So many people seem to be planning a big European ski trip this year. The views are beautiful. The conditions are nearly perfect. While the euro’s exchange rate is still amazingly low. But not everyone can handle a full week on the mountain. After a few days of battling your achy muscles, the cold weather, and the après-ski crowds, you’re ready for a break from your vacation. Take that time to go off the beaten path and explore a cute town in the valley below.
Chambéry is about an hour away from Le Grand-Bornand and La Clusaz; Chamonix is only a little farther. The capital of Savoie sits along the Leysse River, in between the Bauges and Chartreuse Mountains. The city was founded at the crossroads of Burgundy, Switzerland, and Italy. Today, it’s known for its charming old town, 360-degree view of the Alps, delicious food, and surprisingly friendly people. Plus, it’s quiet, since everyone is skiing right now.
Begin the day in the well-preserved historic center. Tall, colorful houses—some dating back to the 16th century—have ornate doorways and hidden courtyards. Twisting alleyways radiate from Place Saint-Léger, the main street that is lined with cafés and galleries. You pass Fontaine des Marmousets, a 19th-century sundial, and the enormous Fountain of the Elephants as you walk through the city. While cheese and meat from high in the Alps are sold at the market.
Visit the Château of the Ducs de Savoie. The white castle was built in 1285, and its chapel once housed the Shroud of Turin. See the largest collection of trompe-l’oeil paintings in Europe at the gothic Chambéry Cathedral. Stroll through Jardin du Verney, the oldest park in town. Take in the views of the mountains: Massif des Bauges to the east, Mont Granier to the south, and the Chaîne de l’Épine to the west. Wander through the museums. The Musée de Beaux-Arts has a large collection of Italian paintings, while the Savoisien Museum displays artifacts about the area’s history. Then enjoy a long lunch at Carré des Sens, where the dishes arrive looking like works of art themselves.
It’s been such a perfect—and relaxing—day that you’re hesitant to return to the mountains. Petit Hôtel Confidentiel is another respite from the craziness. The boutique hotel is in an old building on a quiet side street. The rooms are cozy, yet chic. Your large suite has a wide fireplace, a standalone tub at the foot of the bed, and a bathroom that looks like more art. You warm up, sip a glass of wine from the Combe de Savoie valley in the lounge, and make plans to drive to Lake Bourget, the largest natural lake in France, in the morning. Eventually, you’ll make your way back to the mountains.