to the 2020 pandemic.
The first thing we notice on our approach from Chambery, is that Aix-Les-Bains has undergone a bit of a makeover.
Next to the road are new cycle paths skirting the lake, as well as neat grassy areas and walkways. We’re driving to the centre of town with views across Lac Bourget, trying to find an Aire. Oh help! It’s listed on our App but we’re not having much luck in finding it.
Apparently, the Aire is just a few streets away from where we are and the lake. However, despite trying to find the entrance, we just fail! After driving around half a dozen times, not forgetting navigating busy streets and one-way systems, eventually, we call it a day.
Unfortunately, on our visit, roadworks have closed two streets, which doesn’t help matters.Then we notice a huge circus tent, it’s red and white stripes dominating the promenade parking areas. Next, we realise the vast number of trucks, caravans and other circus paraphernalia are right where the Aire should be.
We decided to waste no more time trying to find the invisible Aire. So, instead we check out the nearest available option, a 5 minute drive from Aix-Les-Bains to the lakeside village of Bourget. Here, we find a brilliant Aire, located alongside the cycle path and a few minutes to the lake – it’s ideal for our overnight stop.
This Aire is one of a growing number that have a barrier entrance and card payment machine. The fee of 9 Euro per night or 13 Euro in peak season is good, especially considering the large marked out bays, complete with a very good dump/fresh area to use. Typically, there’s no electric, which is perfectly normal for a French Aire.
Situated adjacent to a campsite, the information board says that the facilities of the site can be used. However, we don’t want to use them, due to the virus, but otherwise we most definitely would have done.
With access to the lake for water sports or swimming, as well as the network of cycle paths, we really like this place.
Taking advantage of the excellent marked cycle ways, out come the bikes for the first time in a while. The cycle path to Aix-Les-Bains looks new, certainly we don’t remember this being here on our last visit all those years ago.
By the way, back then, motorhomes could park in a parking area right in the town, but beside the lake. It’s here that we parked up for a couple of nights next to some friendly Italians. How well we remember the large family talking non-stop into the small hours – enticing us to visit Italy one day. It would be another 10 years before we actually did get to tour Italy!
In those earlier days of our motorhome travels, most of the Aires were free and parking was pretty much where you liked. “Just follow the other motorhomes and head for the water” is what we used to say. Of course, like many things, times have changed dramatically and now parking is much more regulated.
Back to the cycle path!
Following the water’s edge, we pass grassy picnic areas and swim beaches. There’s plenty of cafe’s and dining options along the way and best of all – it’s completely flat!
By the time we reach the centre of Aix-Les-Bains, we’re ready to explore a bit more on foot. We’ve reached a port area, where pavement cafe’s are filled with people enjoying the late Summer sun. There’s a long promenade, curving its way along the shore and meeting up with the cycle route along the way.
We remember this straight away – it’s just round the corner from that old Aire but now this area is re-vamped and looking more upmarket. Most of the area has undergone a refurbishment, so the lakeside walkways are neat and tidy. Overall, there’s a fresh, vibrant feel to this picturesque town.
When a storm threatens overhead, we take shelter whilst watching the paddleboarders go about their business on the water. Luckily, the rain doesn’t arrive, so we continue along the lake, stopping to admire the scenery – the mountains and clear water of the lake are beautiful.
This town is all about the water – in the heat of Summer, the lake is a haven for swimming, boating and just about every other kind of activity. You can’t help feel that these locals are fit – fresh from the mountain air and outdoor lifestyle that these parts bring.
Aix-Les-Bains sits alongside Lac Bourget and we can’t help feel it’s a town of two halves. First there’s the picturesque waterside, amazing mountain views and fabulous surroundings. This is all incredibly scenic and very much worth time to explore on any trip in the region.
Then, there’s the busy and somewhat chaotic town centre. For us, it’s probably not a town we’d visit if it wasn’t for the lake, but like everything – it’s worth seeing if it’s a first trip.
Undoubtedly, Aix-Les-Bains and Lac Bourget are about two things – the thermal water at the bathing complex and the actual lake itself. Our cycle route passes the thermal baths, so we take a look through the perimeter fencing at this large complex. We’ve not been inside before, but it looks like a great place to spend a few hours. We think it was closed for re-furbishment on our first visit in 2005, which explains why we couldn’t go in!
This time, because of the virus we keep away, but next time, we’d like to give it a go!
Our cycle day has ended with us returning back to the Aire at Bourget. It’s not far from Aix-Les-Bains on the bikes, it’s an easy ride and of course – scenic. So within a few hours, we’ve explored the lakeside and had time for stroll before relaxing back at the campervan.
The weather is still stormy, so we don’t take a dip in the lake, but there are plenty of opportunities to do so. There’s also cycling routes going off in various directions along the way, so this area is ideal for a few days exploring by bike.
For us it’s time to move on towards the wine routes of The Rhone, a short drive away. It’s here that we find a gorgeous track before reaching the most picturesque canal-side village.
Once again, it all looks familiar, from those times long ago in our first motorhome, then we both realise – yes, we’ve been here before!
The wine route of The Rhone.