The largest town on the French side is THONON-LES-BAINS, which makes a good base for exploring the lakeside and the surrounding Chablais region, and is also the starting point of the 700km long Route des Grandes Alpes, a popular, signposted tourist route which winds its way through the mountains to Menton, on the Mediterranean coast. Though of only minor interest itself, the town's position overlooking the lake is stunning. The waterfront, connected to the upper town by funicular railway (daily 8am11pm; €1 one way), is a pleasant place to while away a summer afternoon, with its tiny fishermen's cottages, cafés, restaurants and snack kiosks. Running northwards, the flower-decked lakefront promenade, the Quai de Ripaille, leads to the imposing Château de Ripaille (guided tours daily: AprilJune & September 11am4pm; JulyAug 11am5pm; €5). Built in the fifteenth century by Amédée VIII, the colourful first Duke of Savoie who later served ten years as anti-pope, before retiring to become Bishop of Geneva the Château has a charming, fairy-tale aspect, due in part to major restoration in the late nineteenth century, which left a rich legacy of Art-Nouveau interiors. The vineyard attached to the property produces one of the region's best-regarded wines, and visitors have the chance to try a glass in the cellars at the end of the guided tour.
The tourist office is on place du Marché (JuneSept daily 8.30am12.30pm & 1.307pm; OctMay daily 9amnoon & 26.30pm; tel 04.50.71.55.55, www.thononlesbains.com), while there's also a summertime tourist office kiosk at the harbour (JulyAug daily 10.30am12.30pm & 27pm; tel 04.50.26.19.94). Thonon has hotels to suit all budgets; L'Arc en Ciel, 18 place de Crête (tel 04.50.71.90.63, www.hotelarcencielthonon.com; €5570) is a modern, comfortable place, and handy for the train station, though if you'd rather be nearer the lake, try Le Port, 1 quai de Ripaille (tel & fax 04.50.71.37.05; €5570). A cheaper and more basic option in the town centre is Le Comte Rouge, 10 bd du Canal (tel 04.50.71.06.04, fax 04.50.81.93.49; closed first week in Jan, May & Sep; under €30). There's a campsite, Le Saint-Disdille (AprilSept tel 04.50.71.14.11) on the eastern edge of town just off the avenue de St-Disdille. One of Thonon's best restaurants is Le Scampi, 1 av du Léman, which specializes in fresh fish from the lake, with menus starting at €17.
Some 16km to the west lies the pretty medieval village of YVOIRE, famous for its extravagant flower displays, which seem to drip in profusion from every building in summer, when the narrow cobbled lanes are frequently choked with hordes of day-trippers. The main attraction is the lovely Jardin des Cinq Sens off rue du Lac (April to mid-May daily 11am6pm; mid-May to mid-Sept 10am7pm; mid-Sep to Oct 15pm; €5), a spread of immaculate formal gardens laid out with a huge variety of plants, designed to appeal to each of the five senses. The tourist office is on place de la Mairie (AprilOct daily 10am12.30pm & 1.305pm; NovMarch closed Sat & Sun; tel 04.50.72.80.21, www.presquile-leman.com). Finding a room in the village can be difficult, especially in high season, though you could try Hôtel le Pré de la Cure on place de la Mairie (tel 04.50.72.83.58, fax 04.50.72.91.15, closed mid-Nov to March; €5570). Finding somewhere to eat is rather easier, with several harbour-side restaurants, such as the Restaurant du Port serving up fresh fish dishes to the tourist crowds.
Moving eastwards, ÉVIAN is a pleasant and peaceful spa resort, though unless you're in town for a spot of high-priced hydrotherapy, there isn't a great deal to see or do other than simply enjoy the serenity of the waterfront, or take leisurely trips on the lake. The mineral water for which the town is famous is now bottled at Amphion, 3km along the lakeside, but the Source Cachat still gushes away behind the Évian company's beautiful Art-Nouveau offices in rue Nationale, all wood, coloured glass, cupolas and patterned tiles. Anyone can go along and help themselves to spring water.
The waterfront is elegantly laid out with squares of billiard-table grass, brilliant flowerbeds and exotic trees, mini-golf, water slides and other peaceful ways of amusing oneself. There are ferries to explore other towns around the lake, including Lausanne (12 daily; €18.20 return) and Geneva (2 daily; €35 return) in Switzerland and Yvoire (3 daily; €24.30 return) and Thonon-les-Bains on the French side (4 daily; €14.80 return). CGN Ferries also runs a number of sightseeing cruises (www.cgn.ch), which do circuits of the lake, stopping at the most picturesque spots; enquire at the tourist office on place d'Allinges (MaySept MonFri 8.30am12.30pm & 27pm, Sat 9amnoon & 37pm, Sun 10amnoon & 36pm; OctApril MonFri 8.30am12.30pm & 27pm; tel 04.50.75.04.26, www.eviantourism.com) for details.
Évian has a few top-notch, 4-star hotels, if you're after some full-on luxury, but there are many more affordable options available, too, such as the Hôtel Continental, 65 rue Nationale (tel 04.50.75.37.54, firstname.lastname@example.org; €4055 summer, €5570 winter) in the centre of town, with rooms on the top floor that have a view of the lake. The nearby Bourgogne, place Charles Cottet (tel 04.50.75.01, email@example.com; €7085), offers large rooms and a higher standard of comfort, while the Terminus, at 32 av le Gare (tel 04.50.75.15.07, fax 04.50.74.63.23; €4055), is a good, basic option and handy for the train station. On the waterfront, the Savoy, 17 quai Besson (tel 04.50.83.15.00, fax 04.50.75.68.07; €7085) provides three-star amenities without breaking the bank. There's also a hostel on avenue de Neuvecelle (tel 04.50.75.35.87) the D21 towards Abondance and a campsite, the Grande Rive, off avenue de Grande-Rive (tel 04.50.75.42.19; closed OctApril), less than 1km from the town centre. There are plenty of places to eat; at the cheaper end, try Le Siam, 5 rue Clermont, with good Thai food starting at €8, or Rapido, 18 rue Nationale, a tiny but excellent-value pizzeria. The restaurant at the Savoy Hotel offers a more upmarket menu, with prices starting at €15.
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