Lake Geneva – a French perspective

Last year, incidentally around this time, we were touring across Germany and Switzerland. We wrapped up our 2-week long holiday in Lake Geneva, one of the largest lakes in Europe.

When we booked our AirBNB accomodation, we didn’t realise that the place we’d booked was actually on the French side of Lake Geneva. And, that’s how we ended up in France for the first time!

We hopped on a train from Grindelwald, where we’d spent 3 incredibly wonderful days hiking the Swiss Alps. We got off the train at Lausanne, one of the biggest cities on Lake Geneva. After a rushed unfinished lunch at a lovely restaurant by the lake, we ran all the way to the port with our bags trailing hard and just about made it in time for our short boat ride to Thonon les Bains.

It was a scenic ride with gorgeous views of Lake Geneva and the little towns on its shore.

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It was almost sundown by the time we reached Thonon

Thonon les Bains is just across the lake, on the French side. It is one of the bigger towns on the lake and seems to be fairly popular with tourists looking to spend a relaxed holiday in Lake Geneva or Lac Léman, as known in French.

We stayed in a little French village called Anthy-sur-Léman, about 10 minutes away from Thonon. Anthy is also by the lake and is a quiet place to stay at if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the more popular towns on the lake. After a 10-day hop across South Germany and Switzerland, all we wanted to do was kick back and relax and this idyllic little village was perfect. The AirBNB we stayed at was just a few minutes away from the lake and had a lovely vegetable garden and chicken farm that my nephew was completely fascinated with.

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Wish we’d taken better pictures of the garden – the veggies and fruits looked great!

We spent the first day just unwinding over a few beers and taking a stroll around the garden. Later that evening, we headed to a lovely restaurant by the lake – Les Pieds Dans L’Eau. It was our first time eating French food and my first time eating fish! We were absolutely delighted with the food at this place.

The next day, we headed back to Thonon for some sight-seeing. Thonon-les-Bains has a stunning port and is a very popular fishing village on Lake Geneva. It also seems to be well-known for water sports and the large number of yachts docked at the harbor surely was proof of the enthusiasm the locals had for sailing.

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It was great weather that day and we took a walk along the promenade admiring the gorgeous blue waters of Lake Geneva and the Jura mountain range just across the lake in Switzerland.

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The port or Port de Rives as it’s properly known, is lined with a good bunch of restaurants and cafes. It also has a great play area overlooking the lake.

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He couldn’t get enough! He loved the play area.

The Thonon city centre sits high above Lake Geneva and we made our way up there on the Funiculaire de Thonon-les-Bains. Dating back to late 19th century, this little funicular is a fun ride offering splendid lake views as you ascend to the Les Belvederes, a large garden area that also acts as a viewing platform for the lake.

The views from up here are incredibly beautiful. And, on a sunny day with blue skies, you’re bound to fall in love with the shimmering blue lake.

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Yeah, he was spellbound as well! Just for a few minutes though…
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He chased me all over the park! Got my much-needed exercise.

It’s always such a fun-filled day with this little guy! We spent the next hour or so lazing on the grass and taking in the views of the spectacular lake.

Although we didn’t do a whole lot in Lake Geneva, we had a wonderful coupla days in the scenic little French villages by the lake. It was the perfect laid-back finish to an amazing holiday!

(P.S.: Watch out for more posts from the holiday!)

Salzburg in a day

Salzburg is like that often overlooked sibling of an illustrious personality — in its case, the city of Vienna. However, just as the cliché goes, while it is similar to Vienna in some respects, Salzburg has its own unique mix of exquisite art, music, culture and incredible scenery. The city is perhaps most well known for being the birthplace of Mozart and for being the location of the heartwarming movie The Sound of Music, but digging a bit deeper reveals so much more of this enchanting city, nestled in the Alps.

Salzburg was our first and last stop on our spring holiday this year. We used Salzburg as our home base to explore the alpine villages of Germany and Austria. It was centrally located giving us easy accessibility and assured us of lively bars and restaurants that we could unwind at after a long day of sight-seeing.

While we did explore a little bit of Salzburg every evening when we returned, we fully explored the city only on our last day there.

There’s a lot to do in Salzburg – stunning cathedrals, excellent museums, great beerhalls, cool fountains, beautiful parks and the list goes on. Here are some spots we think are definitely worth a visit.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Even if you are in Salzburg for just the day or a few hours, make time for this. The Hohensalzburg’s not only got some great exhibits on the inside but spectacular views of the city and the surrounding alps on the outside.

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The alpine view despite an incredibly cloudy day
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See the light snow on the rooftops?

It was mid April and the last snowfall was around early February but this year there was unexpected snow across Germany and Austria for a couple of days in April that took everyone by surprise. It definitely made our plan to see Salzburg that day mighty hard with slushy snow hitting us in bursts thru the day.

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A blast of sunshine, just before the snow storm

The Hohensalzburg Fortress is perched on a little hill, just above the old town area.

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A view of the Hohensalzburg castle towering high above

The fortress is easily accessible from the city centre via the FestungsBahn funicular (just around the corner from the KapitelPlatz). Once you step outside this little funicular, check out the panoramic terrace for outstanding views of the city and the alps.

There’s a whole bunch of things to do inside this 11th century fortress that includes several wings and courtyards. Some sections are converted into museums filled with interesting exhibits. The Fortress Museum in the Hoher Stock wing is quite fascinating with its large collection of weapons and ceramics. It gives a great background on the history of the fortress and everyday life in the castle.

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It also features some painful-looking weapons of torture
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In there, you’ll also find this  unique display of armor and weapons held up by strings

The Rainer-Regiment Museum has a somewhat similar theme of exhibits including weapons, uniforms and a historical recount of the key role played by the Rainer Regiment in the First World War. They also have a few nicely done sets and it’s worth a quick stop.

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The Marionette Museum is another little section in the fortress that has an intriguing set of puppets on exhibit from its very popular Marionette Theatre. The theatre itself is located in the heart of the city and has a variety of shows every day. We were unable to make any of these shows during our visit but it’s something we have on our list for a future visit. It seems like a fun show for children and adults alike and if you have the time, you should check it out.

As you walk thru the castle bastions, you’ll stumble into some of these (harmless) guys.

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The Royal Apartments is another delightful section in the fortress. It features a few different rooms of which the Golden Chamber is most remarkable. Wall to ceiling, this room is exquisitely decorated in lush colors and gothic style. The main showpiece in the chamber is the large Majolica oven that is lavishly decorated with colorful, intricate designs. The Golden Hall, just beside the Golden Chamber, is another grandly decorated room with similar gothic designs. For over 40 years, the hall has hosted some of Salzburg’s best Mozart concerts and it definitely seemed like the best place in the city to enjoy an evening of delightful music coupled with some striking views.

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The ornate Golden Chamber

Although it’ll take you a few good hours, the Hohensalzburg Fortress is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. On your way down to the city, you could do a quick stop at the Stiegl Brewery to get a refreshing pint of their lager or some local bites. The city views from their biergarten are quite lovely as well.

Another popular place in Salzburg for great city views is the Winkler Terrace, accessible via the Mönchsberg Lift. We couldn’t fit this into our day but it seems like a place that’s definitely worth the visit from the few pictures we’ve seen – stunning panoramas!

Salzburger Dom

Built in early 17th century, the Salzburg Cathedral is incredibly beautiful. On the outside, it seems somewhat ordinary, but when you step inside, you’re struck by its true splendor.

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The central dome of the cathedral is awe-inspiring
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The richly decorated ceiling of the central dome
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The ceilings throughout the cathedral are done up in admirable baroque art

Altstadt or Old Town area

Salzburg’s old town area is a great place to start your exploration of Salzburg. Most of the popular sights including the fortress and cathedral are centered in the old town or historical district. Just opposite the cathedral is the Residenzplatz with its splendid horse-fish fountain or Residenzbrunnen.

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Sculpted by an Italian guy, this baroque fountain is an interesting piece of art

The Residenz Square also includes a whole bunch of museums including the Dom Quartier and Salzburg Museum which we sadly couldn’t make time for in the one day we had in Salzburg. They looked pretty fascinating from their websites and if you are in Salzburg for more than a day, you should give it a go. Also, note that these museums are interconnected and seem to be covered in one pass.

Just next to the Residenzplatz is the Mozartplatz. Of course, the square is adorned by a statue of Salzburg’s most popular guy.

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If you fancy a horse carriage ride thru the old town area, you’ll find these guys hanging around the Mozart Square.

For more of Mozart, head over to Mozart’s Wohnhaus (residence) and Mozart’s Geburtshaus (place of birth). Both these houses have been converted into museums exhibiting paintings, musical instruments, documents and a great number of other collectibles that narrate the life story of the musical genius.

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Mozart’s birth place in Getreidegasse

Apart from being well-known for Mozart’s place of birth, the Getreidegasse is also popular for shopping in Salzburg. Even if you ain’t shopping, the street is a delight to walk thru. Every store has a uniquely designed sign above its door. Even McDonald’s is fancy in this street!

One thing you should shop for, in the whereabouts of this area, is the Mozart Kugeln. Launched for the first time in late 19th century, these little chocolate bonbons made of pistacchio, marzipan and nougat, are an Austrian specialty.

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Music fills the streets of Salzburg. The old town area is bustling with musicians playing delightful classical numbers. Do take time to stop for a gelato, sit in one of the beautiful old town squares and listen to these guys.

If you’d rather sit indoors and listen to some great jazz music, head over to Jazzit. They have some great musicians entertaining you every day of the week. The place is very popular so get there early and grab a seat by the bar that faces the stage and you’ll be all set for a wonderful evening of incredibly wonderful jazz. This was one of our best nights on our week-long road trip!

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Mirabell Palace and Gardens

Schloss Mirabell and Mirabellgarten is less than a kilometre away from the  old town and it rose to fame when one of the popular scenes from the ‘Sound of Music’ was filmed here, right on these steps, that is the entrance to the garden.

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It is a lovely garden to walk thru especially around spring time with gorgeous tulips and other spring flowers embellishing the vast garden.

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This was our favorite section in the Mirabell Gardens

The Dwarf Park is a lot of fun! There are some very cool looking dwarves throughout this little park. Here’s a couple of our favorites.

Take a stroll by the Salzach

Do take some time to walk the banks of the Salzach river that runs thru the city of Salzburg. It is not too far from the old town area and you can get some wonderful views of this charming little city.

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Visit one of the many outstanding breweries

Finally, unwind in a cozy little brewpub and indulge in some of Austria’s culinary delights and excellent brews. You are spoilt for choice with their remarkable selection of breweries. Here are some that we tried and liked.

Looking back on our last day in Salzburg, we actually managed to see quite a bit in one day. If you have more time, there’s a lot more you can do in and around the city.

We hope to return to Salzburg someday, to explore more of the unspoiled beauty and culture that fills every little corner of this city.